Beaufort County public-school students continued to make gains on standardized tests this past school year, but several schools failed to meet rising federal standards, according to data released Thursday.
The school district maintained its overall "B" average -- meaning it exceeded expectations -- under a new state grading system. However, six district schools failed to meet expectations, receiving "D" and "F" grade. That number was up from four schools last year.
"The upward movement in student test scores over the last few years is encouraging," said Jeffrey Moss, who became the district's superintendent in July, after the testing used to determine the grades was completed. "... We're not where we want to be in order for our graduates to be competitive across the nation and around the world.
"But, we are moving in the right direction and staying focused on building on some very positive momentum."
The S.C. Department of Education released district scores Thursday for the Palmetto Assessment of State Standards and the High School Assessment Program. Those tests are used to help determine the district and school letter grades on federal accountability standards, also released Thursday. This marked the second year the letter grades were used to rate progress toward goals that are part of the federal No Child Left Behind law.
In the past, schools either met the standards -- known as "adequate yearly progress" -- or they failed under an all-or-nothing rating system, in which falling short on just one objective meant a failing grade and the same designation as a school missing multiple objectives.
The new system of letter grades -- deemed by state education officials to be more fair and less rigid -- gives schools more credit for progress made toward meeting those goals and also adds more standards based on science and history test scores, graduation rates and several other factors.
The grades, though, emphasize growth from year to year, so some of the district's top-performing schools, in absolute terms, received average or below-average grades.
Federal targets for student learning were also higher in 2013 than in 2012.
That combination of having to clear a higher bar and emphasis on surpassing gains made last year led to drastic grade swings for some schools across the state, including in Beaufort County.
Schools that made gains in student PASS scores a year ago but failed to match the performance this time around went from above average to below average, while under-performing schools that saw little movement in test scores last year but larger movement got better ratings.
For example, Joseph S. Shanklin Elementary School, a Title I school recognized for its progress in closing achievement gaps last year, went from an "A" last year to an "F" this year. Conversely, St. Helena Elementary went from an "F" to an "A."
"If you're a NASCAR driver and you win the Daytona 500 with an average speed of 192 mph, if your average speed is not at least 192 mph next year -- even if you win -- you don't get the trophy," Moss said.
The letter grades are separate from those schools and districts receive on its state report card, which have yet to be issued.
"Most of us like getting rid of the all-or-nothing system and one that better incorporates student growth," said district chief instructional officer Dereck Rhoads. "Now, the question for us is: How do we get rid of that volatility and not keep raising the bar to where it's a mandate you can never reach?"
ABOUT THE LETTER GRADES
- Ten schools earned A's, four less than last year.
- Twenty-three of the district's 30 schools met or exceeded state expectations. Last year 26 of the 30 schools met federal goals, up from 16 the year before.
- Statewide, 77 percent of school districts and 76 percent of schools met state expectation with a grade of "C" or better. Moss said he will create a team of administrators to observe, evaluate and suggest improvements for district schools that failed to reach the "C" threshold "because I think we should never strive to be average."
- School officials were encouraged by the improvement at St. Helena Elementary, a school where 97 percent of students receive free or reduced-price lunch, a commonly accepted measure of poverty. The previous year's "F" led to a 14-point plan to turnaround the school, which included capping class sizes at 20 students, hiring a dean of students to address discipline problems, adding a literacy coach and expanding after-school tutoring.
- Beaufort Elementary received an "A" but remains on a statewide list of schools with a large achievement gap between groups of students. The list includes 53 Title I schools, which receive federal money because of their high percentage of students on free- and reduced-price lunch programs.
- Mossy Oaks Elementary, also a Title I school, was recognized for its progress in closing achievement gaps.
- For the third consecutive year, the district failed to meet federal goals for disabled students on math and science tests.
- To see each school's grade, check the table at right. For more on the scores, check the S.C. Department of Education's website.
HIGH SCHOOL EXIT EXAMS
Beaufort County students continued to improve on high school exit exams, surpassing state averages for a second year in a row.
The exam is given in English and math to high school sophomores. Students must pass the exams to earn a high school diploma. Students who don't pass both sections on their first try can retake any sections not passed.
This year, a record 84 percent of students -- up 3 percentage points from last year -- passed both exams on their first attempt. Statewide, 82 percent of students passed both.
The percentage of county students passing both exams has increased for six years, as has the percentage of students passing the English or math exam alone.
Bluffton High School students again had the highest rate of passing both exams, at nearly 90 percent.
Every student subgroup saw gains in the percentage of students meeting the high school exit exam requirement, mirroring the state.
Here are each high school's results:
|School||2013 percentage passed the English exam||2012 percentage passed the English exam||2013 percentage passed the math exam||2012 percentage passed the math exam|
|Beaufort County School District||92.3||89.3||85.6||83.5|
|Battery Creek High||90.5||86.9||82.4||80.9|
|Hilton Head Island High||92.4||89.1||87.6||83.8|
|Whale Branch Early College High||89.7||84||76.5||84.9|
ELEMENTARY AND MIDDLE SCHOOL SCORES
Students in third through eighth grade take the PASS exams in five subjects: English, math, science, social studies and writing. Writing assessments were reduced last year to only fifth- and eighth-graders as a cost-saving measure by the state. All third- through eighth-graders took the writing assessment this year.
Here are the district-level results:
|Grade||Percent of students who passed writing exam||Percent of students who passed English exam||Percent of students who passed math exam||Percent of students who passed science exam||Percent of students who passed social studies exam|
|Beaufort County||State||Beaufort County||State||Beaufort County||State||Beaufort County||State||Beaufort County||State|
The district has made gains on these exams since they were first administered in 2009.
- This year, Beaufort County students meeting or exceeding state standards increased in 18 of 26 subjects over last year's scores.
Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/IPBG_Tom.
- Beaufort County students continue gains on state assessments, Aug. 2, 2012
- St. Helena official: Expect improvement, not miracles at elementary school: April 7, 2013
- More on the letter grades from the S.C. Department of Education
- More on the high school exit exam scores from the S.C. Department of Education
- More on PASS scores from the S.C. Department of Education
- The (Columbia) State: Amid better PASS performance, confusion on what academic progress means, Aug. 1, 2013