After five years of steady improvement, the Beaufort County School District earned several firsts on this year's state report cards.
The district was rated "good" overall for the first time since report cards were first published in 2001. It improves from the "average" rating it has held for the past three years.
Also for the first time, no school in the district was rated "below average" or "at risk" -- all schools were rated either "excellent," "good" or "average."
Each year, public schools and districts in South Carolina are given one of the five ratings by the S.C. Department of Education, according to criteria set by the Education Oversight Committee.
The ratings are based on a formula that takes into account scores on state-mandated tests, student-teacher ratios, money spent per student, amount of instructional time and other factors.
District chief instructional services officer Dereck Rhoads said he is pleased with the district's first-time achievements. He credits the gains to a focus on continuous improvement, and enhancing instruction and math, literacy and technology.
"The fruits from those labors can be slow-coming at times," he said. "But now we're starting to see some of the fruits of that, and I think it's important that we stay the course."
Eight schools achieved "excellent" ratings this year -- the same number as last year, although the same eight schools did not achieve them. Seven schools held their rating: Okatie Elementary, Pritchardville Elementary, Beaufort High, Bluffton High and Hilton Head Island High schools, as well as Riverview Charter School, which earned the rating for both elementary and middle school.
Hilton Head Island Elementary improved its rating to be an "excellent" school. Hilton Head Island Early Childhood Center fell in the ratings to "good" this year.
Four other schools also dropped in their ratings -- H.E. McCracken Middle, Hilton Head Island Middle, Lady's Island Elementary and Mossy Oaks Elementary -- all from "good" to "average."
Rhoads said the district has already put academic assessment and improvement plans in place for most of the schools that dropped in the ratings. Those plans came as a result of scoring a D or F grade on the federal accountability report cards released in August.
However, he said that Mossy Oaks also will now receive a visit by a district academic assessment team and create an improvement plan.
District academic improvement officer Melissa Sheppard said it is important to use the data from the many different student assessments to determine where additional efforts and resources are needed.
"We also look at schools with high ratings or schools that improve to see if there is anything we can replicate elsewhere," she said.
Three other schools in the district improved their ratings this year -- St. Helena and Whale Branch elementary schools increased from "below average" to "average," and Battery Creek High increased from "average" to "good."
Whale Branch Elementary principal Anita Lynn Singleton said they've put an emphasis on providing a consistent learning environment for students.
"We are just doing a lot to motivate students to want to learn in all areas," she said.
The 2013 Nation's Report Card was released Thursday. While students are performing better, it shows that those improvements are coming very slowly and gaps between groups still exist, according to an Associated Press story.
The national report card informs the public about academic achievement at the elementary and secondary levels across the country. The results are calculated from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, a test that is conducted periodically in various subjects such as reading, writing, science, mathematics and U.S. history.
Scroll down to explore the school report card data locally and statewide in our interactive graphic:
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