Standardized test scores in Jasper County continued to slide, according to data released by the state earlier this month, but several district officials downplay the decline, noting the past year's dip mirrored statewide results.
Students in grades three through eight take the Palmetto Assessment of State Standards test, which measures knowledge in five categories -- writing, English language arts, math, science and social studies. Compared with the previous school year, Jasper County's scores in 2013-14 fell in all five categories.
The county also had some of the lowest percentages of students who met or exceeded those academic standards of any district in the state, according to the data.
Overall, less than half of the 1,200 students who took the test passed it. Only about 27 percent passed the science portion of the test, while 35 percent passed the math portion.
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Across South Carolina, roughly 70 percent passed in each category.
However, Jasper County officials said the district was "as successful, or more so, (than) the state" because the state similarly declined in many of the test's categories, said Gary West, the district's head of finance and data.
"Yes, the state starts in a different place than we did," he said, "but based on where we started from this past school year to where we ended, Jasper County was as successful as the state in moving students forward."
When broken down by category and grade level, the state made gains over last year in only eight of the 30 areas measured.
In Jasper County, 11 of the 30 measures went up, West said.
Several school board members said they were glad to see those gains, but they didn't feel West's interpretation accurately represented their situation.
"Our children are far below where they need to be, and if you look at this data we need to be growing much more than we are and than the state is, because we are in a hole and we need to jump out of it," board member Debora Butler said. "I'm not sure that this presents a meaningful description to the community for where we are."
Superintendent Vashti Washington said the public is sometimes misled by one test score. She said it takes more than a test to measure and improve a school.
But she did say the district is using the PASS results to determine the subjects and grade levels that need attention.
Board chairman Berty Riley said improving the district's test scores is a board goal.
"We do realize that we have our work cut out for us, and I don't think anyone is hiding behind anyone else's back saying otherwise," she said. "We know we need to do that -- it is no secret and no one is making any excuses."
Some parents and community members say the district must act now to halt the decline.
Denise Davidson, who has organized several rallies calling for action on the scores, said nothing has been done to stop three years of steady decline.
For the 2011-12 and 2012-13 school years, Jasper County received consecutive "F" grades on federal accountability measures tied to test results. Grades for the past year will not be calculated until October, according to the state Department of Education.
"The answers coming from the district are not only unsatisfactory but appalling," Davidson said Friday. "The focus from the district ... is not on the children. It can't be with the PASS scores consistently declining for three years in a row."
Follow reporter Sarah Bowman at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.
- Jasper County school board gives superintendent satisfactory evaluation, December 16, 2013
- Jasper County School District's appeal of 'F' grade unsuccessful, October 16, 2013
- Jasper County ralliers demand action from school board, September 27, 2013
- Get beyond failing grade to help Jasper students, September 1, 2013
- Poor school scores trigger rally in Jasper County, August 18, 2013
- Jasper County schools score back-to-back 'F,' August 5, 2013