County schools' report cards show improvement

More Beaufort County elementary and middle schools earned above-average report card ratings this year, according to data released today by the S.C. Department of Education.

Two schools -- Okatie Elementary and the Hilton Head Island Early Childhood Center -- earned "excellent" ratings. Nine schools earned "good" ratings.

In 2009, no county school earned an "excellent" rating, and seven were rated "good."

Superintendent Valerie Truesdale praised improvement made during the past four years in a news release. In 2007, only half of the county's public schools earned average or above-average ratings; this year, 87 percent did.

"The ongoing increase ... indicates that the schools' intense focus on student achievement is making a difference," Truesdale said.

School report cards are required by the state's Education Accountability Act of 1998 and give schools one of five assessments based on a mathematical formula: excellent, good, average, below average or at-risk. The report cards compile, in a single document, results of various state-mandated tests, as well as data on student-teacher ratios, dollars spent per student, absentee rates and average teacher salaries, among other topics.

Sean Alford, the district's instructional services chief, said he is proud all local middle schools kept the improved ratings they earned in 2009. This year, four of the six schools earned "average" ratings, and Beaufort Middle School earned a "good" rating.

Two years ago, all but one middle school received a below-average rating, he said.

Alford said part of the improvement can be attributed to teachers' increased focus on assessments that identify students' specific strengths and weaknesses. Teachers identify gaps in knowledge and adjust their teaching to fill those gaps, he said.

Ratings at two county schools -- Whale Branch Elementary and Whale Branch Middle -- remain "below-average." Five local elementary or middle schools received that rating in 2009.

St. Helena Elementary was deemed "at-risk." Across the state, 5 percent of elementary and middle schools received that rating.

The S.C. Department of Education released only elementary and middle school ratings today. The department expects ratings for high schools and districts to be available in January.