The number of Beaufort County public schools meeting federal targets for "adequate yearly progress" dropped by about 50 percent this year, but only because a key benchmark for success was raised by about 20 percentage points, according to data released today.
No Child Left Behind requires that every student be proficient in math and English by 2014 -- meaning 100 percent of students should pass standardized tests that year.
South Carolina is gradually increasing its standards to meet that mark.
Targets for elementary and middle schools' pass rates were bumped up to about 80 percent this year from about 60 percent last. As a result, some schools that made the grade under the old rating system did not under the new.
In 2010, 16 of the Beaufort County School District's 30 schools met AYP goals.
This year, only 7 of 31 did. They include Bluffton, Coosa, Okatie, Port Royal, Red Cedar and Shell Point elementary schools and Riverview Charter School.
All nine of the schools that fell off the list are elementary or middle schools subject to the higher requirements, and all but one would have met AYP goals under the old standard.
The drop is reflected statewide as well.
Only 27 percent of S.C. elementary and middle schools made AYP this year, compared to 61 percent in 2010.
No Child Left Behind mandates that schools meet goals for individual demographics -- for example, math proficiency among black students or English proficiency among students who receive subsidized meals. To be considered "showing progress," a school must meet every objective.
State Education Superintendent Mick Zais compared that to failing a student who missed one question on a test.
Zais said he's committed to strong accountability but insists there are better ways to set education standards.
"I'm not going to beat up a principal that got 24 out of 25 objectives met," he said.
At the district level, about 66 percent of students must pass standardized tests for an objective to be met.
Beaufort County succeeded in meeting 27 of its 33 goals in 2009.
In 2010, it met 30 of 33.
This year, the district met 31 of 33 goals, falling short in math and English among disabled students.
District Superintendent Valerie Truesdale said she was "exceedingly pleased" with district-wide progress, and she said administrators will work to bring disabled students' scores up to par.
However, the county has not met full AYP in several years. Sanctions require administrators to submit a plan of action and spend a portion of federal funding on professional development.
In all, only one of South Carolina's 86 school districts -- Saluda County -- met AYP this year.
Forty-nine -- including Beaufort County -- remain classified as in need of "corrective action" because of failure to meet AYP goals.
--The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Follow reporter Kyle Peterson at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufortCo.