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Education Department releases annual school and district Report Card ratings

Boosted by higher test scores, South Carolina public schools saw improved Report Card performance for 2008.  But the Education Oversight Committee and the South Carolina Department of Education also reported today that more schools were rated on the low end of the state’s accountability scale. 

More public school students were enrolled in schools rated Excellent, Good or Average, up from 65.6 percent in 2007 to 69.3 percent in 2008.  At the same time, the percentage of students attending schools with the lowest rating fell slightly from 11.1 to 10.5. 

Eighty-four percent of schools maintained or improved their ratings, while 16 percent went down.  Twelve school districts are rated At Risk, down from 17 in 2007.  

“It’s a mixed message,” said State Superintendent of Education Jim Rex.  “On the plus side, we saw improvement for most schools because of higher test scores.  High school improvement was particularly impressive, not only due to their test scores but also due to their improved on-time graduation rates.

“But at the same time, it’s disappointing to see more schools struggling on the low end of the scale.  Nearly all of these schools serve extremely high concentrations of children living in poverty, and we have to get more creative in how we help them.  This is a national problem, not just a South Carolina problem.  And poverty levels are worsening, not getting better.”

EOC Chairman Harold Stowe said that the ratings are an accurate reflection of student performance and the system.

“It is encouraging to see performance gains – particularly the gain in the overall statewide index – and school ratings that follow suit,” Stowe said.  “However, some schools and districts continue to struggle and under-perform despite fewer students enrolled, lower student-teacher ratios and higher per-pupil expenditures than schools with higher ratings.  The challenges are great, but we must find ways to meet the needs of all the students we serve.”

The state’s mathematical rating system raises the bar for all schools each year.  Ratings formulas based on student achievement levels are set by the EOC, created by the General Assembly to guide implementation of South Carolina’s Education Accountability Act.  Indexes – numbers derived from those formulas – determine school ratings.

“Student performance is improving overall, with 57 percent of our elementary, middle and high schools earning higher indices this year,” Rex said.  “But a higher numerical index does not always mean that a school will move up to the next-highest rating level.  The system’s increasing performance targets make higher ratings harder to achieve.  Schools have to improve significantly each year or see their Report Card ratings decline.”

Nearly 800 South Carolina schools showed an increase in their 2008 “poverty index,” a calculation based on the percentage of students receiving Medicaid and/or reduced meal plans.  Poverty levels have been steadily worsening for several years.

“This year more than half our schools have at least 70 percent of their students living in poverty,” Rex said.  “One in every four schools has more than 90 percent of its students in poverty.”

Poverty poses considerable obstacles for student achievement.  In 2008, 97 percent of middle schools with a poverty index of 80 percent or more were rated either Below Average or At Risk.

“High-poverty schools can be successful, but they face greater challenges and require greater resources,” Rex said.  “Fewer of their teachers had advanced degrees, more of them are not fully qualified to teach their subjects, fewer of them return to their schools from one year to the next, and they make less money than teachers in more affluent communities.”

Rex said recent state budget cuts make the challenges at these schools even greater.  “There’s a major policy disconnect when we increase our expectations for school performance,” he said, “but at the same time we cut back on the resources they need to do their jobs.”

More than 1.6 million Report Cards will be sent home with students next week. In addition to state and federal ratings required by EAA and the federal No Child Left Behind Act, Report Card data also include student-teacher ratios, dollars spent per student, absentee rates for students and teachers, amount of instructional time, average teacher salaries and the socio-economic status of students’ families.

This year’s Report Cards show that about a third of students statewide are enrolled in schools listed as At Risk or Below Average.  But 12 percent of schools raised their ratings in 2008, up from 6 percent last year.  Elementary and middle schools saw better PACT performance among all students in every subject area tested and at every level in 2008.  High schools improved their graduation rates and scores on the High School Assessment Program.

“These PACT and HSAP improvements are encouraging, as well as the higher on-time graduation rates,” Rex said.  “But we have to make progress at a faster rate.  We’ve improved our testing and accountability system, and now we’re going to press for a fairer and more equitable way to fund schools.  We’re going to press for new ways to attract and retain high-quality teachers.  We’re going to push the envelope on school innovation and develop more instructional choices for students and parents within the public school system.”

EAA Report Card accountability ratings

Each school and district receives an Absolute rating – Excellent, Good, Average, Below Average or At Risk (formerly called Unsatisfactory) – based on student test scores. 

The continuing increase in the mathematical formula for Absolute ratings – another one-tenth of a point on a five-point scale – affected 77 schools in 2008, or about seven percent of all schools statewide.  The accountability system’s rating formula rises by one-tenth of a point each year.

One hundred thirty-one schools elevated their 2008 Absolute ratings, 797 maintained their status and 183 schools had lower ratings. Thirty-four of the state’s 37 career and technology centers – or 92 percent – were rated Excellent.   

Of the 34 charter schools receiving Absolute ratings in 2008, four are rated Excellent, up from one last year.  Five charter schools were rated Below Average, and 17 were rated At Risk.   

The percentage of schools in each category for Absolute ratings is:

Schools

2008

2007

2006

2005

2004

Excellent

8.4%

6.6%

11.6%

15.2%

20.4%

Good

15.9%

19.5%

21.8%

27.4%

33.9%

Average

35.1%

33.0%

32.0%

31.5%

28.5%

Below Average

24.5%

26.1%

22.3%

20.0%

14.6%

At Risk (Unsatisfactory)

16.1%

14.9%

12.1%

5.9%

  2.6%


Absolute ratings for school districts declined.  Forty-eight percent rated Average or higher, compared to 54 percent last year.  One district was rated Excellent, up from none last year.

The percentage of districts in each category for Absolute ratings is:

School Districts

2008

2007

2006

2005

2004

Excellent

1.2%

0%

3.5%

5.9%

10.6%

Good

5.9%

8.2%

4.7%

32.9%

43.5%

Average

37.6%

45.9%

49%

38.8%

30.6%

Below Average

41.1%

25.9%

29%

17.6%

14.1%

At Risk (Unsatisfactory)

14.1%

20%

13%

4.7%

  1.2%


Report cards also contain Growth (formerly called Improvement) ratings that compare student test scores from one year to the next.  These ratings are based on mathematical formulas set by the EOC.

Thirty-six percent of schools had 2008 Growth ratings of Excellent, Good or Average as compared to 27 percent last year.  Four hundred twenty-nine schools raised their Growth ratings, while 276 lowered theirs.  Four hundred six schools maintained their Growth ratings. Sixty-seven percent of districts have Growth ratings of Excellent, Good or Average for 2008, compared to only 29 percent last year.     

Schools rated At Risk are assisted by Education Department external review teams that help them develop improvements based on school visits, data analysis and diagnostic testing to find student strengths and weaknesses.  Under the EAA, other help might include state-funded coaches and mentors for school faculty and leaders, plus targeted training for teachers that addresses South Carolina’s academic standards.  At Risk and Below Average-rated schools also have the flexibility to design their own technical assistance packages.

Friday, February 20, 2009

2009 Charleston County School Test Scores

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