As with any time report cards come out, there is usually some excitement and some room for improvement.
The 2012 annual state and district report cards were released Tuesday by the S.C. Department of Education, and while graduation rates were up, there is room for improvement in Aiken County.
Aiken County maintained its “Average” absolute rating for the third year in a row and improved the growth rating from “Below Average” to “Good.”
Absolute ratings are a measure of a school's effectiveness on various achievement measures, whereas the growth ratings compare current performance to the previous year. Of the 23 school districts similar to and including Aiken County, 11 earned “Excellent,” six earned “Good,” five earned “Average” and one was named “At-Risk.”
“Since we have been reviewing data for several weeks, there are no real surprises in our report card,” Aiken County Associate Superintendent King Laurence said in a press release sent out by the Aiken County Public School District. “We are very pleased that our exit exam passage rate increased substantially and exceeded the state. End of course test passage rates, particularly in biology, are on the rise and, with the exception of U.S. history, exceed the state's passage rate. Our growth rating improved from Below Average to Good, which is evidence of our continued commitment to meet the needs of all students.”
Across the state, the graduation rate rose to 74.9 percent, the highest since the 2007-08 school year.
In Aiken County, the graduation rate was up two percentile points, 75.6, but still just below similar school districts, which average 76.3 percent.
On average in South Carolina, the discrepancy between white students and African-American students decreased with a 78.1 percent white graduation on-time rate and a 71.2 percent rate for African-Americans. That state average is the highest ever-recorded for African-American students in the state.
Locally, white students graduated on time at 81.3 percent, while African-American students were well below the state average at 67.6 percent.
The graduation rates for Hispanic students and students on subsidized meals also reached an all-time high on the state level, with 69.3 percent of Hispanic students graduating on time and 68.3 percent of students on subsidized meals.
In Aiken County, the scores are closer to the state's average, but still low with 67.9 percent of Hispanic students graduating on time and 65.3 percent of students on subsidized meals.
On high notes for the county, attendance rates for students and teachers were up and on par with similar districts. While the percentage of students enrolled in Advanced Placement classes (25.7 percent) and those eligible for LIFE scholarships (35.6 percent) dropped from the previous year, both are much higher than average on the state level.
In the End of Course tests, Aiken County was on par or better than average in every subject but U.S. history and the Constitution, where only 46.3 percent of students had a test score of 70 or higher. The state average is 50.6 percent.
Aiken County also is on average with the rest of the state in the High School Assessment Program exam passage rate. For students who passed both subjects, the 81.4 percent is a nearly 3 percent increase from last year and a point higher than the state average.
Room for improvement
There also are things to improve on in Aiken County, most notably the Palmetto Assessment of State Standards tests. The PASS test is administered to South Carolina public school students, including charter school students in grades three through eight.
PASS test items measure student performance on the South Carolina Academic Standards. PASS test results are used for school, district and federal (No Child Left Behind) accountability purposes.
The only subject in which Aiken County was close to similar districts was writing, where 73.1 percent of students met or were above the grade-level standard. In reading and math, the 73.9 and 71.1 percentage pass rates were roughly two and four points below similar districts.
In science, the 67 percent pass rate was much lower than the state average of 72.5 percent, and in social studies, the gap was even larger with 68 percent meeting or above the standard compared to 74.6 percent at similar districts.
Aiken County's drop-out rate dropped from 4.5 percent to 3.8 percent, but still is more than a percentage point higher than similar school districts. The number of portable classrooms in the county also dropped, from 9.5 percent to 8.7 percent, but is much higher than similar districts, which average 1.7 percent.
The number of students per teacher in core subjects rose last year to 24.5, staying above the state average of 22.7.
The percentage of teachers with advanced degrees saw a nearly two percent raise from 55.7 to 57.1 percent, but it is well short of the average at similar districts of 62.9 percent. The percentage of classes not taught by highly qualified teachers also jumped from 2.7 to 3.6 percent, double the 1.8 percent average.
As for the schools, 23 of 28 district schools either maintained or improved their absolute ratings. Six area schools were named Reward Schools for Progress, meaning they are among the highest performing Title I schools.
Those schools are Leavelle-McCampbell Middle, New Ellenton Middle, Byrd Elementary, Clearwater Elementary, Gloverville Elementary and Jackson Middle.
Wagener-Salley High was the only school to receive a “Priority” rating, meaning it is among the lowest 5 percent performing Title I schools.
On the federal level, Aiken County received a “B” grade in the ESEA/Federal Accountability Rating System, which incorporates South Carolina's new Annual Measures of Objectives. Those objectives are based on actual school performance as measured by student test scores on the state standards assessments and end-of-course exams.
The overall weighted points total of 86.6 was helped by the elementary (88.2) and middle (88.0) school grades. Aiken County high schools earned a “C” rating of 75.7.
Laurence said on Tuesday that Aiken County has found a number of discrepancies in the state-issued report card, including Aiken's “Poor” rating in Opportunities for the Arts, down from last year's “Excellent” rating.
“We know that some of the information is inaccurate and we have reported it to the state, who have said they would follow up on it,” Laurence said.
Jay Ragley, from the SCDE, said they are working to verify the report.