State Department should review high school assessments

  • Posted: Tuesday, August 7, 2012 10:36 a.m.

The State Department of Education’s new district and school assessment system – created as an alternative to meet the U.S. Education Department’s reporting requirements – still has some issues that deserve further study, specifically in the high school results.

Still, the new program is a substantial improvement over the previous process.

For nearly a decade, parents had gotten all too familiar with Adequate Yearly Progress and its draconian “met” and “not met” labels. Schools were graded on overall performance, plus achievement in four population subgroups – low-income students, minorities, English as Second-Language students and those in special education. A school could meet 20 of 21 achievement objectives, yet would be labeled as “not met” — a status that quickly became regarded as failure.

As federal student achievement requirements increased, few schools could meet the U.S. Department’s proficiency demands.

The new program is much more realistic at the elementary and middle school level. In Aiken County, a total of 28 of 31 of those schools met, exceeded or greatly exceeded state standards, with 25 making A’s or B’s.

Yet high schools throughout the state averaged “C” grades. Among the Aiken district’s five largest high schools, only Midland Valley managed a B; South Aiken, North Augusta and Silver Bluff received C’s, while Aiken High received a D grade.

One concern is that the high schools are assessed by different criteria – graduation rates, end-of-course tests and the performance of sophomores taking the state’s exit exam for the first time.

All the high schools have long worked on strategies to reduce the achievement gap between the highest-performing students and those who are struggling. In a county with high numbers of students in poverty, this is an enormous challenge.

The “D” that Aiken High received would suggest a school that is nearly failing. This is simply not true; Aiken High has for many years graduated students who are exceptionally accomplished and continue to find success in college and beyond.

Measuring student achievement is inevitably arbitrary and is certainly not infallible.

Given the disparity between the high school grades in comparison with those received by the elementary and middle schools, the State Department should review its assessment criteria – seeking additional input from the S.C. Education Oversight Committee and from school districts.

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