The Aiken High School teachers had gathered for lunch on Wednesday after students had departed on the monthly early release day – all of them waiting for an announcement from Principal Garen Cofer.

When they heard the word “excellent” and then heard it again, the teachers burst into applause and a few shouts of “Woo-hoo!”

Aiken received an “excellent” absolute grade through the annual State Report Cards – based on academic performance and other criteria, including graduate rate.

The Aiken County School District also received an “excellent” absolute rating, as did four other high schools – South Aiken, Midland Valley, Silver Bluff and North Augusta. Their results pushed the District to its own overall “excellent” grade and a “good” growth rating, comparing performance from one year to the next.

Most of the other Aiken County schools held steady from the 2012 results. The Report Card ratings in schools with grades third through fifth and sixth through eighth are based on the state's Palmetto Assessment of State Standards, also known as PASS.

“We're pleased that this certainly reflects on all the hard work of our teachers and principals,” said Aiken Superintendent Dr. Beth Everitt.

The State Department of Education sent out the results to the public today, including graduate rates.

State Superintendent Dr. Mick Zais noted that the state's high school graduate rate increased from 73.6 percent in 2010-11 to 77.5 percent in 2012-13 – the highest increase ever during a two-year period.

Everitt said the District administration had hoped to reach an 80 percent graduation rate in the current school year, but did so based on results last spring.

She was at Midland Valley High, where the faculty enjoyed the lunch prepared by Principal Carl White.

“He announced their ratings, and the teachers were ecstatic,” said Everitt. “Their graduation rate was over 83 percent.”

High school report card grades are based on the on-time graduate rate and the five-year rate; end-of-course test performance; and scores on the High School Assessment Program, also known as HSAP, which also functions as an exit exam.

That exam also is considered in the school rating based on a student passing it the first time or on further opportunities into his senior year.

Elementary schools and middle schools get ratings based on the performance of their students on the Palmetto Assessment of State Standards. The rating does include the end-of-course results of a relatively small number of eighth-graders who take high school-level English and math courses.

In a press release, Zais said, “I am so proud of the great progress that our schools have made in increasing our graduation rates. Teachers, students and parents have worked together all year long and earned these gains.”

It's perhaps likely that the State Report Card in its present form could be restructured by 2015.

The ratings for districts and schools are based on overall student performance.

In August, the State Department released other district and school ratings based on much of the same criteria. However, the calculations that went into those ratings rely more on subgroup performance – low-income students, black students, students with English as their second language, and special education students.

Educators throughout the state are scheduled to begin exploring a new assessment structure in the near future.

Actual report cards will be released online for the District and all schools, giving parents and the public a comprehensive look at the schools' achievements and other information.

Senior writer Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard's education reporter and has been with the newspaper since September 2001. He is a native of Walterboro and majored in journalism at the University of Georgia.