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Sixth-graders in Kimberly Fontanez's art class at New Ellenton Middle STEAM Magnet School combine technology and art techniques to create original works in February 2018. The school received an Excellent rating on the new 2018 S.C. Department of Education reports cards, improving its rating from Average.

New Ellenton STEAM Magnet School made a significant move upward on the first S.C. Department of Education report cards released Thursday.

The partial-magnet school, which accepts students from its attendance zone and through student choice applications, soared from a 2014 grade of Average to an Excellent rating this year, despite a significant increase in expectations from federal guidelines, according to a news release from the school district.

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Makayla Riley, a student at New Ellenton Middle STEAM Magnet School, uses technology to create a painting in art class in February 2018. The school received an Excellent rating on the new 2018 S.C. Department of Education reports cards, improving its rating from Average.

Overall, 17 Aiken County Public Schools earned ratings of Excellent or Good based upon the new enhanced academic performance criteria, according to the release.

Chukker Creek Elementary School, North Augusta Elementary School and North Augusta High School also received Excellent ratings.

Chukker Creek and North Augusta Elementary schools maintained their Excellent ratings from 2014, when state schools last received report cards.

North Augusta High School raised its score from a grade of Good in 2014 to Excellent this year because of the collaborative efforts of teachers and students, increased learning expectations and student achievement in Advanced Placement coursework through its Advanced Placement Academy in partnership with the National Math + Science Initiative, according to the release.

The inaugural state school report cards are associated with increased academic expectations set by the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) of 2015, according to the release. For the first time, the reports cards meet both state and federal law.

Sean Alford

Dr. Sean Alford

“Our school-based leadership teams understand where we truly are and need to be as an organization and as a state,” Aiken County Public School District Superintendent Dr. Sean Alford said in the release. “This understanding facilitates a greater level of commitment, involvement and dedication among educators, parents, students and those not already formally connected with our public schools. Educating our children in South Carolina cannot be the job of teachers alone.

“It’s also exciting to see a number of our schools already meeting the new heightened academic expectations and many others that have been able to show improvement and increase their overall performance ratings, despite heightened expectations.

“North Aiken Elementary School, for example, was rated Below Average in 2014. Through rigorous professional learning opportunities and a collaborative commitment to success, I couldn’t be more proud of the school’s rating of Good today and the very hard work that’s evident in this new ranking.”

Elementary schools

Among elementary schools, Gloverville, Jefferson, Mossy Creek and Ridge Spring-Monetta improved their ratings. Ratings for Aiken County Public Schools' elementary schools are as follows:

• Aiken Elementary – Average

• Belvedere Elementary – Good

• Busbee Elementary – Average

• Byrd Elementary – Average

• Chukker Creek Elementary – Excellent

• Clearwater Elementary – Unsatisfactory

• East Aiken School of the Arts – Below Average

• Gloverville Elementary – Good

• Greendale Elementary – Below Average

• Hammond Hill Elementary – Good

• J.D. Lever Elementary – Average

• Jefferson Elementary – Good

• Millbrook Elementary – Average

• Mossy Creek Elementary – Good

• North Aiken Elementary – Good

• North Augusta Elementary – Excellent

• Oakwood-Windsor Elementary – Average

• Redcliffe Elementary – Average

• Ridge Spring-Monetta Elementary – Good

• Warrenville Elementary – Average.

Middle schools

Among middle schools, A.L. Corbett Middle in Wagener earned an overall Good rating, a significant improvement from a 2014 Below Average grade, according to the release. Paul Knox Middle School in North Augusta also improved.

Middle school ratings are as follows:

• Aiken Middle – Unsatisfactory

• A.L. Corbett Middle – Good

• Jackson STEM Middle – Average

• Langley-Bath-Clearwater Middle – Average

• Leavelle McCampbell – Average

• Kennedy Middle – Average

• New Ellenton STEAM Middle – Excellent

• North Augusta Middle - Below Average

• Paul Knox Middle – Good

• Ridge Spring-Monetta Middle - Below Average

• Schofield Middle - Below Average.

High schools

The ratings for high schools ranged from Average to Excellent as follows:

• Aiken High – Good

• Midland Valley High – Good

• North Augusta High – Excellent

• Ridge Spring-Monetta High - Average

• Silver Bluff High – Good

• South Aiken High – Good

• Wagener-Salley High – Average.

The report cards provide ratings for individual schools, not school districts, according to the release.

Indicators that influence school ratings in elementary and middle schools are as follows: academic achievement, student progress (growth), preparing for success, English learners’ proficiency and school quality.

High Schools are not rated on the student progress (growth) metric but are measured on graduation rate and college and career readiness.

Indicators that are reported but do not impact school ratings are as follows: classroom environment, student safety and financial information.

The academic achievement metric is weighted heavily in the new model and is based on overall student performance in math and English language arts.

Student proficiency

Unlike previous year’s reports, the 2018 report cards address student proficiency regarding academics as well as individual student growth from year to year.

“What was once considered excellent academic performance in 2014 does not meet that same level or performance criteria in 2018, and these ratings certainly reflect those increased performance expectations across our state,” Alford said.

The report cards rate schools by a five-point performance scale as follows: Excellent, Good, Average, Below Average and Unsatisfactory. Approximately 15 percent of schools in each level – elementary, middle and high- across the state are able to be rated Excellent.

Schools are rated on a 0 to 100 point scale.

As an example of increased performance expectations, 99 of more than 650 elementary schools in the state received an Excellent ratings on the new report cards. In comparison, 224 elementary received an Excellent rating in 2014. The new ratings represent a 55 percent decrease.

According to the 2018 S.C. School Report Cards rating system, only about 35 percent of South Carolina schools, at each grade level, are rated Excellent or Good. Nearly 53 percent of elementary schools, 37.9 percent of middle schools and 70.1 percent of high schools throughout the state earned those highest marks by 2014 standards.

Also, approximately 30 percent of South Carolina schools, at each grade level, are rated Below Average or Unsatisfactory. In 2014, only 11 percent of elementary schools, 19.2 percent of middle schools and 10.7 percent of high schools in South Carolina received the lowest ratings.

College and career ready

“It used to take 100 yards to make a touchdown, right? In this system, it's 120,” Melanie Barton, executive director for the South Carolina Education Oversight Committee, told Aiken County School Board members at their Nov. 27 meeting at which she presented on the heightened expectations. “We've moved the goal line because the jobs of the future require our students to be college and career ready. In the past, there were enough jobs for just high school graduates. There aren't enough any more.

“Sixty percent of the jobs in South Carolina are going to require a postsecondary degree or postsecondary certificate. Look at the economic development around the state. It's high-tech, high-tech manufacturing. It's computers across the road in Augusta.”

Barton described the expectation as “aspirations” and the ratings as a “benchmark.”

“The report card data should be used as tools to help schools, administrators, parents and the community to do all that we can do to help students because it's all about the students,” Barton said.

For the first time, the success of non-English speaking students was calculated in South Carolina’s report, and the growth year-to-year of the lowest performing students in a school also was measured.

Jeanie Glover

Jeanie Glover

“We’ve taken great steps over the past several years to prepare for this new report card with heightened expectations,” said Jeanie Glover, the school district's chief instructional officer.

“There’s a higher bar now; there’s no doubt about that,” she continued. “Because we have increased rigor in our classrooms and expectations across the board, I’m encouraged to see many of our schools and students already reaching that higher bar. Others will clear the bar, too, but it will certainly take all of us working together to do that – One Team.”

Detailed report card data for each school is available online at and is linked to Aiken County Public Schools' website,

To download a "Guide to the 2018 S.C. School Report Cards,” visit the S.C. Education Oversight Committee's website at

The S.C. Education Oversight Committee also developed a website,, to help community stakeholders, business leaders and families get more information about the status of public schools and learn more about how they can help.

Larry Wood covers education for the Aiken Standard.