S.C. Changing The Way It Grades Schools

Ratings now include how ready students are for work-force

Patrick Gentry
September 18, 2017 - 6:03 pm

South Carolina school performance ratings could soon be based on how prepared students are for college and the workforce — rather than making it to graduation — under new standards approved by the state Education Oversight Committee.

The committee last week voted on new indicators and weightings that will be used to calculate accountability grades for each school in the state. States are required to come up with an accountability system under the 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act passed by Congress and signed by President Obama. South Carolina will submit its plan to the federal Department of Education for approval later this week.

EOC executive director Melanie Barton said the new indicators include significant changes for high schools. It reduces the percentage of the school’s assessment based on student end-of-course test grades and improvements and adds college readiness indicators such as the SAT, Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate scores. It also factors in career training certificates and the ASVAB military aptitude test results.

“The goal previously was getting students to graduate,” Barton said. “Now, it’s readiness for college and careers after graduation.”

But many educators, including state Education Superintendent Molly Spearman, are not big fans of how the overall school ratings will be based on National Assessment of Educational Progress results. The NAEP assessment compares South Carolina students to others in the nation. Instead of setting specific goals and criteria for schools to achieve top scores, the model assigns the top 15 percent of schools as “Excellent,” next 20 percent as “Good” and so on down the list. The bottom 10 percent will be graded “Unsatisfactory.”

“From what I understand, it is a moving target,” Spearman said. “It does not relate to a standard. You’re compared to a target that is always moving.”

Anderson County District 3 Superintendent Kathy Hipp says she thinks it’s better to have set standards for schools, so leaders know what they need to get good ratings. “I wouldn’t have a classroom teacher who said ten percent of (students) are going to fail before we ever start,” she told the committee. “I already compare myself to other districts. I don’t need an accountability model to do that for me. I just need to know what target I need to hit.”

But State Sen. Greg Hembree, R-Horry, said the fact South Carolina consistently trails in education shows the current method is not working. “That’s quite clear, nobody is debating that,” he said. “We know this. We’ve been doing this for 40 years. We’re going to have to do something different.”

The new model would grade individual schools, rather than districts. South Carolina has suspended its school assessment rankings for the past three years ever since the federal No Child Behind Act’s repeal. Barton said the new accountability system will be reported out in fall 2018, if the Department of Education approves it.

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