Superintendent Joe Pye was concerned about Dorchester District 2 when he received early results of statewide testing from the Department of Education until he looked at the larger picture.

PASS exam

What it is: Public school students in third through eighth grades take the exam; tested subjects are writing, English language arts (reading and research), mathematics, science and social studies.

Why it matters: PASS is one of the tests used to calculate schools’ and districts’ ratings on the state’s school report cards, as well as the grades released Thursday under the federal accountability system.

Results: The following is the percentage of students who met or exceeded the state standard in 2013 for the subjects and grades listed, and the percentage-point change from the previous year.

District 1* 1a 2 2a 3 3a 4 4a

Berkeley 86.2 1 67.8 -4.1 68.8 -7.2 71.2 1.5

Charleston 84.3 2.8 71.5 -1.2 70 -4 74.5 6.6

Dorchester 2 88.4 1.2 74.6 -3.5 83.6 -1.1 76.8 -2.8

Dorchester 4 79.6 -2.5 49.3 -7.8 69.8 -2 58.6 4

Statewide 82.9 2.6 67.4 -2.4 69.8 -2.8 70.2 1.6

*: (1) 3rd-grade English/language arts, (1a) percentage point change from 2012, (2) 8th-grade English/language arts, (2a) percentage point change from 2012, (3) 3rd-grade math, (3a) percentage point change from 2012, (4) 8th-grade math, (4a) percentage point change from 2012

Source: S.C. Department of Education

The district went from a 91.7 to a 90.7 on its letter grade, which is based on results from PASS tests, exit exams, end-of-course tests and graduation rates. Statewide, that number dropped from 90 to 83.8.

“Any concerns I had with the preliminary data were kind of erased when I saw that it mirrored the state,” Pye said. “That made it a little easier to swallow.”

The achievement goals rise each year, making expectations higher. Of 84 districts statewide, only 15 stayed the same or improved from 2012.

Dorchester 2 was among 10 districts that earned an “A” in 2013, and one of nine that has had an “A” both years the grades have been assigned.

“The first thing I looked at, it looks like we went up in everything, so how did our score go down?” Pye said. “I don’t think it’s as bad as it appears. It’s just that the target keeps changing. Every time we think we’re doing better and seeing positive gains, then the target moves up.”

Pye said district officials are already meeting to discuss areas of weaknesses, such as eighth-grade social studies PASS tests, where the percentage who scored “met” or “exemplary” fell from 84.4 in 2013 to 77.2 this year.

“Eighth-grade social studies is where we had probably our biggest drop,” Pye said. “We want to go 7 more (percentage points) up. We didn’t want to go 7 down. So we’re going to be really looking at that and working with that grade level.”

In a comparison with similar districts, such as Anderson 1, Richland 2 and Greenville County, “we’re the only one in that group that got an ‘A,’ ” he said. “Right now, the only thing I’m concerned about is it looks like Anderson 1’s elementary science might be considerably stronger, so I’m sending people up there to check that out.”

Pye points to the district’s middle schools, which nearly all earned “A” ratings for the second year. Gregg fell from 93.9 to 88.9 and got a “B.”

“A lot of districts have great success at elementary, but fall apart at middle and high,” he said. “We’re turning the tide of that because our elementary is very strong, but now our middle schools have awakened and they are doing their part, so we’ve got better-prepared students coming to the high school every year.”

Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or on Twitter @brindge.