Although South Carolina students fared better this year on two of the state's biggest tests, they didn't make enough progress to meet the state's goals.

2013 federal letter grades results

This year was the second that schools and districts received grades as part of their federal accountability under the No Child Left Behind law. The grades are based on results from PASS tests, exit exams and end-of-course tests, as well as schools' graduation rates. Every year, the achievement goals that districts and schools must meet go up, so the expectations for students' scores was higher this year compared to last year. The grade gives schools partial credit for making progress toward those goals.

A score of 90-100 receives an “A” — substantially exceeds the state's expectations.

A score of 80-89.9 receives a “B” — exceeds the state's expectations.

A score of 70-79.9 receives a “C” — meets the state's expectations.

A score of 60-69.9 receives a “D” — does not meet the state's expectations.

A score of less than 60 receives an “F” — performance is substantially below the state's expectations.

Letter grades 2012 2013

Berkeley 90.3 A 87.5 B

Charleston 89.1 B 83.2 B

Dorchester 2 91.7 A 90.7 A

Dorchester 4 91.7 A 77.8 C

Statewide 90 A 83.8 B

S.C. Department of Education

The state set higher achievement targets for 2012-13, and nearly half of the state's school districts fell short of those marks. That meant they earned worse letter grades.

On Thursday, the state Department of Education released three sets of results — scores on the state Palmetto Assessment of State Standards and high school exit exams, as well as letter grades assigned to schools and districts based on those scores.

The conflicting results — better test scores but lower grades — prompted calls from state officials to change the state's accountability systems, but they have different ideas about how to do that.

Some education leaders want the state to abandon the “A” through “F” letter grades assigned to schools based on their performance and growth, saying they aren't valid or reliable. But State Superintendent of Education Mick Zais defended the grades and vowed to fight any effort to “weaken accountability” in the state.

South Carolina schools must meet accountability mandates from the state and federal governments. The state system gives schools report card ratings, and the federal system assigns letter grades. Zais wants to eliminate the report cards and use only the letter grades.

“This new federal report card system is more transparent to parents and the public than the old system,” he said. “It's easy to understand and it fits on a single piece of paper.”

Other education leaders called the letter-grade calculation method complicated and flawed. Molly Spearman, executive director of the S.C. Association of School Administrators, said the letter grades give schools unfair and inaccurate labels, and said she was disappointed that Zais would support such a rating system.

Paul Krohne, executive director of the S.C. School Boards Association, also criticized the state Department of Education for “maintaining the test, label and then punish approach.”

“It measures progress solely on scores from standardized tests, which forces schools to focus on testing at the expense of teaching and learning,” he said. “Our students deserve better than the test and label system.”

Neil Robinson, chairman of the state Education Oversight Committee, said he was concerned about the mixed messages being sent to the public, and he said a review team planned to provide recommendations on a clear, cohesive accountability system by December.

On PASS and exit exams, school districts statewide generally saw better results on the tests. The percentage of students meeting standards or passing those tests improved compared with last year, and that rang true in most local school districts.

But 39 of the state's 81 districts received worse letter grades; only eight districts improved.

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To see your school's individual results, go to postandcourier.com/test-results.

Reach Diette Courrégé Casey at @Diette on Twitter or (843) 937-5546.