By the numbers

The following show the percentage of Charleston students meeting or exceeding state standards on the Palmetto Assessment of State Standards in comparison to the annual and long-term Vision 2016 goals.

English/language Arts (Reading and Research)

Grade 2012 2013 2013 Vision Goal 2013 Difference 2016 Vision Goal 2016 Difference

3 81.5 84.3 84.6 -0.3 98 -13.7

5 77.5 81.6 85.1 -3.5 92 -10.4

7 72.6 76.4 74.4 2 87 -10.6

8 72.7 71.5 74 -2.5 85 -13.5

Mathematics

Grade 2012 2013 2013 Vision Goal 2013 Difference 2016 Vision Goal 2016 Difference

3 74 70 75 -5 93 -23

5 76.6 78.2 82.3 -4.1 89 -10.8

7 72.4 72.5 72.7 -0.2 85 -12.5

8 67.9 74.5 73.6 0.9 82 -7.5

Source: S.C. Department of Education, Charleston County School District

Vinyl and digital billboards posted across Charleston County last year touted the start of Vision 2016, the school district’s five-year plan to improve all students’ achievement.

The plan spelled out specific goals for third- and eighth-graders in English and math, as well as high school students’ graduation rates. The school board since has added fifth and seventh grades, end-of-course exams and its report-card rating to those goals.

Vision 2016 clearly outlined what the board and superintendent wanted to achieve by 2016, as well as annual goals they aimed to meet.

Results from the district’s second year of effort under that plan are trickling in, and the news is mixed. Although schools made progress, it wasn’t enough to hit most of the 2013 goals. And in a few cases, the district’s scores worsened.

“It shows that we need to accelerate progress,” said Superintendent Nancy McGinley. “We made good progress, and we need to take stock as a district of what more could we be doing so we’re making even more progress.”

To make Vision 2016 a reality, the district has to make up considerable ground during the next three years. Students would need to improve an average of nearly 13 percentage points in English and math in three years; the average this year was 1.7 percentage points.

The results

A chunk of Vision 2016 is based on students’ scores on the state Palmetto Assessment of State Standards, and scores from the 2012-13 school year were released Aug. 1.

The scores tracked in Vision 2016 are incorporated in the superintendent’s evaluation and eventually will be used in evaluations of administrators and teachers.

Of the eight Vision 2016 goals based on PASS scores, the school district exceeded its annual targets in two areas — seventh-grade English/language arts and eighth-grade math. In the remaining six areas the district failed to meet its 2013 goals — some by a narrow margin, some by nearly 5 percentage points.

McGinley said growth doesn’t always happen in the same steady increments, and some years will see greater percentage-point gains.

“We are absolutely committed to Vision 2016 goals, but we have to recognize that the goals surpass the state goals to be ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ schools,” she said. “That doesn’t mean we’re not committed. We’ve set the goals high so if we don’t hit them, we’ve still got more than 90 percent of students where they need to be.”

High school graduation rates and end-of-course exams will be released this fall.

Kent Riddle, kindergarten teacher and chairman of the Charleston Teacher Alliance, said teachers have questioned from the start whether any other district has achieved the kind of growth the district wants, and they’ve asked how these 2016 achievement figures were determined. Many of their questions have gone unanswered, he said.

“Are we setting ourselves up for failure?” he said.

Changing the goals?

McGinley doesn’t want to lower the 2016 goals, but she said she does want to talk about who is included in those figures. That could mean exempting some students.

For example, the district is supposed to have 98 percent of all its third-graders meeting state standards in English/language arts by 2016. That goal doesn’t make accommodations for students who have disabilities or who don’t speak English as their first language.

McGinley said students who are new to this country can learn how to speak English, but it might take them longer to get on grade level. And students who have special needs with an average IQ can learn to read, but it may take them longer than their peers, she said.

“All means all if given the appropriate supports,” she said. “That may include extra time, extra days or extra years.”

District staff members are doing calculations that would remove English language learners and students with disabilities from the district’s total figures to show what its Vision 2016 status would be.

Board members had varying reactions to that idea. Chairwoman Cindy Bohn Coats said she wouldn’t support lowering the achievement targets, because “these are kids, these are not goals.” She saw a distinction between English language learners and students with special needs, and she seemed more willing to make exceptions for special-needs students than non-English speakers.

Before she makes any decision, she said she wants to know the exact percentages of both groups of students in the district.

Board member Elizabeth Moffly, one of the district’s biggest critics, said she would be willing to break out special-needs students as well as English language learners to see how they were performing, but she doesn’t want to eliminate them from the district’s 2016 goals.

“In all fairness to the district, they should be broken out,” she said. “It’s fair to be able to look at it like that.”

More instruction time

The status quo won’t be enough to move all students to the Vision 2016 goals.

The school district has been focused on literacy for the past few years, and the $7.5 million the district has invested needs to be sustained, McGinley said.

Math is the area where officials are working to improve instruction. They found this past spring that many teachers weren’t implementing the math curriculum with fidelity, she said.

Teachers suggested, and the district agreed, to adopt a new math series that teachers have said they will be more comfortable using, McGinley said. And all principals and assistant principals also attended training on improving math instruction.

“The math (students) are learning is much more complex than it was when I was in elementary school,” she said. “It’s higher-level thinking, so we need to have our teachers comfortable with how do we get our kids to think this way.”

Officials are considering a new proposal to extend the school year with a fifth quarter for students who aren’t passing and need extra help. Hundreds of students in the district’s low-performing schools had an extended school year this summer, and McGinley said preliminary results showed those were effective.

McGinley said the district might need to look at ways to set aside money during 2013-14 to be able to offer the fifth quarter next summer.

“If we’re going to stay on track, we have to accept the fact that some students are going to need more time in the classroom,” she said.

Coats encouraged McGinley to bring an extended-school-year proposal to the board for consideration, but Moffly said she wouldn’t support extended time.

“More of the same is not going to make it better,” Moffly said.

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