New tests, basically same results
Lowcountry students' scores on the state's new standardized exams generally followed the same patterns as they have in the past, according to results released Thursday by the state Department of Education.
Students performed better on English/language arts than they did on science, and eighth-graders' scores were, by and large, lower than students in earlier grades.
Last year was the first time that students took the Palmetto Assessment of State Standards, a test that replaced the 10-year-old Palmetto Achievement Challenge Tests.
Third- through eighth-graders took exams in five areas: writing, English language arts, mathematics, science and social studies.
PASS has three scoring classifications -- "exemplary" and "met" and "not met" the grade-level standard -- whereas PACT had four. That means this year's results will serve as a baseline reference point for the future.
"There was never a premeditated attempt to correlate the four levels of PACT with the three levels of PASS," said S.C. Superintendent of Education Jim Rex. "In future test administrations, we'll have more data and will understand it better in terms of a correlation and lack of correlation. We don't think you can draw legitimate comparisons at this stage."
Parents and educators will receive more information about their students' strengths and weaknesses from the PASS exam. While students used to receive only their math score, they now will know their scores in specific areas, such as algebra or geometry.
PASS scores will be available more quickly than PACT scores. Students already received 2009 PASS scores, and they should have results from the upcoming administration of the exams by June 16.
Scores were delayed until now because of extensive statistical work and standard-setting that accompanied the first-year administration of the new exam.
In Berkeley County, Chief Academic Officer Archie Franchini said the district's scores basically mirror state trends. The district needs more time to evaluate the scores, he said, but some high points are evident.
Third- through seventh- graders scored above the state average on the English language arts portion of the test, he said, and sixth- and seventh-graders scored above the state average in all areas.
District leaders will decide if they need to change or tweak existing academic assistance programs after they evaluate the scores more closely, he said.
In Charleston County, more students scored in the exemplary category than the state average in every grade and in every subject, an accomplishment that pleased Superintendent Nancy McGinley.
The district did the same last year, and she said she was glad to see the pattern hold up again this year despite the change in the exam.
Still, she expressed concern when she saw the district's scores in science and social studies, and she already has scheduled a meeting with curriculum leaders in those areas to find out what needs to change.
In the past, for example, she said she determined that schools weren't teaching the vocabulary students needed, terms such as "synthesize" and "differentiate," to be able to answer science questions, so she tried to ensure that happened.
She didn't like the dip in seventh- and eighth-graders' scores, so she also will hold a meeting with leaders at those levels to talk about what's happening. The district's new literacy plan should help increase the percentage of students scoring "met" or higher, she said.
Schools in suburban Dorchester 2 mirrored the state trend, but Superintendent Joe Pye said the district's average scores were higher than the state average in every area. And on the writing portion of the test, Dorchester 2 students were among the top 10 in the state at all levels, he said. "We're a writing district."
The district's scores indicate that it needs to work on science, he said, and it needs to continue working with its African American students to help them perform better. The district isn't planning to put in place new programs based on the scores, Pye said, but it will continue efforts already in place.
One such effort is a district-wide improvement program for math. The district is using new textbooks for students that are more closely aligned with state academic standards, he said. And teachers and principals are receiving training in math instruction.
Teachers address students' literacy skills in all subjects, he said, not just in reading programs. And teachers are continually conducting assessments, then intervening when students have difficulties, he said.
Superintendent Jerry Montjoy said scores in rural Dorchester 4 generally mirrored state trends. One of the bright spots was the improved performance of sixth-graders at St. George Middle School on the English language arts portion of the test, he said.
Scores still aren't what they should be, he said, but there's noticeable improvement.
The scores also point out some challenging areas, he said. Third-graders' scores on the English portion of the test were lower than expected.
He said he thinks that's because in previous years, teachers read aloud to students on portions of the test. On the PASS, students were required to read the entire test themselves, Montjoy said.
He also said he's still reviewing the scores, but they appear to be "more of a mixed bag" than standardized test scores in previous years.
"I don't see as many consistencies," he said.
Percentage of students scoring "met" or "exemplary" on pass
District — 3rd-grade ELA — 3rd-grade science — 8th-grade ELA — 8th-grade science
Berkeley — 80 — 61 — 65.6 — 63.5
Charleston — 80 — 64 — 70.1 — 62.2
Dorchester 2 — 85.4 — 74.9 — 74.6 — 72.1
Dorchester 4 — 72.3 — 63.5 — 46.1 — 40
State — 78 — 61.6 — 67.5 — 62.3