Ratings

Berkeley

Absolute rating: Improved from “average” last year to “good” this year

Graduation rate: 74.4 percent, down .6 percentage points from 2011

Charleston

Absolute rating: Maintained its “good” rating from last year

Graduation rate: 75.5 percent, up 3.3 percentage points from 2011

Dorchester 2

Absolute rating: Improved from “good” last year to “excellent” this year

Graduation rate: 76.5 percent, up 2.1 percentage points from 2011

Dorchester 4

Absolute rating: Maintained its “average” rating from last year

Graduation rate: 71.5 percent, down 5.5 percentage points from 2011

State

Graduation rate: 74.9 percent, up 1.3 percentage points from 2011

(Note: There is no absolute rating for the state)

Highlights

The following are some of the bright spots in this year’s state report card release:

Dorchester 2 and Berkeley County school districts were among 31 statewide to see their absolute ratings improve. Dorchester 2 improved from “good” to “excellent” while Berkeley saw its “average” rating move to “good.”

In Berkeley County, none of its schools’ absolute ratings declined, and 39 of its 40 schools were rated “average” or better. It has one “below average” school.

Charleston saw the most improvement from last year for its graduation rate, a 3.3 percentage point increase to 75.5 percent. This is the third consecutive increase in its graduation rate.

Charleston, for the first time ever, has fewer than 10 schools rated “at-risk.” Four schools — Hursey Elementary, Morningside Middle, Northwoods Middle and Sanders-Clyde Elementary — improved from “at-risk” to “below average” this year.

In Dorchester 2, 17 of its 21 schools were rated “excellent.” None of its schools’ absolute ratings declined, and four of its schools’ ratings improved from “good” to “excellent.”

In Dorchester 4, the index scores upon which the ratings are based improved for every school, and none of its schools saw worse ratings this year. This also is the first time the district does not have any school rated “below average” or “at risk.”

Academic Magnet High in Charleston County was one of four schools in the state to have a 100 percent graduation rate.

Stono Park Elementary in Charleston County and Harleyville-Ridgeville Elementary in Dorchester 4 are among 17 schools in the state to have a poverty index of 90 percent or higher and receive an absolute rating of “good.”

Concerns

The following are some of the areas of concerns for Lowcountry schools:

In Charleston: Five schools — C.C. Blaney Elementary, James Island Elementary, Lambs Elementary, Memminger Elementary and Lincoln High — had worse ratings this year compared with last year. Two of those, Memminger Elementary and Lincoln High, fell into “at-risk” this year.

School Superintendent Nancy McGinley said she planned to look at the results closely and go to the board with specific suggestions on how to improve those schools.

“I am not happy that any school regressed,” she said. “I will not be satisfied until we have no ‘at risk’ or ‘below average’ schools. But teachers are working hard and principals overall are demonstrating strong leadership.”

In Berkeley: The district’s graduation rate slid from 75 percent last year to 74.4 percent this year.

School Superintendent Rodney Thompson said the district’s graduation rate hovered around 68 percent for years until last year when it jumped significantly to 75 percent. The district won’t be satisfied until it reaches its goal of 80 percent, and he said this year’s fluctuation could be attributed to a handful of students.

“We want to focus on the masses, and it’s hard to control individual students,” he said. “We’re focused on the gains over a three-year period as a true indication of a graduation pattern.”

In Dorchester 2: The district’s overall graduation rate improved 2.1 percent points to 76.5 percent, but the rates among its three high schools varied from 72 percent to 82 percent.

School Superintendent Joe Pye said the schools are equally balanced by poverty, race and gender, and the district supplies them with equitable funding and staffing.

The district has shifted some students among attendance zones, so that could’ve affected some schools. He expects to see improvement next year, and the district’s goal is an 85 percent graduation rate, he said.

“They are all sharing everything each one is doing, and it makes us a stronger district,” he said.

How do state report card ratings compare with federal letter grades

The state has two systems for evaluating its districts and schools. The report card ratings are required by the state Education Accountability Act, and the letter grades released earlier this fall satisfy mandates of the federal No Child Left Behind law.

State Superintendent of Education Mick Zais said his top legislative priority for the next two years is to modernize and unify the two systems so that it increases transparency and improves performance standards.

“Words such as ‘at-risk’ are ambiguous and confusing, which is why I will recommend to Gov. (Nikki) Haley and the General Assembly that letter grades replace the current rating descriptors,” he said Tuesday.

Zais said school letter grades and the creation of a special school district for persistently failing schools will be part of a broad legislative package to modernize school accountability laws.

The results from the state and federal accountability systems were comparable in some ways. Under the state report card ratings, 86 percent of schools received ratings of “average” or above. Under the federal letter grades, 84 percent received an “A,” “B,” or “C.”

Zais said there was less alignment among high schools, likely because of the different weights assigned to graduation rates under each system.

What Lowcountry superintendents said

“We’re excited with our results. We didn’t have any of our schools see a decrease in our absolute ratings. That positive movement forward is extremely encouraging. We’re encouraged, but we’re not satisfied, and we’re going to focus on moving forward in the years to come.”

Rodney Thompson, superintendent of Berkeley County School District

“I think sustaining our ‘good’ absolute rating validated that it was not a flash in the pan and we are on the right track. ... When I look back at 2007 and more than half of our schools were ‘at-risk’ or ‘below average’ and in five years, we have that down to less than 25 percent. That, by any way you want to cut it, is incredible growth.”

Nancy McGinley, superintendent of Charleston County School District

“We have gotten better every single year. Everyone is moving forward, and I was so impressed with that. I can’t see anything (for next year), but everybody is excellent. I have four ‘good’ schools, and if they just gain what they did last year, everybody will be excellent next year. You can’t ask for better than that.”

Joe Pye, superintendent of Dorchester 2

“It’s taken us a long time to get here, but we’re moving in the right direction. We knew we had to build that base in elementary schools, and when you look at what we’ve done, we’re there. We’re right where we need to be. It’s not that huge jump at one time; it’s that steady improvement that counts.”

Jerry Montjoy, superintendent of Dorchester 4

High school graduation rates

The following are Lowcountry high schools’ graduation rates for 2012 compared to 2011.

County/School 2012 2011

Berkeley

Stratford High 76.80 77.05

Berkeley High 67.60 70.51

Cross High 72.73 67.86

Goose Creek High 74.09 69.12

Hanahan High 77.87 80.59

Timberland High 66.96 75.36

Cane Bay High 77.09 78.31

Berkeley County Middle College 92.54 100

Charleston County

Baptist Hill High 67.68 68.89

North Charleston High 45.28 43.53

Garrett Academy Of Technology 92.59 93.37

Burke High 54.26 55.63

Lincoln High 65.38 76.92

Wando High 85.30 85.91

Military Magnet Academy 92.42 94.55