Charleston County students have a long way to go before they hit their five-year achievement goals, but they mostly accomplished what they were supposed to in 2012.

Vision 2016

The following shows the percentage of Charleston County students who are considered proficient in 2012. It also shows the goal for the percentage of students who were supposed to be proficient in 2012. Finally, the numbers show the 2016 goal for proficiency.Subject 2012 actual achievement2012 goal2016 goal3rd grade English/ language arts 81.5 81.6 983rd grade math 74 71.5 938th grade English/ language arts 72.7 71.5 858th grade math 67.9 71.1 82Graduation rate 75.5 74 81Source: Charleston County School District

School leaders were pleased with students’ progress, but they used words such as “audacious,” “lofty” and “ambitious” to describe students’ 2016 targets.

What they said

A volunteer’s perspectiveMike Campbell is a community member who volunteered last year to organize meetings to gather residents’ and parents’ feedback for Vision 2016.He promised those who came that the district would continue to include them in this journey and give them feedback on its progress, he said.“It’s not a school district issue; it’s a Charleston County issue, regardless of whether you have kids,” he said. “The success or failure of kids pretty much dictates the success or failure of the community.”He said he hasn’t been involved in any outreach efforts since then, but he has a meeting scheduled with district staff to talk more about that.“It’s valuable for the board to understand what the community wants and needs,” he said.Many of the same themes came up at the public input sessions that were held across the county, and he’d like for the district to report back on the status of those, such as increasing parental involvement and ensuring students have effective teachers. He hoped the community’s emphasis on those issues would make it easier for the district to focus on those areas, Campbell said.“I think we’re headed in the right direction to communicate what’s going on,” he said.An educator’s perspective Marylee Boarman teaches English/language arts to seventh- and eighth-graders at Haut Gap Middle on Johns Island. She’s also the school’s English/language arts department chair.District-wide, eighth-grade English/language arts students made solid gains and exceeded the 2012 annual goal of 71.5 percent being proficient. Boarman said getting to the 2016 goal of 85 percent proficient is attainable and not “terribly difficult.”Although more would be better, the district doesn’t necessarily need more money or programs, she said. Existing initiatives, such as increasing teacher effectiveness, expanding the use of iPads and pushing literacy, will make that happen, she said.“We do have the things we need right now in place, but obviously, if we can have more, it will make it that much easier to obtain,” she said.Haut Gap Middle will have to do more catching up than some schools to reach that 85 percent goal; 65.8 percent of its eighth-graders met state standards in English/language arts in 2012.“We have a few more issues we have to take care of, but I think it’s certainly doable,” Boarman said. “I don’t think anybody should be given an exemption, so to speak. It is what it is. All means all. I don’t think anything is too ambitious when we’re talking about the success of a child.”Schools need the support of the community, whether it’s groups such as Communities in Schools or faith-based organizations, to give low-income students the extra boost they need, she said.Her school’s faculty has high expectations of students, and she said they’re constantly looking at ways to help students. Their goals are the same as those of the district: close the achievement gap, increase achievement and raise the graduation rate.“Everybody is aware of it,” she said. “Everybody knows where we need to go. Everybody knows what the expectation is.”An advocate’s perspective Jon Butzon is executive director of the Charleston Education Network, an education advocacy group. He pointed out that the hill the district must climb to meet its goals in the two areas it fell short in 2012 will make for a steeper climb going forward. If those gains aren’t made soon, “the hill is too steep to even climb,” he said.The district’s 2016 student achievement goals are achievable if the district can ensure every classroom has a great teacher. School leaders still don’t have a way to identify which teachers are good and which are not, and until that happens, the reality of meeting those 2016 goals is small, he said.“I’m not using the word ‘good’; I’m using the word ‘great’ because there is no question it is harder to teach disadvantaged kids, or kids who don’t live in homes with well-educated parents,” Butzon said. “There’s no question about that, which is why you’ve got to have great teachers to teach those kids, not just good ones.”District officials didn’t publicly present the 2012 achievement figures broken down by students’ race or income. When that information isn’t disaggregated, Butzon said “you can hide all kinds of stuff in the big numbers.”The district already is in the place it’s aiming to be with white kids, but it’s “hugely behind” with minority and low-income students, he said.“If we’re serious about all means all, we would not only be looking at those numbers, but we would be talking about those numbers and managing around those numbers,” Butzon said. “We don’t ever confront the brutal facts.”

The school district would need to see an average 15.8 percentage point gain in each of five categories to meet its Vision 2016 goals.

Superintendent Nancy McGinley said it would be an incredible and unprecedented achievement nationally for a district Charleston County’s size to maintain such an aggressive rate of improvement over time. Her research hasn’t turned up another sizable, diverse district that’s been able to do so.

Still, she said it can happen in Charleston County if the district spends more money to give struggling schools the specific help they need.

“For the district to reach those goals … we can’t have typical progress in schools that are highly challenged,” McGinley said. “We need to see kids have two or more years of growth.”

The district needs to get serious about mandatory year-round schooling for some, as well as attracting and retaining the best teachers, she said. These kinds of strategies likely will be a part of her budget recommendations to the school board this year.

“We need to have a more in-depth discussion about what it would take and why,” she said.

Vision 2016

The school district launched last year a new strategic plan, Vision 2016. The school board signed off on the plan, which was crafted with community input and with the help of consultants. It includes specific student achievement goals for 2016, as well as parent and employee satisfaction targets and financial expectations.

For student academics, the plan establishes annual and five-year targets for third- and eighth-graders in English and math and for high school students’ graduation rates. The district exceeded three of its annual goals in 2012 and missed two: eighth-grade math and third-grade English.

School Board Chairwoman Cindy Bohn Coats said she won’t be satisfied until those end targets are reached. Although she was marginally pleased with the district’s progress, Coats said the big test will be whether it can sustain and continue its forward progress.

“Achieving (the goals) may cost more than we currently spend, achieving them may cost more than we can spend,” she said. “I will entertain any discussion about these goals except a discussion that says these should not be our goals.”

She expects the district administration to tell the board where the holes are and what needs to be done to plug them, and it’s the board’s job to approve money or staff to those areas, she said.

“We’ve set those standards so high there’s no one demographic or geographic area that could be lagging behind in 2016 while everyone else is making them,” Coats said.

White students either already have met their 2016 achievement goals or are close to doing so in every area tracked, while black students lagged significantly. The same was true for more affluent students compared to their low-income peers.

McGinley pointed to a number of initiatives that have helped the district, and literacy was at the top of her list. The school board agreed to make literacy its No. 1 priority in 2010, and McGinley said she ensured that message was clear and direct to all of the district’s educators.

“Why are we making progress?” she asked. “We are focused on the right things: literacy. Ask any employee. Ninety-five percent will tell you what our focus is in Charleston County School District.”

Enhancing the Vision

The school board plans to add more student achievement goals to its Vision 2016 plan. District officials said the reason is that the plan’s goals will be incorporated into new evaluations for principals, and the limited number of goal areas might not give an accurate picture of a principal’s performance (most supervise only one grade that’s tracked in Vision 2016). They thought it would be fairer to have more than one grade represented in those reviews.

The board also recently discussed whether it should alter its 2013 student achievement goals. Some suggested increasing expectations in 2013 for areas where the district far exceeded its 2012 targets because, as board member John Barter said, “This goal-setting ought to be about the art of maximizing student achievement.”

McGinley pushed back, saying she didn’t like that idea if the board wouldn’t consider lowering goals that weren’t achieved in 2012. Principals had been working all year toward the proposed 2013 targets, and it’s late to change that, she said.

“Don’t adjust some and not others,” she said. “At this rate of progress, we’re still on target to meet Vision 2016 goals. All schools are trying to make as much progress as possible. We set the goals, let’s keep the goals.”

The board agreed not to change its 2013 goals.

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