Dorchester 4 Superintendent Jerry Montjoy has been poring over his rural school district’s test scores trying to figure out why its letter grade dropped.

Exit exams

What it is: The High School Assessment Program test, or exit exam, is given in English/language arts and math. Students typically take the test during their second year of high school.

Why it matters: Students must pass the state’s exit exam to earn a diploma. It also is used in the calculation of schools’ ratings on the state report card and in schools’ grades for federal accountability status.

Results: The following shows the percentage of students who passed both exams on their first attempt in 2013 compared with the previous year.

District 2012 2013

Berkeley 81.2 83.5

Charleston 82.9 83.2

Dorchester 2 87.5 86.0

Dorchester 4 69.1 74.6

State 80.1 82.0

S.C. Department of Education

The district’s 91.7 “A” fell to a 77.8 “C,” and that’s mostly because of its high school, Woodland High, he said. Its letter grade dropped from a 73 “C” to a 48.8 “F.”

“The high school data brought the whole district down,” he said.

One of the problems is the graduation rate used to determine the letter grades, he said. The state uses schools’ 2011-12 rates because the ones from the 2012-13 school year aren’t yet available. Woodland High saw its rate fall from nearly 7 percentage points to 71.5 percent last year, but Montjoy expects the rate this year to be about 80 percent.

Most of the district’s other test scores were what Montjoy said he expected to see.

“We still want to be an ‘A,’ and whatever we have to do to make that happen, we’re going to do that,” he said.

The district saw some big gains in its middle grades, particularly in English/language arts, and he attributed those to a new reading program. The district’s math scores for sixth- and seventh-graders fell from last year, and he said that will be a focus this year. Schools will use a new math program with its struggling students.

An additional 20-student pre-kindergarten class should help ensure more children are ready for kindergarten, and most students who are on waiting lists should be served, he said.

Other programs that should be beneficial to students include a new Project Lead the Way curriculum at St. George Middle and a partnership between Woodland High and Trident Technical College, he said.

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