South Carolina looking to combine schools’ state, federal ratings into one, easy-to-understand system

South Carolina education leaders want to merge the state’s two, often-confusing school accountability systems, but it’s unclear what the new version will look like.

The state has two accountability systems — the state-mandated report card ratings and the letter grades that satisfy federal law.

Both use the same input measures such as test scores and graduation rates, but they evaluate schools’ performance differently.

State officials said they want to change the accountability systems so that it’s clear and sends a consistent message, and the 2013-14 school year could be the last where schools and districts receive two separate ratings.

Lawmakers required in 2010 that the committee evaluate its accountability system every five years, and this marks the first official review.

“We need a transformation in accountability,” said Neil Robinson, chairman of the state Education Oversight Committee. “Transforming the accountability system will not be easy work. We must all re-commit ourselves to doing what is best for children and their success.”

The state Education Oversight Committee plans to consider a proposal in December that would change the state accountability system to look at more than test scores. It would include students’ access to arts, language programs, dual enrollment courses and dropout recovery programs, and it would cover statistics beyond high school, such as how students fare in two- and four-year colleges.

Any proposal to change report card ratings, which are required by state law, would have to be approved by the General Assembly.

State officials said lawmakers have been receptive to their proposals and changes could be made as soon as this coming session.

Melanie Barton, executive director of the oversight committee, said it still was working on its proposal.

State Superintendent of Education Mick Zais had been involved in the process, and they agree on some components but not others, Barton said. She didn’t see the differences creating a big political battle and was optimistic they would find a solution.

Zais said he’s committed to having one unified system that meets both state and federal requirements, but he’s partial to the federal letter grade system.

He said it’s clear and easy to understand for parents and the public.

“Nobody knows what ‘at risk’ means or what ‘good’ means,” he said. “Everybody knows what ‘A,’ ‘B,’ ‘C,’ ‘D,’ or ‘F’ means.”

Still, he said he letter grade system isn’t perfect, and he’s willing to discuss options with the committee to move the state to one system.

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

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