The U.S. Department of Education shot down Dorchester District 2's plan to use standardized tests designed by ACT instead of the PASS and the high school exit exam.

In a March 10 rejection letter, Deborah Delisle, the department's assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, explained that federal law requires that all students within a state must be held to the same standards and tested on the same tests.

Delisle could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Dorchester District 2 officials previously said they want to use the ACT-developed tests because they think they would be better for students, teachers, parents and employers. The ACT testing system is coordinated and connected among every grade, which means the tests can better measure and monitor students' academic achievement over time, according to the district.

The high-achieving school district serving lower Dorchester County is the only one in the state that sought a waiver from PASS tests and exit exams.

The state Board of Education signed off on the district's proposal in September. But the plan needed U.S. Department of Education approval before it could move forward. If it had been approved, it would have served as a pilot program for the state.

In a prepared statement Tuesday, Superintendent Joe Pye said he was disappointed with the department's decision. But he was grateful to state leaders who had supported the district's proposal.

He also stated, that while South Carolina has some of the most rigorous academic standards in the country, the current expectations for learning are not preparing all students to be productive citizens in the 21st Century. "Our current assessment system lacks relevancy for students, parents, and the business community," Pye stated. "Our waiver request was an attempt to implement higher expectations for performance while better connecting families and business to the educational process."

Reach Diane Knich at 843-937-5491 or on Twitter at @dianeknich.