Gingrich is prime focus of rivals in Iowa debate

Republican presidential candidates (from left) Rick Santorum, Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul and Michele Bachmann take part in the Republican debate Saturday in Des Moines, Iowa.

Greater improvement is needed faster if South Carolina educators expect to see the state's student achievement ranked in the top half of states nationally by 2010.

The S.C. Education Oversight Committee released its annual report Monday on the state's progress toward achieving that goal, which would require the state to become "one of the five fastest-improving systems in the country."

The report compiles a multitude of test data — from elementary school math and reading tests to SAT scores — to gauge overall progress. The data show that South Carolina's reading performance, in fourth grade and eighth grade, has slipped from 2003 and currently ranks 42nd nationwide for fourth-graders and 41st nationwide for eighth-graders.

Even though the state's average SAT score has jumped 31 points during the past decade, South Carolina still ranks 48th among all states on the SAT and ACT. The state did rank among the top half of states in Advanced Placement course participation (22nd nationally) and Advanced Placement test passage rate (23rd nationally).

This year's report was released at a luncheon in Columbia, where higher education officials and business leaders urged educators to continue to press forward in trying to reach the goal by 2010.