Molly Spearman (copy)

South Carolina Superintendent Molly Spearman announced Tuesday that the state's new school report cards will be delayed due to a problem with data provided by a vendor. File/Seanna Adcox/Staff

Inaccurate data from a student survey has derailed the process for releasing new state report cards for schools across South Carolina, Education Superintendent Molly Spearman said.

Spearman said Tuesday her department found out Monday about errors in data files that were "claimed to be accurate by a vendor, AdvancED." 

The state was supposed to release its newly revamped report cards Thursday, but the new tentative release date is Nov. 29.

"These inaccuracies cannot be remedied in time for the scheduled release, and those at fault will be held responsible," Spearman said in a statement.

The report cards are part of a controversial retooling of the state's accountability system and will assign a score of 0 to 100 to every school in the state as well as overall ratings of Excellent, Good, Average, Below Average or Unsatisfactory, according to state law

The new report cards will factor in many data points and test scores, including a new student climate assessment survey administered to students in grades 3-12 to "measure the degree to which the school promotes a positive and effective learning environment from the student's perspective," according to state documents.

Education Department spokesman Ryan Brown said the survey responses were not properly matched with students, causing "a variety of issues with correct demographics and scores being computed."

AdvancED, a Georgia-based nonprofit organization that also provides school accreditation, blamed the problems on "a number of factors related to the administration of the survey by districts and the scoring process" in an email Tuesday.

"We apologize for the errors, accept responsibility and have initiated steps to ensure that it does not happen again in the future,” said AdvancED President Mark Elgart.

The S.C. Department of Education entered a contract on Feb. 13 with AdvancED to administer the survey for $1.3 million over the course of five years.

"Parents, students and communities deserve to have reliable and accurate information about the performance and characteristics of their school systems," said Spearman, a Republican who was re-elected this month to a second four-year term.

"The decision to postpone the release of the report cards is not one that I make lightly, but it is in the best interests of preserving the integrity and transparency of our accountability system," she said.

When the report cards are published online, it will be the first time since 2014 that schools will receive overall grades from the state.

South Carolina dropped its old rating system that year to come up with a new one and has been publishing raw data on the schools, but no overall assessments of their students' achievement or growth.

The last time the state gave out ratings, the Charleston County School District earned its first ever absolute rating of Excellent, despite several of its segregated high-poverty schools facing the risk of state takeover due to rock-bottom ratings.

At the time, the Burke High marching band shook the halls with live percussion and district leaders led students in a celebratory chant of "C-C-S-D." Districts will no longer receive overall ratings from the state under the new report card system.

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Reach Paul Bowers at 843-937-5546. Follow him on Twitter @paul_bowers.

Paul Bowers is an education reporter and father of three living in North Charleston. He previously worked at the Charleston City Paper, where he was twice named South Carolina Journalist of the Year in the weekly category.

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