Summerville -- State Education Superintendent Mick Zais visited Oakbrook Elementary School on Tuesday as part of a sweep through the Lowcountry that he said was to visit "schools that are doing a wonderful job, to see what's working in our schools."
While he was there, Zais said that the state Department of Education is preparing a request for a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education asking to be excused from the provisions of No Child Left Behind, which it will submit in February.
"No Child Left Behind really is unrealistic goals," he said. "It's a noble goal that every child 100 percent will be on grade level by 2015, but if a school gets 36 out of 37 potential categories, it means the school is a failing school. In my book 36 out of 37 is an 'A,' but that's not the way No Child Left Behind criteria are evaluated. That's not only confusing, I believe it's dishonest and demoralizing to the hardworking professionals who are in our schools every day sacrificing on behalf of their students."
If the state is granted a waiver, Zais said, "in turn, we will institute some accountability measures that we think make sense for our state, our administrators and teachers and our students."
Zais also said he is working to empower local officials to make decisions that fit their schools and praised District 2 Superintendent Joe Pye for letting principals in the district run their own schools.
"If you are going to hold them accountable, you've got to give them authority," Zais said. "What works in an affluent suburb and school may not work in a poor rural school and vice-versa."
Zais said one of the things that drew him to Oakbrook was its reading programs. He said standardized test results show that 38 percent of South Carolina's students enter fourth grade functionally illiterate, and those students often become drop-outs in later years.
"If you enter middle school not reading on grade level, every year you will fall farther and farther behind," he said. "I recognize there is an intense focus at Oakbrook on reading, to make sure every student is reading on grade level. ... It is personalized, individualized customized instruction for each student."
Oakbrook does that with it's Read 180 and System 44 programs, which are national computerized phonics-based programs used across the district to help students who have fallen behind.
"Children progress with reading at different rates," said Oakbrook Principal Monica Odea. "What's essential is that we know where they are. If we know where they are, then we know where we need to get them."