Union County's schools continued to improve academically in 2008, but only Lockhart Elementary School made Adequate Yearly Progress, according to the federal government.
Lockhart Elementary met 13 out of 13 objectives required to meet the 2008 goals of the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). Assistant superintendent Dale Goff said the school achieved this through improved proficient and advanced scores on the spring 2008 Palmetto Achievement Assessment Challenge Test (PACT).
No other school in the district made AYP but Mrs. Goff said this should not be taken as a sign of failure. She described the NCLB as an "all-or-nothing" rating system requiring schools and districts to break their performance data into subcategories. The more subcategories a school has, the more goals it must meet, increasing the likelihood of “failure” to make AYP even if the percentage of students passing the exams increases.
“If even one subcategory of students fails to meet its goal for the year, the school does not meet AYP,” she said. “For example, Buffalo Elementary School met 16 of 17 school objectives for a compliance rating of 94.1 percent while Foster Park Elementary School met 16 of 19 objectives for a compliance rating of 84.2 percent and Monarch Elementary School met 14 of 17 objectives for a compliance rating of 82.4 percent.
“Since the targets for proficient and advanced jumped in English Language Arts from 38.2 percent to 58.8 percent and in math from 36.7 percent to 58.8 percent, the percentage of students meeting proficiency in several of the missed subcategories actually increased from 2007 to 2008,” she said. “However, the increase was not sufficient to meet the more stringent criteria.”
Excelsior Middle School and Sims Junior High School each met 12 of 21 objectives with compliance ratings of 57.1 percent while Jonesville Elementary School and Jonesville Middle School each met 9 of 17 objectives for compliance ratings of 52.9 percent.
Statewide, four out of five schools fell short of meeting federal AYP goals even though the percentage of students meeting or exceeding PACT expectations increased across every grade and subject. The goal of the NCLB is that every student in America demonstrate proficiency in math and English/Language Arts on state tests by 2014. The act raises the benchmarks for AYP every year increasing the likelihood that even high-performing schools and district s will “fail,” especially in South Carolina which has higher testing standards than most states.
Mrs. Goff pointed to a study released earlier this month by the Fordham Institute which rated South Carolina, Massachusetts and California as the nation's toughest graders. She said this and other reports indicate that students who score Proficient in many states would score at Basic or Below Basic levels in South Carolina.
“While the intention of AYP is good, in its attempt to narrow the achievement gap for minority students, the grading of schools by an ‘all or nothing' criteria is very misleading,” she said. “For example, schools with a high compliance percentage are far from ‘failing.' As a county and as a state, we must celebrate our successes and face our challenges strategically.”
“While AYP certainly matters to all of us, I would caution our stake holders to recognize the conflicting data between our own challenging state requirements and those imposed from the NCLB federal law,” she said. “Our schools are focused on curriculum, instruction, and assessment, with the ultimate goal to improve student achievement for every student.”
Superintendent Dr. David Eubanks said that to achieve that goal, the district has taken a number of steps to improve student performance including increasing the length of the school day to allow for additional instructional time. The district has also implemented “academy time” which allows for the remediation of students having difficulty in English/Language Arts and math and the enrichment of students capable of more rapid academic advancement.
To further boost students' academic and intellectual development, the district has implement foreign language courses in French and Spanish beginning in kindergarten and continuing through all grades. The district is also developing pacing guides to ensure that teachers are teaching all aspects of the PACT exam as part of their regular curriculum.
Eubanks said the district's emphasis should be on the entire educational experience, not just certain test results.
“What the district really should focus on is continuous improvement and adding value to the academic experience of the Union County school system,” he said. “We're looking at the system which is currently in place and will make an effort to improve all aspects of the system rather than strictly looking at No Child Left Behind and results of PACT testing.”