According to director of secondary education Cindy Langley, Union County School District received 10 school report cards because of grade configurations within the schools: Two at Lockhart and one at each of the other schools.
Nine of the 10 schools received an absolute rating of “Average” with Jonesville Middle School improving from “At Risk” to “Below Average.” The absolute ratings for five of the schools including Excelsior Middle School, Jonesville Elementary School, Lockhart Middle School, Monarch Elementary School and Sims Junior High School improved from “Below Average” to “Average.” Buffalo Elementary School, Foster Park Elementary School and Union County High School maintained their absolute ratings of “Average.”
The district’s overall absolute rating of “Below Average” remained unchanged.
Created by the Education Accountability Act of 1998, South Carolina’s School Report Cards rate districts and schools as either “Excellent,” “Good,” “Average,” “Below Average” or “At Risk.” Each school and district receives two state ratings: One for absolute performance — which measures student performance for a single year — and another for growth — which measures student performance over time.
The 2008-09 school year was a transitional year with changes in the state accountability system for elementary and middle schools including the administration of a new test — the Palmetto Assessment of State Standards, modifications in the calculation of absolute and growth ratings and re-centering of performance for those schools. Calculations were not changed for high schools and school districts resulting in the use of a different rating index for elementary and middle schools than for high schools and districts.
For example, on the new scale elementary and middle schools are designated “Excellent” with an index of 3.4 or higher while the historic and unchanged scale for high schools and districts remains 3.9 or higher for a rating of “Excellent.” Groups of educators at the state level are currently analyzing the criteria used in calculating high school ratings and the realignment of high school and district ratings is scheduled for action by the Educational Oversight Committee in August. If approved, these guidelines will be applicable to school performance beginning in 2010-11.
Elementary and middle school report card ratings are based on student achievement on the Palmetto Assessment of State Standards (PASS) in the areas of English language arts — reading and writing, math, science and social studies. PASS scores for students in grades 3–8 also account for 60 percent of the district’s absolute score. Thirty percent of the district’s absolute score is determined by the four-year high school graduation rate.
The percentage of high school students scoring 70 or better on South Carolina’s End of Course tests and the percentage of second-year high school students passing the High School Assessment Program (HSAP) exit examination on the first attempt make up the remaining 10 percent of the district’s absolute rating.
At the high school level, the absolute rating is based on graduation rate, longitudinal HSAP passage rate, first time HSAP passage rate and End of Course Test data.
School and district report cards also indicate whether or not a school or district has met Adequate Yearly Progress as required by the federal No Child Left Behind legislation. The federal legislation requires schools and districts to analyze student performance by categories including ethnicity, special education, poverty and limited ability with English.
The demographics at each school and district determine the number of categories that must be met; however, all categories for which the school or district has the 40 students must be met for the school or district to meet AYP.
Four schools in Union County School District met their AYP objectives: Jonesville Elementary School, Lockhart Elementary School, Lockhart Middle School and Monarch Elementary School.
In addition to information concerning federal Annual Yearly Progress and the state absolute and growth ratings, school report cards provide a variety of information including a comparison of student performance within the school or district to that of students at similar schools or districts, indicators of teacher quality and levels of education and survey results of teacher, student and parent perceptions of the learning environment, the social and physical environment and home/school relations.
An analysis of the 2009 District Report Card reveals that prime instructional time — the time when both students and teachers are present, increased from 86.6 percent in 2008 for the Union County district to 88.8 percent in 2009. Improving prime instructional time has been a district goal for the past two school years.
Teacher attendance rates also improved from 93.6 percent to 94.7 percent and student retention rates — the percentage of students retained in their grade — decreased from 4 percent to 2.9 percent. Other indicators reveal the Advanced Placement Success rate increased to 51.1 percent from 30.3 percent, meeting that of districts like ours and just shy of the state rate of 51.2 percent.
In the district’s comparison group of 26 — which includes all districts with poverty indices no more than 5 percent below or above that of the district — 20 districts including Union County received an absolute rating of “Below Average,” two were rated “Average” and four were rated “At Risk.”
None of the districts received an absolute rating of “Excellent” or “Good.” The district poverty rate is 77.08 percent — up from 75.07 percent.
An analysis of PASS performance by groups in mathematics for students in grades 3-8 indicates the percentage of students scoring met or exemplary in the following groups exceeded that of the state: African American, 69 percent in Union compared to 66.7 percent statewide; disabled, 51.5 percent in Union compared to 45.4 percent statewide; and subsidized meals, 72.1 percent in Union compared to 70.2 percent statewide.
Similarly, an analysis of first attempt by high school students on HSAP reveals the percentage of African American students scoring proficient and advanced exceeds that of the state average in both English Language Arts and mathematics — ELA, 48.7 percent in Union County compared to 44.9 percent statewide and mathematics, 47.3 percent in Union County compared to 45.1 percent statewide.
Along with the school report card, each student in Union County School District will receive letters or brochures developed by school administrators explaining highlights of the 2009 report card.
Within the next few weeks, each principal will schedule a meeting to discuss the report card; however, parents who have individual questions or concerns should contact each school to receive an explanation of the report card scores. Copies of the state, district, and school report cards can be found at the South Carolina State Department of Education’s Website at www.ed.sc.gov.
"We want to celebrate student performance growth at all schools and we are especially proud of students, teachers and administrators at Union County High School and Excelsior Middle School for their efforts in closing the achievement gap,” Langley said. “We will continue to use local, state and national accountability data, focusing on both areas of strengths and areas needing improvement, to drive our instructional practices at all levels — elementary, middle, and high school."
"This 2008-09 data will serve as baseline results in the transition from PACT to PASS,” said assistant superintendent for instruction Dale Goff. “Due to the change in testing, the results were received in districts much later than normal. We are pleased to have seen increases at most every school with the new calculations, and we will eagerly await student results from the upcoming PASS tests in MAY. We should see some of those results as early as June 2010.”
She added the district’s mission states it and its stakeholders commit to students first in building community, excellence and life-long learning.
“Our schools and community partners are working harder than ever to provide for ever student in the toughest economic times we have seen for some time,” Goff said. “Over the last five years Union County School District’s poverty rate has risen from 69 percent to a staggering 77 percent. High poverty normally indicates low student achievement, yet our student performance is on the rise. Why? We are living our mission. We will always strive for continuous improvement but we are proud of our gains."
The absolute score at Excelsior Middle School combined with its growth rating qualifies the school to receive the Palmetto Silver Award which was established to recognize and reward schools for attaining high levels of absolute performance and high rates of improvement. Both Excelsior Middle School and Union County High School qualify for Closing the Achievement Gap Silver Awards based upon the academic gains of historically underachieving groups of students.