For the first time in four years, parents can see school ratings on the 2018 report cards, which the South Carolina Department of Education released Thursday afternoon.
The report cards are a complete overhaul from ones in prior years and feature more data than ever before.
“The report cards unveiled today are the culmination of many years of South Carolina’s hard work to design a rigorous accountability system that uses multiple measures to show the public the overall performance of our schools and districts,” state Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman said in a statement. “I encourage students, parents, and school communities to take an in-depth look and celebrate their successes and collaborate on areas where we need to improve.”
The schools are graded based on performance in several categories — academic achievement, preparing for success, English learners’ progress, student progress, and school quality — but the report cards also feature data that didn’t factor in to the school’s overall score, such as student safety and financial data.
One new metric this year grades elementary and middle schools on student growth, which is a boost for schools with traditionally low-performing populations because it tracks how far students progressed, rather than just academic performance.
Some of the new data come from federal mandates in the Every Student Succeeds Act, which requires data from the Office of Civil Rights to be included. New to the report cards are school safety data featuring the number of sexual assaults, threats, and attacks in the schools and districts — although the safety data is from the 2015-16 school year because of a lag in how the records are obtained.
The rating metrics have brought criticisms from some school leadership — administrators with Greenville County Schools had a list of qualms about the data, including the idea that there are a pre-set number of “Excellent” and “Unsatisfactory” schools.
The Education Oversight Committee and the state department determined 15 percent of schools would fall in the “Excellent” range, 20 percent would be “Good,” 35 percent would be “Average,” 20 percent would be “Below Average,” and 10 percent would be “Unsatisfactory” based on the state’s scores for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) — known as the nation’s report card.
GCS Superintendent Burke Royster released a statement Thursday afternoon questioning the validity of the scores.
“The requirement that school ratings in South Carolina ‘match’ the performance of SC students on the NAEP exams is inherently flawed because it requires a certain number of schools in each ratings category,” he said. “Although this decision ties back to a federal requirement, the EOC created a system of limitations so a pre-determined number of our schools fall under each category, which is not specifically required by the federal government. If the desire is to raise the quality of South Carolina schools, our state should set standard thresholds to give schools clear, measureable goals.”
But Melanie Barton, executive director of the Education Oversight Committee, said the report cards are more transparent to the public than ever.
“Some districts like it because they embrace the accountability and transparency of the data, other districts don’t,” Barton said.
Royster was not alone in criticizing the validity of report card ratings — the Post and Courier reported officials in Berkeley County and Charleston County school districts also questioned the ratings.
“We are concerned with any report card system that materially conflicts with other established standards of excellence,” Royster said. “For example, Greenville High School is highly ranked by U.S. News and World report, but it is rated as Average under this system. Skyland Elementary and Bethel Elementary, both rated as Average under this system, are National Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence. Additionally, some of our most desirable schools, in terms of parent choice, do not have high ratings under this system. It is our belief that the people of Greenville County have a better understanding of the quality of our schools than does this new report card system.”
Greenville County Schools
Of the 86 Greenville County Schools eligible for ratings, 20 schools scored Excellent, 24 schools scored Good, 30 schools scored Average, seven schools scored Below Average, and five schools scored Unsatisfactory.
For elementary and middle schools, most of a school’s score comes from academic achievement and student progress. For high schools, academic achievement, graduation rate, and college and career readiness are the most weighted indicators.
Overall, Greenville County Schools performed above the state average in most areas, although the district lagged behind the state for its English Language Learners’ Progress — only 47.5 percent of English learners in Greenville County Schools met the progress goals for proficiency, compared with the statewide average of 48.6 percent.
The report cards underscore wide disparities among historically underserved groups and white students in the county — only 28 percent of white fourth-graders in the district performed “Below Basic” on the reading portion of the nation’s report card compared with 60 percent of black students, and only 15 percent of black students met the criteria for “Proficient” or “Advanced.”
The disparities can be tracked to school-wide performance, as well — Tigerville Elementary School, which had six black students in the school at the start of the year, had 71.7 percent of its students meet or exceed expectations on the ACT College and Career Readiness assessment for English language arts. Only 25.2 percent of students at Thomas E. Kerns Elementary — whose enrollment is 56 percent black, 26 percent Hispanic, and 13 percent white — met or exceeded expectations on the same test.
But a few schools in the county buck the trend — A.J. Whittenberg Elementary School of Engineering sits in downtown Greenville and has a population of 52 percent black students, 7 percent Hispanic, and 29 percent white. The school outperformed the district and state averages on the College and Career Readiness assessments and the science portion of the SC PASS test.
The overall graduation rate for Greenville County Schools was 83.6 percent, surpassing the state average of 81 percent. But while Greenville’s graduation rate is above the state average, it’s lower than last year’s rate of 87.3 percent.
For a complete list of information on districts and schools, visit SCReportCards.com.