During an August 27, meeting of the Williamsburg County School District the Williamsburg County Board of Trustees recognized several schools that were recently awarded Palmetto Gold/Silver Awards for 2011-2012 Academic Performance. The recognition, along with other successes experienced within the district this past year, seems to contradict the failing report card issued by the South Carolina Department of Education. The reason may have to do with changes to the system which was explained by independent Data Consultant Titus Duren.
Districts now receive two types of report cards based on two separate accountability systems: The State Report Card where schools are rated from "At Risk" to "Excellent" and the new Federal Accountability Grade which uses a letter grading system.
In July, South Carolina was granted an Education Secondary Education Act (ESEA) waiver that provides flexibility regarding specific requirements of No Child Left Behind (Adequate Yearly Progress or AYP rating system) in exchange for comprehensive state-developed plans. Under AYP, a school either meets 21 objectives or it didn't: one missed objective and the school failed to meet AYP. In 2011, the school district met 16 of 21 objectives.
The criteria for meeting the objectives was based on 79 percent of students scoring "met or above" in English Language Arts (ELA) and math. The ESEA waiver moved away from the percentage based system to Annual Measurable Objectives (AMO). Now, instead of 79.6 percent of students scoring better or above in English Language Arts (ELA) and math, the state has set "mean" PASS scores. In addition, a growth model has been built in to the ESEA waiver for students to improve their PASS score. However, growing has its downside. For instance, if a school has a score of 85 and that score drops to 84, the school fails. "Thats an F," said Williamsburg County School District Superintendent Yvonne Jefferson Barnes. "Because there is no growth." Add to the fact that each year the mean score will climb by five points, schools will essentially be trying to hitting a moving target.
And the two systems don't seem to work in conjunction. For example, Duren said a high school in an adjacent county received an "Excellent" rating on the State Report Card, but the ESEA waiver gave them a D grade. "It’s hard to explain," said Duren. "You're looking at different measures, different performance indicators." He added the new system is still in progress. "All the pieces are not together." In fact, several districts, including Williamsburg County School District, submitted appeals that were ultimately denied.
Duren said the "F" grade the district recently received shouldn't be considered a failing grade, rather it "connoted not met." He predicts the school grade will jump back to "Average" if it continues to work on growth models and scores are increased. "The key is growth," said Duren. "When May comes those PASS scores have to grow by at least eight points. If we can do that you'll see better ESEA scores."
The Superintendent has watched the progress first hand and bristled at the notion that the district is doing badly. "Contrary to popular belief," said Barnes. "We have made significant gains and we're going to continue to do that as a system," Nonetheless, Williamsburg as well as school districts across the state may be looking at a completely new target come 2015 when the ESEA waiver is subject to re-authorization.
In the meantime, the district is embarking on a mission to clarify the system. Four separate sessions over two days have been scheduled. On September 7, at 10 a.m. Duren will present the program for local and state officials, and business representatives. At 2 p.m. that same day parents and citizens will hear the presentation. Two additional meetings will take place on September 14, at 10 a.m. for the ministral profession and citizens and at 2 p.m. for civic and community organizations. For more information call the district at (843) 355-5571.(while addressing difficult financial issues)