After receiving a grade of “F” in its Federal Accountability Grades from the South Carolina Department of Education, Williamsburg County School District officials are appealing their grade.
Thursday's release marks the first time South Carolina is unveiling testing data under a new federal accountability system. In July, the state was granted a waiver for parts of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), better known as the No Child Left Behind Act since it was renewed in 2001. State Education Superintendent Mick Zais has been working to secure the waiver since his election in 2010 so that the state could set its own measures of improvement and success.
Now schools and districts will receive a letter grade to indicate its achievement and improvement as shown by standardized test grades. Williamsburg County School District was one of three Pee Dee school districts to receive a grade of an “F,” with a score of 48.9 overall.
Citing they considered missing or incorrect data, district officials said the ratings do injustice to the progress made by the school district in recent years.
Williamsburg County School District Superintendent Dr. Yvonne Jefferson-Barnes said the appeal is the result of the district’s grade being determined by a number of metrics that were fed erroneous data that did not match-up with the data provided by the school district.
“I can tell you we are not pleased with what we have seen,” Jefferson-Barnes said. “We have been looking at our data and we know that what is being presented there is not accurate. We have already submitted an appeal to the [South Carolina] Department of Education to have them look at our information… They have agreed to review, but with the stipulation that they were not making any changes prior to the release.” While the district was in possession of the scores as of Monday, the appeal was not issued until Wednesday at 6 p.m. according to Jay Ragley, the director of legislative and public affairs at the South Carolina Department of Education.
Ragley said it would have been a near impossible task to review the district’s appeal before the slated release of the scores on Thursday morning, further adding the data itself is supplied by the schools and school districts, and not unilaterally created by the department of education. “The school district actually send [the data] to us,” Ragley said. “While we will review their appeal, many times, the data problem is not [with the department of education], it’s what with the district did… Data sharing and data management is a shared responsibility between us and the district.”
Ragley said there have been occurrences in which schools and school districts had provided the department of education with incorrect data. While Ragley said it was not impossible for the any sort of data corruption to originate from the department of education, he said it was more likely to be found on the supply side, with the schools and school districts.
“It’s not that it’s not possible. When you’ve got 85 school districts sending in data, is it possible that something gets copied into a wrong column? It could be,” he said. “The data isn’t just solely owned by the department of education, though. It’s a shared responsibility to verify data is accurate.”
Although the appeal process could clarify any data concerns relating to the district’s poor score, but with otherwise consistently improving South Carolina Department of Education report card ratings, it’s pretty clear to see the frustration Jefferson-Barnes is speaking from.
Over the span of three years, the school district has taken its South Carolina Department of Education overall report card status from at-risk to average, something other schools districts of a similar build have not been able to do.
Delaney Kay Frierson, director of assessment for the school district said the discrepancies in data didn’t just occur in with the grade of Williamsburg County School District, but with other districts within the state, too.
“This is not just in our district. This is across the state,” Frierson said. “There are some significant errors that we believe would impede [our rating]…”
According to Frierson, those errors range from incorrect data being used, correct data being misinterpreted, as well as entire inventories of information missing.
Frierson said while she believes the school district’s appeal of its current grade will vindicate Williamsburg County School District, she believes the initial issuance of the grades with insufficient and incorrect data is a cause for concern.
“There’s data missing and there’s data that’s incorrect,” she said. “Some of the subgroups and some of the percentages that were given were incorrect and did not align with our base line data. That in itself is cause for concern.”
As of now, though, the grade will remain the same until the appeals process has been completed.
Jefferson-Barnes, while happy the department of education will be hearing the districts appeal, is very concerned with the lasting affect the “F” grade will have on the school district.
She said she would have liked to have allowed the department of education to review the school district’s concerns, rather than reviewing them after the release of the scores.
“When you know there are concerns, you would think they would provide the opportunity or create the opportunity to look at the concerns that we have,” Jefferson-Barnes said. “Once you put something out there, even if a correction comes later, the first thing that is there is what people will remember.”
With the grade in hand, the district will move on and continue the initiatives that many feel have improved the district.
Jefferson-Barnes pointed to the improved district report card ratings, as well comments made by South Carolina Superintendent of Education Dr. Mick Zais lauding Hemingway High School in January.
“This district has made significant gains,” she said. “We can look at our scores over time and we see growth across the board. We are making progress and folks are really excited about the gains we’ve seen. We’re not where we’d like to be, but we are on our way.”
In the state’s PASS and HSAP results, the district was still below others in its scores, with combined scores that placed it well below other schools in the Pee Dee.
The PASS is given to students in grades third through eighth in four subjects: English, math, science and social studies. Students in fifth and eighth grade also take a writing test this year. The test has been South Carolina’s standardized test for elementary school since 2009 and is graded on a scale of “Exemplary,” “Met,” or “Not Met,” where the first two grades constitute passing. Below are the passing rates for each school district’s fifth grade students in English and math. For data on other grades, individual schools and by demographic category visit http://ed.sc.gov/data/pass/.
Williamsburg County School District scored a 62 percent and 64 percent in English and math respectively on the PASS.
The HSAP is given at the end of the 10th grade and has an English and a math section. The test is scored at one of four levels — “4- exceptional,” “3- proficiency,” “2- competence,” and “1- has not demonstrated competence” — and students who score a 4, 3 or 2 are considered passing. Below are passing rates for English and math for each district. For data on individual schools or demographic data visit sc.gov. Williamsburg County School Districted scored a 78 percent in English and 68 percent in mathematics.