Rock Hill schools' performance on state exams last spring declined in nearly half of the categories assessed, according to results released Friday.
Across the five subjects tested in grades three through eight, a larger share of students failed in 14 of 30 categories.
In science, for example, 42.7 percent of the 701 third-graders tested failed. Compare that with the year before when 34.4 percent of 630 students tested failed.
On a brighter note, a greater percentage of students passed in the other 16 categories.
In a promising change, the share of eighth-graders who passed the state science test leaped about 10 points, to 74.6 percent.
Area school district officials cautioned that the state tests, now in their second year, are still too new to reveal any trends.
"In two years, it doesn't tell us much at all," Fort Mill schools testing coordinator Jan West said. "You have to look for trends over time."
"It will probably take at least another year," Rock Hill schools associate superintendent Harriet Jaworowski said.
Each spring, students in grades three through eight take the PASS, a standardized test designed to measure whether students know what the state says they should in five subjects: writing, math, reading and research, science and social studies. Students score as Not Met (failing), Met or Exemplary.
The scores are used by the state and federal government to rate districts and schools.
This is the second set of results from PASS, which students first took in 2009. Educators characterize the first set of scores as a new baseline, because comparing PASS scores to the state's previous test, called PACT, is tough: The exams and scoring methods are different.
Schools across York, Chester and Lancaster counties saw mixed results - some groups performed better than last year's while others scored lower.
While Fort Mill schools had the highest pass rates of all six area school systems, the district saw declines in 19 of 30 categories.
The starkest difference was on Fort Mill third-grade science scores: The pass rate fell 7.6 points to 76.9 percent.
Here's a sampling from the reams of PASS data released by the state Friday morning:
Chester County schools logged gains in writing across every grade but sixth.
Third-graders' pass rate was 60.8 percent, up 9.5 points over last year. Eighth-graders shot up 8.9 points to 62.6 percent.
Rock Hill wasn't the only district to see eighth-graders improve in science.
Clover eighth-graders outperformed the prior year's class in science by about 10 percentage points, bringing the pass rate to 84.4 percent from 74.5 percent.
York eighth-graders went up 8.8 percentage points to a pass rate of 66.9 percent.
In Lancaster County, eighth-graders saw a 6.5 point improvement, which brought the pass rate to 66.3 percent.
There are troubling achievement gaps between minority students and their white peers and between students receiving subsidized meals and those who don't.
In Fort Mill schools, 84.3 percent of the 305 white third-graders tested in science passed. The 17 Hispanic students had a 64.7 percent pass rate. Of the 53 black third-graders tested, 34 percent passed.
In Clover, only 55.7 percent of seventh-graders receiving free or reduced-price lunch passed the social studies test. Of their peers who pay full price, 85.9 percent passed.
In Rock Hill schools, 62.5 percent of sixth-graders with subsidized lunch passed the writing test, more than 27 percentage points behind their full-paying peers.
Other scores showed promise.
In 2009, just 48.4 percent of York's black third-graders passed the writing test. This year, 67.1 percent passed.
Riverview Elementary in Fort Mill saw significant improvement in black third-graders' pass rate in writing, which jumped 16.3 points to 70.8 percent.
Some stats tell about a school's student population.
At Gold Hill Elementary in Fort Mill, too few black, Hispanic and Asian students were tested in several areas to derive a score. If the number tested is fewer than 10, no stats are given. In third grade, for example, two Hispanic children were tested in writing, reading and research and math; only one was tested in social studies and science.