S.C. among states setting higher education standards

A student who scores above average in most other states including Georgia and North Carolina would likely receive a lower score on South Carolina's standardized test, according to the S.C. Department of Education and a new federal study released Thursday.

In South Carolina, "proficient" typically translates into a grade of B-plus, testing experts say.

The study by the National Center for Education Statistics is the latest in a long line of indicators that South Carolina asks students to strive for some of the highest standards, or goals for academic achievement, in the nation.

"Virtually all of the other states, including our other two neighbors, have set much lower expectations," state Superintendent of Education Jim Rex said. "You might say they have set an artificial sense of accomplishment."

The study examined what a student needs to know to score "proficient" on states' individual standardized tests compared to a national standardized test called the National Assessment of Educational Progress. South Carolina was among just a handful of states whose expectations of student proficiency are similar to expectations on the federal test.

The comparisons are important because the federal No Child Left Behind law requires all students in the nation to score proficient on reading and math standardized tests by 2014. However, the law allows for states to set their own learning standards and create their own standardized tests to measure that proficiency. South Carolina uses PACT.

For example, 23 percent of S.C. eighth-graders scored proficient or better in math on PACT in 2005, compared with 69 percent of Georgia students achieving a similar rank in Georgia, according to information from both states' education departments.

However, scores on the federal test, known as NAEP, showed 23 percent of Georgia eighth-graders scored proficient in math, compared with 30 percent in South Carolina, according to 2005 data.

The new study showed that a proficient score in South Carolina when compared to NAEP for eighth-grade math would be 305; it would be 255 in Georgia and 247 in North Carolina.

The release of the study coincides with U.S. lawmakers' consideration of reauthorizing No Child Left Behind this year. Some education leaders including former state Superintendent of Education Inez Tenenbaum have called for a uniform nationwide definition of proficiency.

Rex said he doesn't think that will happen.

"There just doesn't seem to be the political will right now to take No Child Left Behind and make it more obtrusive" on local control, Rex said.

The head of the S.C. Education Oversight Committee said Thursday's report had little new information for South Carolina. Jo Anne Anderson said she agrees with Rex that it's time for the state to wholeheartedly focus on student performance.

"If we do not make our system work for every child, then our system essentially works for no child," Anderson said.

South Carolina was one of nine states to attain an average score of 220 or higher in fourth-grade reading standards based on 2005 statistics, according to a federal study. Massachusetts was the highest at 238.