School grades fail to impress

If local school districts had parents, they might not put the latest school report cards on the refrigerator.

The report cards, released today, show ratings in Rock Hill and Fort Mill went down, while ratings in Chester, York and Clover were the same as last year.

School report cards give districts and schools an absolute score, based on things such as test scores and graduation rates, and an improvement rating, based on how much progress was made since last year.

The accountability system has been widely criticized by educators for being unrealistic and overly critical.

South Carolina's performance goal is to be ranked in the top half of the states nationally by 2010.

On a scale ranging from unsatisfactory to excellent, local districts did no better than "good" and no worse than "below average."

In the improvement category, local districts ranged from making "unsatisfactory" to "average" progress.

Here's a breakdown of how each district measured up:

Rock Hill

Although most Rock Hill schools got "average" or "good" absolute ratings, the majority of schools received an "unsatisfactory" when it came to improvement.

As a district, the rating was down from an "average" score last year and a "good" score the three years before that.

Rock Hill High School was the only school to receive an "unsatisfactory" absolute rating.

Harriet Jaworowski, associate superintendent for instruction and accountability, said the school's 58.7 percent graduation rate was the biggest factor in bringing that rating down. In other academic areas, she said, Rock Hill High is more comparable to the district's other two high schools.

"We don't know if that's really a true representation or if it's a data issue," she said. "In either case, we have to assume that we need to do something differently and better."

Jaworowski said district officials and the principal are working together to make changes that will boost the graduation rate and also to review data entry procedures to make sure the numbers are correct.

Fort Mill

Three Fort Mill schools -- Gold Hill and Orchard Park elementaries and Fort Mill High -- scored "excellent" on the absolute rating. The rest rated "good," as did the district itself.

No school district in the state received an "excellent" absolute score this year, but Fort Mill was one of only three that did last year.

Fort Mill rated "unsatisfactory" on improvement, although most schools individually scored higher than that.

District officials argue that because their scores already are high, it is more difficult to show improvement. Fort Mill consistently scores among the highest in the state and at least on par with national scores.

Also, comparing absolute and improvement ratings is like comparing apples and oranges, West said.

For example, West pointed out that if a student tests proficient in one grade and then again the next year in a higher grade, it doesn't help the district's improvement rating.

"Proficient students who scored proficient again get no credit," said Jan West, district director of testing and accountability.


The Clover school district achieved a "good" for the fourth straight year in its absolute rating. The district achieved an "average" improvement rating for the first time in five years. Before, the district had received "below average" and "unsatisfactory" scores.

Bethel Elementary was the top performer, scoring "excellent" for the second straight year in both categories.

Clover High School saw a large drop in its report from last year, falling from an "excellent" absolute score to an "average." The improvement score dropped from "good" to "unsatisfactory."

Principal Ron Wright said he was very disappointed but that the report card isn't a true test of the school's achievements.

"Our rating is almost exclusively because our four-year graduation scores fell so far," he said.

Many students chose to get a GED, but the state doesn't count that as a graduation, Wright said.


The York school district had an "average" absolute rating for the second straight year. The district also received an "average" improvement rating, which is better than last year's "unsatisfactory" improvement rating.

Superintendent Russell Booker said he was pleased with the progress at most schools. He said he is particularly pleased to see historically underachieving groups' scores improving.

"We're seeing some success," he said.

The Floyd D. Johnson Technology Center performed the best of the York schools, scoring "excellent" in both categories of the report card.

Technology Center director Ron Roveri credits the success to the industry certification the center has pushed.

"Every program at the career center allows students to sit for the industry exam and obtain their industry credential in that area," Roveri said. "That ensures that instructors are teaching industry standards and that the curriculum stay up to date."


The Chester County school district scored "below average" in both its absolute and improvement ratings.

None of the district's 13 schools received an improvement rating better than "below average" and only one school, Lewisville High School, received a "good" absolute rating.

Superintendent Larry Heath and school board Chairwoman Denise Lawson could not be reached for comment.

Lewisville High School remained a bright spot in the district, posting a "good" absolute rating for the fourth consecutive year.

"I am extremely proud," Principal James Knox said. "It goes back to dedicated, hard-working teachers."

Although he was pleased with the consistency, Knox noted that the school hasn't raised its improvement rating like he'd hoped to. One of the reasons for this, he said, is because the standards go up each year.

"It's a two-edged sword," he said. "And our teachers know the challenge."

The school has improved on the percentage of students passing end of course exams and on high school exit exam scores, Knox said. Over the past five years, graduation rates have steadily risen from 60 percent to 79 percent.

In order to raise its improvement rating, Knox said, the school plans to implement a program that focuses on better preparing incoming freshman.