It's hard to understand how most South Carolina schools can be moving forward and backward at the same time. The answer, apparently, is how progress is assessed.
The Average Yearly Progress reports required by the No Child Left Behind Act offer a grim picture. Fewer elementary and middle schools than ever before in York County and across the state reached federal student achievement goals this year, according to results released last week. High school ratings have been delayed because of a calculation error, according to the S.C. Department of Education.
Statewide, more than 80 percent of elementary and middle schools failed to meet AYP standards. Yet, despite those woeful results, the state showed across-the-board improvement in PACT scores, with overall test scores rising by more than 50 percent.
So, why did so many schools fail to meet AYP targets? One big reason is that South Carolina has higher proficiency standards than most states, and by setting the bar higher, it suffers during annual AYP evaluations.
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Under NCLB rules, schools must meet annual goals based on student test scores. But the requirements cover all students, including those with learning disabilities, with limited English proficiency or who come from low-income families. And each year, schools must show improvement over the previous year, even if standards were exceeded the year before. The state's targets for AYP are rapidly increasing to meet NCLB's requirement that all students score Proficient on state English language arts and math tests by 2014.
Under the federal law, schools must make all of their AYP targets every year or face sanctions. Most South Carolina schools have either 17 or 21 targets to meet, although some have as many as 37.
Of the 715 elementary and middle schools that did not meet AYP this year, 406 missed only one to five goals, and 75 schools missed just one goal.
To meet AYP this year, 58.8 percent of students at any given school had to be proficient in English language arts, up from 38.2 percent last year. In math, 57.8 percent proficiency was required, up from 36.7 percent last year.
The catch is that South Carolina has established higher state standards for proficiency than most other states. And the federal goals will be higher still next year.
High standards are fine. But unless the standards are uniform nationwide, those with higher standards will be unjustly penalized, while some states with lower sanctions will escape sanctions altogether.
No one asserts that every South Carolina school provides an adequate learning environment for students. In fact, it is clear that dozens of schools in the state cry out for help in meeting even minimum standards.
But the notion that a school fails because it meets "only" 20 of its 21 AYP goals makes no sense. The nation needs are more realistic and uniform system of grading the performance of schools.
Schools should be held accountable, but we shouldn't penalize schools that are showing real progress.
AYP measurments, don't give accurate measurement of real progress in state's schools.