Sumter and South Carolina students performed overall slightly better in English and math on standardized testing in 2018 compared to 2017, but most students are still not meeting grade-level expectations.
The state Department of Education …
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The state Department of Education released the 2018 scores for all school districts in the two major subject areas on Tuesday on the South Carolina College and Career Ready Assessments (SC READY). The SC READY test is given to third- through eighth-grade students to test their knowledge in English language arts (ELA) and math. The state also released science and social studies scores from the SC Palmetto Assessment of State Standards (SCPASS) on Tuesday.
Students are scored in four categories on the SC READY test - "Does Not Meet," "Approaches," "Meets" and "Exceeds" expectations.
With the exception of third-grade math, less than half of South Carolina students "met" or "exceeded" expectations. However, student achievement increased in 11 of the 12 SC READY assessments in 2017-18 across the six grade levels from 2016-17. Statewide, average scores improved in the range of 0.2 percent to 5.2 percent.
In the tri-county region that consists of five districts throughout Sumter, Lee and Clarendon counties, only Clarendon School District 3 - a small district of about 1,250 students based in Turbeville - scored competitively with state averages on SC READY. In seven of the 12 assessments, Clarendon 3 exceeded the state average - third- through sixth-graders in math and third-, fourth- and sixth-graders in ELA. The district improved its scores from 2017 in six of the 12 tests across third through eighth grade.
Behind Clarendon 3, Sumter School District's scores were generally second among the five area districts. Sumter's scores on ELA and math were below state averages, but the district showed improvement in five of the six grades on ELA and four of the six grades on math.
For ELA, only fourth grade didn't show improvement from 2017. The range of improvement in the five other grades on ELA was 0.2 percent to 3.7 percent.
The four grade levels that showed gains in math on the SC READY were third, fifth, sixth and eighth, and the improvement range was 0.7 percent to 7.4 percent.
In general, Clarendon School District 2, based in Manning, followed third in ELA and math. Clarendon School District 1 in Summerton ranked fourth, and Lee County School District's scores were generally the lowest in the region on the SC READY.
The SCPASS science test was administered to fourth-, sixth- and eighth-graders across the state in 2018. Less than half of the students met the state benchmark on the three assessments.
Clarendon 3 sixth-graders exceeded the state average in science, with 51.9 percent achieving the benchmark compared to 47.7 percent statewide.
Sumter School District again followed second in the region, and its science scores were generally closer to state averages than in the ELA and math categories.
Fifth- and seventh-graders took the SCPASS social studies test, and those scores were generally the highest of the four main subject areas tested. Close to 70 percent of the state's fifth-graders met the benchmark in social studies, and about 66 percent of seventh graders met the benchmark.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, the state Department of Education acknowledged it has high expectations on both the SC READY and SCPASS.
Department Chief Communications Officer Ryan Brown said both assessments are aligned to the department's college and career-ready standards, which are higher than previously because of increasing workforce requirements in today's high-skills economy.
"Our college and career-ready standards in the assessments are very rigorous as far as expecting every student to know those," Brown said. "They were re-written in 2014, with the exception of social studies, which is from 2011."
Brown said research shows some districts in more affluent areas of the state do well on the assessments every year with 70 percent to 90 percent of students meeting the benchmarks. Those include Lexington/Richland 5 in Columbia, York 3 in Rock Hill, Greenville and Horry County.
However, some districts in more rural areas perform "chronically low" on the assessments - sometimes in the single digits - and that pulls the state averages down.
Bottom line, he said, most students in the state are not performing at the level the department would like to see.
"Our job is to get them to that level, not to lower the expectations. We want to keep the expectations high for all students," he said. "Get out of the way of those schools and districts that are doing well, but really put our emphasis and expertise in those districts that are not doing well."
State Superintendent Molly Spearman echoed those sentiments.
"The results of these assessments, while just one measure of success, show that despite growth in many areas, we are still falling short of the benchmarks set to ensure our young learners are prepared and on track," Spearman said. "We will continue to work hand in hand with South Carolina teachers so they have the tools and resources to help students grow academically in their classrooms and ultimately produce high school graduates that are ready for the next step."
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