Federal report cards show some progress

Barnwell County's three school districts made gains on their federal report cards; however, there is still work to be done as two districts did not meet the state's educational expectations.
"We're making progress and heading in the right direction in our elementary and high schools," said S.C. Superintendent of Education Dr. Mick Zais in a press release. "There are some districts and schools that are knocking it out of the park. Some of the state's highest performing districts and schools also have high poverty. They have proven that a ZIP code should not determine a student's destiny, and that poor children can learn."
In Barnwell County, this was true especially for the three high schools. All three saw gains, though Blackville-Hilda High had the largest gain with its score of 79.1 - up from 36.6 in 2013. Barnwell High was next with an increase of 20 points to a grade of 81.1 while Williston-Elko High rose five points earning it an ‘A' with 90.7 points.
On the elementary level, Kelly Edwards Elementary in Williston had the largest gain in the county. They earned an 83.8, which is up from 74.2 the previous year. Barnwell Primary made a small gain of less than a point while Barnwell Elementary and Macedonia Elementary dropped 9.7 and 1.6 points, respectively.
"I am concerned about the performance declines in our middle schools. I encourage parents of middle school children to address their concerns with principals and their school board members. The stellar improvements shown in our high schools in this report card serve as a model for what can be achieved," said Zais.
Locally, two middle schools made gains this year, though they still "failed," according to the report card. Guinyard-Butler Middle School in Barnwell increased to 63.7 from its 2013 score of 36.3. Blackville-Hilda Junior High saw an increase of 14 points with its score of 49.
While these two schools saw an increase, they do not have the sixth grade, which is considered a middle school grade. When the sixth grade data is factored in then the middle grades, as it's classified on the report card, actually went down from 2013 in Districts 19 and 45.
In District 29, Williston-Elko Middle School followed the state trend of declining scores. WEMS, which includes the sixth grade, went down 15 points from its 2013 score of 95.5, according to the report card.
When looking at the districts as a whole, only one district in Barnwell County met the state's standards. Williston District 29 earned a ‘B' with its score of 83.4, though this was a slight drop from the 85.7 it received in 2013.
District 29 was among 62 of the state's districts - 76 percent - that met or exceeded expectations by obtaining a total composite score of 70 or above on a scale of 0-100. Only 11 districts in the state received an ‘A' grade.
Barnwell District 45 maintained its ‘D' rating from 2013, but was less than two points from meeting the state's expectations of at least a 70. Its numerical score rose from a 61.7 in 2013 to 68.2 this year.
Barnwell District 19 was the only district to receive an ‘F', though its numerical score rose slightly this year. It earned a 45 compared to 43.6 last year.
"While the majority of districts and schools are meeting or exceeding the state's expectations, 10 districts and a larger number of schools received a grade of F. This is simply unacceptable," said Zais, who supports establishing a statewide Transformation School District to improve schools in failing districts.
"Similar districts have been established in other states with great success. If a school fails three years in a row, the Transformation District could assume control of the school and the dollars that support these students," said Zais, who urges state lawmakers to pass legislation establishing a Transformation School District "so all students, regardless of where they live, receive the education they deserve."
This was the third year South Carolina schools and districts received letter grades under a federal waiver from certain parts of No Child Left Behind. They replace the "all or nothing" system of Adequate Yearly Progress where just one missed objective meant a school did not meet AYP - the same as one that missed multiple objectives.
Though the waiver eliminated AYP, schools and districts will still receive a state report card later this month.