National report card ranks South Carolina No. 11 for school policy, performance

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COLUMBIA, SC (WCSC) - South Carolina earned perfect marks for academic standards, school accountability and teacher support in a national report card issued Thursday. Overall, the state ranks No. 11 in school policy and performance.

The state was also ranked No. 1 in the nation for its efforts to improve teaching by Quality Counts 2010, one of a series of annual reports published by Education Week. South Carolina ranked seventh for academic standards, assessment and accountability in the same report.

"So many times we hear from critics that our public school system is last in the nation, but this report and others like it are helping to dispel that myth," said State Superintendent of Education Jim Rex.

South Carolina's overall score of 80 -- a B-minus -- exceeded the national score of 75.9, a C.

The state's highest marks came from the updated ranking of policies and programs aimed at boosting the teaching profession. South Carolina's average was 95.8, an A. The score was the highest given to any state and was more than 22 points above the nation's average. South Carolina carried a perfect score of 100 for supporting teachers, a 96.2 for teacher incentives and a 91.2 in teacher accountability for quality. All three scores were the best in the nation.

"This is the fourth time in recent years that we've been No. 1 in this category, and I can't emphasize enough how important teacher quality is to student learning," Rex said.  "That's especially true now, when schools have to tighten their belts and do more with less because of budget cuts.  We can't afford to shortchange our teacher recruitment and training."

In standards, assessment and accountability, the state tied Arkansas for seventh. Only Texas, Florida, Ohio, Louisiana, Indiana and West Virginia ranked higher. The state earned perfect scores in school accountability and academic standards, nearly 16 points above the national average. However, in assessments, the state scored only an 83.3, almost a point below the national score.

"Our standards and our accountability system have been praised by a number of other independent national studies," Rex said, "and the assessment changes approved by the General Assembly in 2008 were a significant improvement to give us more information about individual student performance.  These 2010 marks are the best we've earned from Quality Counts in this category."

Quality Counts calculated a "chance for success index" aimed at predicting a child's "life prospects" from birth through adulthood, given the educational and economic hurdles that the child is likely to face. The success index factored in student achievement, socio-economic factors such as poverty levels, parental employment and education and annual income.

In the 2010 report, South Carolina earned a grade of 75.1, three points below the national average, and ranked 36th in the category. The score and rank are part of a larger trend of improvement for the state, which ranked 37th in 2009 and 39th in 2008. Rex was concerned the improvements in the category could be wiped out by the current economic climate.

"The pressures being experienced by families affect the lives and education opportunities of their children.  Schools may find themselves with fewer resources now to better serve those students who need help the most," said Rex.

In school finance, South Carolina lagged behind. The disparity in per-pupil spending and education-spending equity across the state landed South Carolina in 41st, a rank that Rex attributed to the use of outdated financial data used in the Quality Counts survey. In overall school finance, the state earned a C and ranked 25th.

"Our national ranking in this category is misleading because it's based on finance data drawn from 2007 and doesn't reflect the impacts of the current economic downturn," Rex said.  "Until we fix South Carolina's fractured tax system and reform the way we fund schools and other vital government services, we can't be assured of making meaningful progress in spending or in equity."

South Carolina also earned a C in transitions and alignment for enacting policies that connect early childhood education, post-secondary education and the economy and workforce. The state earned a perfect mark for its efforts in workforce initiatives.

In the "K-12 Achievement Index," a measure of academic performance over time, is based on reading a math scores taken from 2003-07, high school graduation rates between 2000 and 2004, and Advanced Placement exam results between 2000-06. South Carolina tied Oregon for 41st and scored 64.5 points, nearly 5 points below the national average.

In a separate section of the annual report, Quality Counts 2010 looked at state performance nationwide in one core academic area – mathematics.  South Carolina's score of 58.9 ranked 44th, compared to the national average of 64.7.  Results were based on recent fourth and eighth-grade math scores on National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) testing and on Advanced Placement high school scores.

South Carolina ranked better on the percentage of proficient NAEP scores and the percentage of high AP test scores, and on narrowing the achievement gap in eighth-grade NAEP math.  But NAEP and AP score improvements over time were lower than national averages.

"We've drawn national attention in recent years for improvement on NAEP, but the bulk of our gains were made from 2000 to 2005, and we seem to have reached a plateau," Rex said.  "The same thing has happened across the nation, but we've got to pick up the pace of improvement if we want to break out of the pack and be more competitive as a state."

The 2010 report carried forward previous years' grades in two categories and updated four others.  Overall grades and national rankings for states were reported for the third consecutive year.

The report noted that South Carolina is one of 48 states participating in the Common Core initiative to develop national standards in English/language arts and mathematics.

The report indicated several areas of sustained improvement under Rex's leadership, which could reappear as talking points in stump speeches across the state as the Superintendent makes his gubernatorial bid.

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