Second PASS test shows some improvements; sciences still lag behind

COLUMBIA, SC (WCSC) - The percentage of public school students meeting or exceeding state standards increased in most subjects and grades tested on the 2010 Palmetto Assessment of State Standards, state education officials announced Friday.

The state test has three scoring levels: "exemplary," meaning the student demonstrated exemplary performance in their grade level; "met," meaning the student achieved the grade-level standard; and "not met," meaning the student did not satisfy the standards of the grade-level.

The test is given to students in grades 3 through 8 and focuses on writing, reading and research, math, science and social studies.

[See complete data from the Department of Education.]

Across the state, the percentages of students scoring at exemplary levels increased in all grades and in most test subjects, said officials. Gains were also shown in most grades and subjects by African-American students, students with limited English skills and students enrolled in free and reduced-lunch programs.

State Superintendent Jim Rex said the results show schools are still working diligently to see that students succeed while dealing with substantive budget cuts that have led to thousands of positions being eliminated, furloughs, curtailed programs, fewer classroom supplies and larger class sizes.

"South Carolina's educators should be applauded for keeping the focus on teaching and learning even in tough times," Rex said. "We're doing the best we can now to help them with standards and curriculum support, but we're facing an 'imperfect storm' of dwindling resources and greater student needs."

When comparing this year's results with 2009's test data, students across the state improved in writing in all grades except grade 7 and in reading and research except in grades 5 and 8. In science testing, the grads split evenly with 4, 7 and 8 seeing improvement. Math scores struggled with only grades 3 and 8 seeing any improvement and grade 6 maintained last year's score.

However, students across the state continue to struggle with the science curriculum, the test data shows.

"We still have some concerns about social studies, which has not been part of our testing program as long as the other subjects," Rex said. "Social studies scores were off at all grade levels except grade 7, although the drops in third and eighth grade were slight."

The highest percentage of students scoring at the exemplary level was seen in the grade 3 language arts testing. There, 53.9 percent -- a gain of 7.5 percentage points over 2009 -- of students were marked as exemplary. Grade 3 also had the highest percentage of exemplary-level scores in writing, 38 percent, and math, 38.8 percent. Grade 8 had the highest percentage of students at the exemplary level in science, 31.7 percent, and social studies, 33.1percent.

Only 14.2 percent of students in grade 6 met the exemplary level in science testing.

PASS scores for African-American students, students operating with a limited understanding of the English language and those enrolled in free or reduced lunch programs remained lower that overall student scoring percentages.

PASS scores in 2010 showed an even mix of increased or decreased achievement gaps among white and African-American students, but Rex pointed to signs of progress, particularly in mathematics, where achievement gaps decreased in five of the six grades tested.

"And in grade 8, African-American students boosted their exemplary scores in every subject," he said. "Limited English students improved their passing scores and exemplary scores in every subject except for grade 7. Free and reduced-price lunch students had higher exemplary scores in all subjects at two grade levels, 4 and 8."

The highest passing rate for African-American students came in grade 3 language arts testing, where 70.9 percent of students met or exceeded expectations. Those same third graders also achieved the highest percentage of African-Americans with exemplary scores, 36.9 percent. The mark represents a gain of 6.9 percentage points over last year's test.

The lowest percentage of exemplary-level scores for African-Americans, 3.5 percent, came from sixth graders in science testing.

Students with limited English proficiency scored highest in social studies in the sixth, 76.8 percent, and third, 74.9 percent, grades. The demographic group's lowest scores were recorded in science, also by the third and sixth grades, 43.8 and 48.7 percent respectively. The subset's highest exemplary-level scores came from grade 3 language arts testing, 42.8 percent, and represented a 10.4-point jump over the previous year's tests.

Students receiving free or reduced-price lunch saw the highest passing rate, 73.6 percent, in grade 3 language arts.

Science scored remained unacceptably low, Rex said. But he said the school system will be combating the low scores by training teachers with a new science curriculum that is geared toward South Carolina's academic standards.

Comparing the sexes, female students outperformed their male counterparts in all test areas in every grade except grades 4 and 5 science, and grade 5 social studies.

PASS Test Information By District

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