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Charleston Co. School Board meeting heats up over testing data

Published: Jun. 13, 2022 at 6:14 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 13, 2022 at 8:50 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - A Charleston County School Board meeting turned contentious Monday night pitting board members and district staff against each other.

The testy exchange over a disappointing presentation on academic achievement prompted board member Lauren Herterich to call for a brief recess.

“I guess I am just sick and tired of seeing this kind of report, reporting in the disparity between the black, Hispanic, white and others,” Board Chair Eric Mack said. “We are not moving students like we should.”

Chief Academic Officer Karolyn Belcher presented the latest testing data that showed the Charleston County School District is performing better than similar-sized districts across the nation, but largely on the backs of white and Asian-American students.

Only 26 percent of Black and 36 percent of Hispanic students are meeting achievement goals in math, grades 2 through 8, compared to 77 percent of their white counterparts and 71 percent of Asian-American students, the data showed.

“I know that doesn’t feel good. I don’t think I have been trying to excuse our low achievement, but I am not sure what the strategy was prior to these two years to improve these schools. We have a strategy now,” Belcher said.

Belcher has been with the school district for two years and has been implementing the turnaround strategy in a district where the achievement gap between black and white students has always been a problem. However, the issue has not seen much improvement in that time.

It’s not just math. Data presented Monday night showed Black and Hispanic students are well below the national average this year at just 34 percent and 35 percent respectively. Those numbers are down from last year and the pre-pandemic levels. Meanwhile, white and Asian-American students are have improved or stayed steady from last year at 77 percent and 73 percent respectively.

“Your job and the staff’s is to find a way to improve the scores and put resources in places where they need to be,” Mack said.

“The achievement gaps have lasted for multiple decades but to assume that a turnaround effort which typically takes three to five years, in a pandemic year, is going to show achievement gains is simply unrealistic [in year two],” Belcher said. “Point to any other district across the country that has done that and I will happily follow their path.”

Board member Kristen French also took shots at Belcher’s presentation saying the data was confusing a difficult to understand.

“Even within this presentation, you used two different graphic systems. That’s completely confusing. It’s frustrating for me to say the least,” French said. “I also want to say, because you got pretty confrontational with Rev. Mack, that data slide does not show we are doing better for Black kids at all. Don’t tell us that we’re doing better. We are not.”

Visibly agitated, Belcher said she didn’t intend to be confrontational.

“I feel like I represent the teachers and the principals who are working very hard to improve student achievement in a very tough time,” Belcher said. “I am trying to represent people who I don’t want to lose heart out in the field, who are working very, very hard to move the needle in closing that gap.”

Belcher says there are promising signs in the data saying while Black and Hispanic students aren’t hitting the achievement mark, they are growing from their starting point. She says an increasing growth percentile means they expect the achievement numbers to finally show some progress next year.

Meanwhile, Board Member Helen Frazier commented on the district’s priorities by pointing out that the only picture in the test score presentation featured all white and Asian-American students.

“If you’re going to talk to me about the differences in test scores, then I need to see me represented on this paper,” Frazier said, holding up a copy of the presentation. “I don’t see the majority of the board represented here and I am insulted by it. I really, really am. Not only are we left behind in reading, we’re left behind when you present things to the board.”

The board broke into recess for about 10 minutes before finishing the meeting.

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