Board members worried about education gap in South Carolina

Published: Aug. 4, 2022 at 4:53 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 4, 2022 at 10:38 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The gap between the lowest performing and highest performing students in South Carolina is expanding, according to the National Assessment Governing Board.

The board analyzes data, known as the Nation’s Report Card, that tests kids in 4th, 8th and 12th grades to see their progress in certain subjects and how this data can be improved in coming years. On August 4 and 5, education panelists from the state and current board members are discussing educational goals for South Carolina.

Two board members say the last time they did a national assessment like this was before COVID. Now, this will be one of the first times where we can see a true assessment of data of students’ progress comparing pre and post-COVID.

Patrick Kelly, a 12-grade teacher and the director of government affairs of the Palmetto State Teacher’s Association, says he is interested to see how the academic disruption of COVID has not been equally distributed amongst students. He says since the performance gap is widening, he believes the data will show where it affected students the most.

He says it is important to keep COVID and the current teacher shortage at the front of mind when reviewing this data.

“The need to be able to communicate that data in a way that is usable by different stakeholder groups, whether that’s our teachers, our parents, our students and our policymakers,” Kelly said. “So, that’s an important challenge that we’re facing in South Carolina. Assessing what our students know and can do and then communicating that in a way that can be used to drive and inform instruction to help our students reach their potential.”

These tests consist of short surveys given to tens of thousands of students across the state about what students have learned in English, math, science, social studies and civics. It also includes contextual questions to see how students are adapting to their current environment. Some examples include, “Do you have access to a working computer at home?” “Do you have access to Internet broadband?” etc.

Although the 2022 data will not be released until the fall, Dr. Tonya Matthews, one of the National Assessment Governing Board members says South Carolina is seeing a “flat line of data,” meaning that there is not any sort of spikes drastically declining or increasing in student performance over the years.

However, she says the performance gap is widening.

“But the other trend that we’re seeing that is a bit more worrisome is that our students at are already performing at the lower levels of performance are doing worse, and the students at the higher levels are doing better,” Matthews said. “So, what we’re saying is an expansion of the gap of those who are already on board and getting it and those that were trying to intervene. And that has been a really good source of inspiration for us to dig deeper in the data and see what is really happening.”

Matthews says this week’s meetings will help the board figure out what interventions are working or not working in South Carolina that could help them figure out what works on a national scale.

Two assessments will be released in the fall of this year. One is a nine-year long-term assessment analyzing statistical consistency over time. The other is the May National Assessment of Educational Progress which will show student results in reading and math.

Kelly says these assessments will help the board analyze how South Carolina is doing in comparison to other states on top of the assessment of city to city.

“So, this will be the first post-COVID administration of the nation’s report card that’s going to give us a really concrete standard snapshot, using the nation’s report card, which is the gold standard in assessment, of where are our kids coming out of COVID in a way that allows us to make comparisons across states, so we can see where we are as a state in South Carolina compared to where we have been and how are we stacking up to educational performance in other states,” Kelly said.

The board members say they are going to use conversations from this week to bring changes to a national scale.

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