Charleston Co. school test scores rebound from pre-pandemic levels

Published: Sep. 7, 2022 at 3:50 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 7, 2022 at 6:52 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The effort to address struggling schools in Charleston County is showing its first signs of budding success.

The South Carolina Department of Education released testing data from the 2021-2022 school year Tuesday. While the data has its ups and downs, nearly all the scores show significant growth from the previous year.

More importantly, the students are generally improving from pre-pandemic levels in English while still struggling to make significant gains in math. In the latest data, 53.2% of students in grades 3-8 met or exceeded expectations in English, up from 48.6% in 2021 and 49.5% in 2019. In Math, 48.9% of students met or exceeded expectations, up from 46% in 2021 and 48.3% in 2019.

In her first interview since leaving the school district in July, former Chief Academic Officer Karolyn Belcher says the results are promising. Belcher was at the head of the district’s turnaround effort, which she says is entering year three of the five-year plan.

“It makes me excited for the future. I think sometimes there’s a belief that kids can’t achieve at high levels in urban environments and that is simply not true,” Belcher said. “I am just incredibly proud of the acceleration school principals, all the teachers, leadership and I am excited for what is to come next for Charleston County. Although I am in cold Cape Cod right now, it’s nice to see the direction that Charleston is headed and I feel like it’s going well for kids.”

RELATED: Charleston Co. School Board meeting heats up over testing data

The district designated 13 elementary and middle schools as acceleration schools in 2019. These were some of the lowest performing schools in the state. Today, those schools appear to be turning it around. While the data does not draw a perfect trend line across all schools, most scores in English and math improved from pre-pandemic levels, many by double digits.

At Morningside Middle School, for example, 18.6% of students met or exceeded expectations in English in 2022, up from 10.6% in 2019. Despite the increase, that still means the vast majority of students are not meeting expectations.

The district’s new interim chief academic officer, Michelle Simmons, says the growth is encouraging.

“We are very proud and pleased with the improvements, but we understand that we still have a way to go,” Simmons said.

The increases are similar in most of the acceleration schools. New Interim Deputy Superintendent of Schools Anita Huggins says the data proves the approach the district is taking is working.

“We see counterparts across the nation that are trying to do this,” Huggins said. “Very honestly, we have made strides but we still have a long way to go in ensuring that all students achieve at very high levels.”

Superintendent Don Kennedy has made closing the achievement gap between white and black students one of his key focuses. The latest data shows gains are being made in some areas, while improvement is still needed in others.

For example, Hispanic students meeting standards dropped 10% from pre-pandemic levels in grade 3 English, but in 5th grade, they saw a 7% increase. Black students in the same grade jumped 9% from 2019 in English but dropped 6% in 4th-grade math over the same time period.

“We are making strides,” Simmons said. “We still need to accelerate that growth. We still have to have a remedy, a solution for accelerated growth . . . We are still not necessarily exceeding state scores in those subgroups but all the while making progress. That’s our aim. That’s our goal and that’s our charge”

Interim Chief of Schools, Anthony Dixon says they’ll continue to refine their efforts and target the areas struggling the most.

“You’re seeing this intense focus on ensuring that our students are achieving and improving and growing,” Dixon said.

Despite the challenges, the district as a whole outperformed average state scores in all state tests.

You can see the data for yourself and learn more about the specific tests here: SC READY - South Carolina Department of Education.