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New decade brings new state education goals

By Sarah L. Smith
Coastal Observer

South Carolina missed its self-imposed educational goals, set in 1998, but looking back on the last decade of progress in public education, Patti Hammel said Georgetown County schools are “doing a good job of getting students on grade level or above.”

There is still room for improvement, said Hammel, the school district’s interim director of student performance and federal programs.

But graduation rates are improving, schools are safe and offer higher-level classes.

“We continue to show progress,” Superintendent Randy Dozier said. “We had almost 65 percent of our schools meet AYP this year, and even our schools that didn’t make AYP had a number of students that met requirements.”

“Adequate yearly progress” reports measure progress to the goals of the federal education law that all students will be “proficient” in their core subjects.

South Carolina’s goal for 2010 was that scores on standardized tests would rank in the top half of students in the country.

When that goal was not reached, the state Education Oversight Committee, a non-partisan, independent group, set a new goal for 2020. They want students to graduate high school with the necessary skills and knowledge to compete in a global economy, participate in a democratic society and contribute positively.

What students learn in school could relate to how they contribute, according to Dozier.

The trend in district testing, said Hammel, shows that district schools need to work on improving their science and U.S. history scores.

“It’s always interesting to me, being an ex-social studies teacher, how poorly they do on those tests,” Dozier said. “Maybe it’s not interesting. Maybe it lends itself to why so many people don’t vote.”

While the district plans to meet the 2020 goals as well as its own, Dozier said it could also benefit from a change in state testing rules. Current rules require special education students meet grade level requirements, he said.

“I’m not sure you’re ever going to get 90 percent of those kids meeting standards. There’s nothing you can do to cure that disability,” he said.

In the 2009 adequate yearly progress reports, special education students were the only group in the state and the district that did not show improvement.

“If I gave a test, for example, as a teacher, and I had 30 kids in the class, all 30 of them failed and all 30 of them missed the same question or two, I’d have to reexamine the test,” Dozier said. “If I was a state and every district in the state only missed the two disabled categories, I would begin to wonder: Is that fair?”

The district also lags behind in end-of-course test scores, Dozier said. These are standardized tests created by the state and given at the end of a semester.

Since they were implemented, the state has struggled to get students to take them seriously.

State Superintendent of Education Jim Rex has recommended eliminating the tests as a way to save money.

“I can’t tell you how much staff time guidance counselors spend doing that when they should be dedicated to other tasks,” Dozier said. “Heaven help you if you lose one test. They actually have SLED officials come and investigate.”

Dozier said he’d prefer to spend money where it affects the most children. The district doesn’t get those test scores back soon enough to have an effect on teaching.

“The fact that you test in the spring, and then you get the results in November, December and January, how’s that possibly going to help you plan for that school year? The school year is almost gone,” he said.

Dozier wants to spend the money on classes that prepare students to enter college, the workforce or military after graduation.

“When kids graduate now, they want to make sure they have a career, employment and somewhere to go immediately,” he said. “There’s no down time. I think that’s why you need more career technology.”

Career classes can help high school students determine what they want to do after graduation, he said. He would like to see Waccamaw High get an ROTC program, which it requested last spring.

“I really want to provide the best opportunities that we can for the most students with the limited resources that we have,” he said.

Reading is another area he’d like to see improve. Last year, the district adopted a new curriculum for elementary and middle schools that allows teachers to pinpoint problems with student reading skills.

These are just some of the things on the district’s to-do list for the next nine years.

“The things that have been problematic for us have not been school issues,” Dozier said.

It’s the budget.

So when money is flowing again, he hopes the district can accomplish all of its goals.

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