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Education: Test scores seen to validate schedule change

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Scores on state mandated end of course exams in English and math at Waccamaw High were the highest ever last year, a result that principal David Hammel believes was due to a change in the freshman class schedule.

A “freshman academy” had students take seven classes a day for the full year while other grades followed a four-period block schedule with courses changing at midyear.

The entire school is on the traditional schedule this year and Hammel believes the standardized test results will continue to support the change.

The end of course exams are typically given in ninth grade. Waccamaw’s pass rate in English (any score above a 70) jumped by over 10 points from 2010 to 84.8 percent.

The pass rate in algebra was up over 7 points to 88.4. There were smaller gains in physical science and U.S. history.

The history result remains troubling, however. More than a third failed the exam. In the state, over half the students fail the test.

Hammel expects science and history scores will continue to improve, and believes the impact will be carried forward. The group that did well on the end of course exams as freshmen will take the state’s exit exam as sophomores this year.

The number of Waccamaw High sophomores who passed the spring exit exams in English and math dropped this year, although the pass rate remained above the district and state averages.

Of the 189 Waccamaw students who took the tests, 86.2 percent passed both. That was down from 89.4 percent in 2010. Students must pass the exams in order to graduate and have other chances to take them.

This year, 93.1 percent of sophomores passed the English exam and 86.8 percent passed the math exam. In Georgetown County, the pass rate was 88.3 percent in English and 76.9 percent in math. In the state the respective rates were 88.6 and 81.2 percent.

“If it dropped below 80 percent, we could say it was a slip,” Hammel said, noting that the pass rate for both tests has been stable at around 89 percent. “You hate to see it drop a few points.”

He believes that is a reflection of a growing and more diverse student population. In addition to transfers from other schools in the county allowed under the federal No Child Left Behind law, the school has seen students move into the area. Enrollment is 811.

“We’ve seen kids come from all over the place,” Hammel said. “As numbers increase, it’s harder to hold those scores.”

Like other schools in the state and the nation, there is a wide gap between results for white and African-American students. The average score for black students was 10 points lower in English. “We’re trying to find strategies to address that,” Hammel said.

Waccamaw High won a state award last year for closing the achievement gap and Hammel saw little gap in end of course scores.

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