State report cards: On-time graduation rates down in SC high schools

Fewer students graduated from high school on time in 2009, according to the annual report cards released by the South Carolina Department of Education.

To find out information on any district or school, click here to read the report.

Below is a news release from the South Carolina Department of Education:

COLUMBIA - On-time graduation rates for a majority of the state's high schools - and for the state as a whole - declined on annual report cards released today by the South Carolina Department of Education. Overall high school and district ratings improved.

The state's 2010 graduation rate, which tracks the percentage of students who complete high school "on time" and get a diploma in four years - fell 1.6 percentage points to 72.06 percent, compared to 73.7 percent the previous year.

Fifty-nine percent of high schools reported lower rates, with decreases of 10 percentage points or more for 26 schools. This graduation rate is calculated using the federally-approved method that all states will use by the end of the year.

Male students accounted for the largest decline - 2.6 percentage points - compared to a decrease of one-half of one percent for females. The graduation rate fell 1.55 percentage points for white students. The rate for African-American students was down 1.1 percentage points.

Report cards for elementary and middle schools were published in November. High school report cards (and, as a result, district cards) were delayed because of changes in the process used to build the data files that determine high school graduation rates.

"To improve the long-term prospects for economic growth and job creation in South Carolina, we must graduate more students from high school," said State Superintendent of Education Mick Zais. "The bottom line for parents, students, educators, and taxpayers is that slightly more than one out of every four students fails to graduate on-time.

"A one-size-fits-all approach to public education won't increase graduation rates. We need creative, innovative and student-centered solutions that match students with learning environments that meet their needs. We need courses that demonstrate the relevance of coursework to the world of work. And we need to ensure that students master the basic skills necessary to successfully complete high school."

South Carolina's graduation rate calculation methodology remained the same as used in previous years, but the documentation required from school districts was adjusted to more accurately reflect student transfers and student enrollment.

"The change in documentation requirements may continue to produce shifts in graduation rate numbers as schools get adjusted to the new process," said Deputy Superintendent for Accountability Nancy Busbee. "The aim is produce more accurate figures that will account for dropouts and others who don't graduate from high school with a regular diploma."

High schools and school districts across the state generally had better report cards when compared to 2009. Included with graduation rates in overall high school ratings are students' end-of-course exam scores and exit exam scores, both of which improved in 2010.

More high schools had Absolute ratings of Excellent, Good or Average, up from 154 schools in 2009 to 169 in 2010. The number of high schools with lower ratings of Below Average or At-Risk dropped from 43 in 2009 to 30 last year.

Sixty-four high schools improved their Absolute ratings in 2010, while 100 maintained their status and 31 saw a ratings dip.

The number of school districts attaining Absolute ratings of Excellent, Good or Average more than doubled, up from 25 districts in 2009 to 64 in 2010. Far fewer districts were rated Below Average or At-Risk - 22 in 2010 compared to 60 the previous year. Only six districts were rated At-Risk, compared to 21 in 2009 and 12 in 2008.

Ratings formulas are based on student achievement levels set by the Education Oversight Committee, created by the General Assembly to guide implementation of South Carolina's Education Accountability Act of 1998. Schools and districts receive Absolute ratings - Excellent, Good, Average, Below Average or At-Risk - plus Growth ratings that

compare individual student test scores from one year to the next.

Sixty-three high schools had Growth ratings of Average or above in 2010, compared to 66 the year before. The number of high schools with Growth ratings of Below Average or At-Risk went up by one, from 2009's figure of 131 to 132 last year.

Growth ratings of Average or above were reported in 67 school districts last year, compared to only six in 2009. The number of districts with Growth ratings of Below Average or At-Risk dropped to 18 in 2010, compared to 79 the prior year.

"The EOC is pleased to see progress in the school and district ratings driven by improvements made in student achievement." said EOC Chairman Neil C. Robinson Jr. "But we cannot overlook those areas of the state where student performance continues to decline over time and achievement gaps persist. Communities and individuals are facing hardships during these challenging times but we can't back away from the goals we have set for our students, school, and our state. We must remain relentless."

The performance of 44 public charter schools was included in the report card ratings - eight in the South Carolina Public Charter School District and 36 chartered within local districts. Twenty-eight public charter schools were rated Excellent, Good, or Average, while sixteen public charter schools were rated Below Average or At-Risk. Another 11 were too new to be rated.

In addition to state and federal ratings required by EAA and the federal No Child Left Behind Act, report card data also include student-teacher ratios, dollars spent per student, absentee rates for students and teachers, amount of instructional time, average teacher salaries and the socio-economic status of students' families.

The report cards show that poverty levels in South Carolina, measured by a calculation based on the percentage of students receiving Medicaid and/or reduced meal plans, continue to increase. The average poverty index for districts grew from 74.7 percent in 2009 to 76.1 percent in 2010. Poverty indices went up in almost 900 schools across the state. Six out of 10 schools had at least 70 percent of their students living in poverty last year.