Federal school letter grades are out, see how Grand Strand and Pee Dee schools ranked

More than three-quarters of South Carolina schools received passing grades for student achievement and improvement under the No Child Left Behind act for the 2012-13 school year, according to state Superintendent of Education Mick Zais.

Conway High School was not among them.

Conway's grade dropped from a "B" in the 2011-12 school year to an "F" in 2012-13, according to the report released Thursday.

The school's principal says a big part of the grade decrease has to do with the school's graduation rate.

He says many kids who leave the school end up transferring to other schools or even out of the country, but they still count against Conway's graduation rate.

"We have far more kids coming and going these days than we used to, so we might have a graduating class of 300 and we've had 500 kids that have been through the building in the course of that four years. We have to keep up with the other 200," said principal Steven Fitch.

Fitch says he feels sick over the grade.

"It's just been very, very traumatic for me to have to look at this and say in light of the work that we have done, why are we getting this grade?"

But Fitch adds Conway parents should have faith and confidence the school is moving in the right direction.

The Academy of Hope Charter School was the only other Horry County school to receive an "F" grade. The school opened last August, so it did not have a letter grade from the 2011-12 school year.

Four Horry County schools improved at least two grades from the previous year. Loris and Socastee high schools and Homewood Elementary jumped from "C" to "A", and Whittemore Park Middle School moved from "D" to "B". Bridgewater Academy Charter School leaped three grades, from "D" to "A".

Overall, the Horry County School District recorded a "B," down one grade level from the previous year.

But school officials say the percentage of Horry County schools that received the highest grades went up this year.

"Last year, it was 74 percent. We climbed this year to 83 percent, so more of our schools are making A's and B's," said spokesperson Teal Britton.

Britton says Horry County is now the 12th-ranked school system in the state, up from 22nd last year.

In Florence County, Timmonsville High School, J. Paul Truluck Middle School and Brockington Elementary School all recorded "F" scores. Ten other Florence County schools came in with "D" grades, and Florence school districts 3 and 4 received overall "F" grades.

Statewide, the report card says 77 percent of school districts and 76 percent of schools met the state's expectations, which is a grade of "C" or better.

"This was in the face of standards increasing this year," said state education department spokesman Jay W. Ragley.

That percentage is down from the previous school year. Ragley said 82 percent of schools and 81 percent of districts in the state scored a "C" or better in the 2011-12 school year.

This is the second year for the letter grading system to be used in South Carolina, under the federal No Child Left Behind act.

Ragley said Zais asked the U.S. Department of Education for a waiver to allow South Carolina to use letter grades in place of the all-or-nothing Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) system.

Under AYP, schools were designated as either "met" or "not met" AYP. Ragley said many schools failed to meet AYP because they missed only one or two objectives for performance or improvement. In 2011, Ragley said only 23 percent of the state's schools met AYP.

Ragley said the letter grading system makes school accountability more transparent and easier to understand.

The complete list of letter grades for schools and school districts in the state is available on the SC Department of Education web site.