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2020-2021 School Report Card gives SC superintendent ‘extremely high’ level of concern

State Superintendent Molly Spearman
State Superintendent Molly Spearman(Adam Mintzer)
Published: Sep. 1, 2021 at 12:01 AM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The school year just started, but grades are already starting to come in for South Carolina schools.

The South Carolina School Report Card compiles the results of the federal end-of-year assessment given to students in third grade and higher. The SC Department of Education asked the federal government for a waiver to not give these tests last year, as was done in 2020 but was denied.

While officials with the Department of Education say they expected a dip in students being at grade level because of COVID-19, the final numbers worried them.

“I am very very concerned with the results,” said State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman. “As you can see if you look deeply, our students, particularly our younger students who this was their first time taking a summative assessment, our third graders, they did not show as much growth as we had hoped and had been shown in previous years.”

From the 2018-2019 school year until last year, third graders in South Carolina meeting or exceeding their grade-level expectations in math dropped 10.8 percent.

(Adam Mintzer)

Education experts say third grade is a pivotal year for a student’s reading and writing skills. While third graders did worse overall in English than they did in Math, the drop was less significant.

(Adam Mintzer)

However, the Department of Education is asking people not to get too focused on the individual numbers in the report because the test wasn’t mandatory so not all students took it, the test was conducted under different circumstances last school year than in previous years, and COVID-19 impacted students in a wide range of ways.

But, the department is using information from the report as part of their overall assessment of how students did last year.

Spearman explained older students saw less of a gap between last year’s number of students meeting or exceeding expectations and prior years than younger students. However, she is worried another school year disrupted by COVID-19 could set students even further behind their grade level.

The state’s top educator has been continuously speaking out against a temporary state law limiting school district’s ability to mandate masks and encouraging people to get vaccinated. She says because of COVID precautions, particularly when masking isn’t mandated, students and teachers may be frequently forced to quarantine at home when there is a possible exposure. This not only puts students’ and teachers’ health at risk but removes the opportunity for students to learn face-to-face from their teacher. Spearman said the pandemic has made it clear to her that most students learn best when studying in person.

“This is not what we wanted. We wanted and needed a normal school year,” she said. “It saddens me. I am almost at the point of anger... that we are almost at the point that schools have to be all virtual.”

However, while the Department of Education says these scores may not increase significantly in just one school year, Spearman is hopeful they are heading in the right direction in the long run.

“We have been very, very carefully working with our districts, working in-house at the Department of Education to streamline our standards to prioritize the things that really need to be taught at each grade level...to accelerate the learning of our students,” she said.

To review your school’s grades go to the SC Department of Education website.

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