The latest round of South Carolina’s annual school report cards are missing key measures of academic progress as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While district ratings and student assessment scores are absent, this year’s data does include several other factors, such as measures of student safety and four-year graduation rates, that provide insight into one of the most chaotic and tumultuous school years the state has seen in recent history.
When schools closed their doors to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in mid-March, educators were unable to administer many of the assessments that typically serve as the foundation for report cards.
This temporary halt on standardized testing has meant that this year’s school, district and state report cards, released Friday by the S.C. Department of Education, lack crucial indicators normally used to measure students’ academic progress.
In a news release, state Superintendent Molly Spearman called the 2019-20 school year “unlike any other that our state and nation has faced.”
“With facilities closed due to the novel coronavirus in March our schools were unable to administer many of the accountability measures that are used for the basis of our annual report cards,” Spearman said. “Instead, these report cards highlight those aspects of our education system such as safety, finance, and classroom environment that are equally important.”
The report cards detail several other key data points, including graduation rates, English learners’ progress, teacher pay and per-pupil spending.
Detailed reports broken down by school or by district can be found at SCReportCards.com.
Although students spent the last two months of school learning exclusively from home, school-based arrests and bullying incidents were higher compared with the previous year in several school districts, including in Charleston and Berkeley counties.
Berkeley County schools saw nearly 60 more school-related arrests and referrals to law enforcement compared with the previous year. Charleston schools saw seven more of these incidents.
Horry County Schools and Richland 2 also saw more school-related arrests and law enforcement referrals, according to the latest report cards.
The number of students issued out of school suspensions in Charleston County was more than 1.5 times what it was during the 2018-19 school year, from 4,750 to 7,344.
Out-of-school suspensions were more than 1.7 times higher in Horry County.
In the Upstate, the number of suspensions in Greenville County, the state’s largest school district, increased from 7,523 to 11,378. The number of bullying incidents decreased from 579 to 426.
The statewide figures for out-of-school suspension increased from 84,417 in 2018-19 to 132,054 last year.
Ryan Brown, a spokesman for the S.C. Department of Education, said he wasn’t sure what factors resulted in the higher number of suspensions statewide. The data included in the report cards this year is largely pulled directly from the individual district’s databases, he said.
Andy Pruitt, a spokesman for the Charleston County School District, declined to comment Friday on the increase in student suspensions, citing the district’s need to analyze the data before making any speculative judgements. The district will investigate the matter and will provide more information next week, Pruitt said.
In the tri-county area, districts in Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester counties all reported an increase in the percentage of students who missed more than 10 days of school, also known as chronic absenteeism.
In Berkeley County schools, the chronic absenteeism rate jumped from 13.8 percent for the 2018-19 school year to 15.9 percent.
It’s a similar story in Charleston County, where the rate of chronic absenteeism was up nearly 2 percentage points, from 12.6 to 14.3.
Dorchester Districts 2 and 4 also saw increases in the number of students chronically absent.
The statewide absenteeism rate increased from 13.1 percent to 13.8 percent.
Keeping track of students’ attendance and participants proved to be a tall task for educators in the spring, many of whom were instructed to mark students “present” whether they actually showed up or not.
In May, school districts across the Palmetto State were unable to account for thousands of students who hadn’t shown up for any of their online classes.
By mid-September, South Carolina social workers had tracked down all but 60 of the missing students, but educators still remain fearful of the long-lasting educational impacts that chronically absent students will face going forward.
Berkeley, DD2 and Charleston school districts all reported their highest rate of on-time graduations since the report cards were first released in 2017.
The report cards did not feature any end-of-course examination results since they were not administered this year, but some districts did opt to provide stats on the percentage of second grade students who are on track for success for their third grade courses in English Language Arts and math.
More than 62 percent of Berkeley County second graders were on track for English, up from 59.4 percent the previous year. Nearly 65 percent of students were prepared for third grade math, an increase of 5.4 percentage points from the 2018-19 school year.
Dorchester District 4 saw a significant increase in the percentage of students ready for third grade.
Some 56.2 percent of all DD4 second grade students showed they were ready for third grade ELA and math at the end of the 2018-19 school year. According to this year’s most recent report, the percentage jumped by 4 percentage points in English and nearly 9.6 percentage points in math.
The statewide percentages of third grade readiness was 32.9 and 36.6 for English and math, respectively.
All tri-county school districts reported an increase in their average teacher salary and their total state/local per-pupil spending.
The region’s highest average teacher salary was reported in Charleston County, at $55,461.