Immigrant children learning English faster in SC than in other states, new report says

January 7, 2009

COLUMBIA, SC – January 7, 2009 – A respected national magazine says that although the number of children in South Carolina schools who speak little or no English more than doubled between 1995 and 2005, the state had the nation’s second-highest percentage of students making progress in learning the language.

Quality Counts 2009, the 13th in a series of annual reports published by Education Week, features an in-depth look at America’s efforts to educate 5.1 million public school students who are English-language learners (ELLs) – children of foreign-born parents who enter school speaking little or no English.  South Carolina now has more than 25,000 of these students. 

Despite the unique challenges these students face, 72 percent of those in South Carolina schools made progress on special English proficiency tests, compared to a national average of 34.4 percent.  Quality Counts also said that South Carolina’s ELL students have a smaller achievement gap on state PACT tests of math and reading proficiency.

The difference in math proficiency for South Carolina ELLs is minus-7.5 percent, compared to a national gap of minus-23.6 percent.  The reading proficiency gap is minus-14 percent for South Carolina ELLs, compared to a national gap of minus-32.3 percent.

We’re encouraged that we’ve seen other examples of achievement by our youngest English-language learners that’s far outpacing the national average, said State Superintendent of Education Jim Rex.

For instance, 28 percent of our fourth-graders score proficient or higher in national math tests, compared to 13 percent in the rest of the country.  Our fourth-graders’ national reading scores are 19 percent proficient or above, compared to 7 percent for the other states.

Quality Counts notes that South Carolina – like 42 other states across the country – will need additional certified teachers to serve its swelling ELL population.  The report forecasts a need for a 61 percent increase in language instructors to handle the load; there are less than 500 of these teachers now.

Education Week carried forward 2008 grades and rankings in two areas and updated several more.  South Carolina maintained its No. 1 national ranking in state efforts to improve teaching and its No. 5 ranking for academic standards, assessment and school accountability.  

Quality Counts uses a variety of sources for its annual evaluations, including information from the U.S. Department of Education and national standardized test results such as NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress).

South Carolina retained its score of 91.9 – an A-minus, the highest grade awarded – for the top spot in policies and programs that strengthen the teaching profession.  The nation’s average score was 73.1 – a grade of C.  South Carolina’s scores included grades on teacher quality (84.4), incentives (94.1) and professional development and support (97.1).     

Teachers are the backbone of public education, said Rex, who has placed a top priority on elevating and reinvigorating the profession.

Even in these tough economic times, when everyone is making sacrifices, we can’t afford to back away from our need to recruit, retain and reward a quality teaching force for South Carolina.   

An A score of 93.5 – also carried forward from last year – continued to place South Carolina fifth in the nation for standards, assessment and accountability.  The score is based on key steps that states should take to define what students need to know and be able to do to move successfully from one stage of education to the next.  The national average was a B score of 83.6.

South Carolina earned a perfect score of 100 for school accountability, a 92.1 score for academic standards and a score of 88.3 for assessment.
Quality Counts 2009 grades in these categories do not reflect testing and accountability reforms that became state law last summer.

The 2009 report assigned overall grades for states for the second time in 13 years.  South Carolina’s overall score was 78.9, a C-plus, 2.7 points above the national average of 76.2, a C.

Updates for 2009

Quality Counts 2009 includes an update on three additional categories of policies and conditions across the 50 states and Washington, DC.  The report ranks South Carolina at No. 22 with an overall C score of 75 – same as the national average  – for enacting policies that align (or
connect) early childhood education, postsecondary education and the economy and workforce.  The state earned another perfect 100 in the subcategory of economy and workforce initiatives. 

South Carolina’s ranking improved slightly in the Quality Counts chance for success index, a calculation aimed at predicting a child’s life prospects from birth through adulthood, given the educational and economic hurdles that he or she is likely to face. In addition to student achievement, the index includes economic and social factors such as family poverty levels, parental employment, parent education and annual income.  South Carolina’s grade of C was 37th out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia and ranked two places higher than last year.  The national average was C-plus.  The Palmetto State finished behind neighboring Georgia (36th place), Florida (33rd) and North Carolina (31st). 

In the school finance category, Quality Counts rated states according to per-pupil spending and equity (whether education funding is higher for schools in less-wealthy districts).  South Carolina fared poorly in the equity comparison – 44th in the country.  The state’s overall school finance score of 73.6 – a grade of C – was three-and-a-half points under the C-plus national average and ranked 31st overall, a drop of five places in the rankings since 2008. 

Rex, who supports equitable public school funding to reduce the disparity between wealthy and poorer districts, said the key to finance reform lies in a comprehensive overhaul of the state’s system for
raising and spending revenue.   

It’s no secret that our budget difficulties now are due, at least in part, to piecemeal attempts to ‘fix’ the state’s tax system,
Rex said.  South Carolina needs to undertake comprehensive tax reforms that preserve state revenue under a fair, stable system and help protect us from future economic downturns.
South Carolina received a D in the K-12 achievement index that measures academic performance and gains made by students over time.  The national average was D-plus in this category.  The Palmetto State ranked 41st based on national reading and math scores, high school graduation rates and results of Advanced Placement (AP) exams.
South Carolina earned pluses for fourth-grade and eighth-grade NAEP math gains and for improvements in the high school graduation rate
(2000-2004) and Advanced Placement scores (2000-2006).  But points were subtracted for a slight dip in 2007 NAEP reading scores.