School Accountability Changes, PACT Scores Lead List of Top 10 State Education Stories

December 31, 2008

COLUMBIA, SC – December 31, 2008 – Legislative changes to the state’s public school accountability system lead the South Carolina Department of Education’s list of top education stories for 2008.

“Although school districts are currently struggling to deal with budget cuts, we shouldn’t lose sight of the successes we had in moving our reform agenda forward this year,” State Superintendent of Education Jim Rex said.  “I’m hopeful that in the new year we can work with the General Assembly to provide more choices within public education and begin to address fair, equitable, and adequate funding for every student in every community.”

Top 10 education stories for 2008 (in ascending order)
No. 10:  Laptop pilot project brings technology to primary grades
Kindergarten and elementary school classes in Marion School District Seven got their own laptop computers thanks to “One Laptop per Child/ South Carolina,” a new campaign to make South Carolina the first state with laptop technology for its youngest students.  The rugged laptops are specially built for kids and cost less than $200 each, thanks to private funding and support from the nonprofit Palmetto Project agency.  

No. 9:  Training aims to prevent sexual misconduct in schools
In partnership with Darkness to Light – a national nonprofit headquartered in Charleston – the Education Department began specialized training for educators on how to prevent sexual abuse and inappropriate relationships between adults and students.  The program is a result of a statewide task force convened by Rex in 2007 to address the issue of preventing adult sexual misconduct and exploitation of children. 

No. 8:  High school seniors earn scholarships worth $767 million
South Carolina’s high school Class of 2008 won a record $767 million in college scholarships, the highest figure in seven years of tracking these awards.  The senior class total of $767,101,163 was $83 million more than the previous year, pushing the state’s five-year scholarship amount to more than $3.1 billion.

No. 7:  Petition hopes to put “high-quality education” in State Constitution
South Carolinians were urged to sign a petition to put new language in the State Constitution that would set “a high-quality education” as the state’s standard, replacing the current “minimally adequate” standard set forth in a South Carolina Supreme Court ruling.  Legislation to make the change must be passed by a two-thirds vote of the Senate and House of Representatives in order to put the amendment on the general election ballot in November 2010.  

No. 6:  Low-interest loans help teachers buy first homes
The 2008 Palmetto Hero program was a joint venture with the South Carolina State Housing Authority to make low-interest loans available to teachers hoping to buy their first home.  The $20 million initiative proved highly popular, and the entire loan pool was obligated within two months.  Rex said he hoped the initiative could be renewed in 2009 as an incentive for young people to enter the teaching profession and remain in it.  

No. 5:  Teacher Renewal Center made possible by Upstate land, cash donation
A dramatic gift of land and funds from Upstate developer Jim Anthony boosted plans for a new Teacher Renewal Center that will serve as a retreat and training site for classroom educators.  The center will be the first of its kind in South Carolina, offering teachers a chance to reflect, reconnect and renew their enthusiasm for their profession.  

No. 4:  State earns high marks for teacher quality  and school technology  
In its annual “Quality Counts” report, the national magazine Education Week ranked South Carolina No. 1 in state efforts to attract, develop and keep the best teachers.  The report says the state is No. 9 nationally for education performance and policymaking.  EdWeek’s annual “Technology Counts” report ranked South Carolina schools 13th nationwide in access, use and capacity of educational technology; the state matched its overall 2007 grade of B-minus.

No. 3:  Graduation Matters summit aims to cut dropouts, boost graduation rates
South Carolina joined a national dropout campaign in December with a summit launching “Graduation Matters,” a statewide initiative to reduce school dropouts and increase on-time high school graduation rates.  In October, Education Secretary Margaret Spellings visited Columbia to announce new federal regulations setting a national formula for states to calculate on-time graduation rates.  The formula was the same one already being used by South Carolina and 16 other states.   

No. 2:  Proficient, advanced scores rise in PACT’s last year
In the last administration of the Palmetto Achievement Challenge Tests (PACT), more students in grades 3-8 scored at Proficient or Advanced levels in all 24 categories – a significant improvement over the previous year.  African-American students and students who qualify for free/reduced price meals showed progress in reducing achievement gaps in three out of the four tested subjects. 

No. 1:  New testing, accountability revisions become state law
South Carolina’s landmark Education Accountability Act got its first major revision in 10 years.  The General Assembly replaced PACT with a new test (dubbed PASS in a subsequent statewide online election) and made changes designed to be more practical for educators, more effective for schools and more useful to parents.  The testing and accountability reforms were based on recommendations from two task forces appointed by Rex.