Students Improve End-of-Course Test Scores in English and Science; Algebra Scores Dip

December 18, 2008

COLUMBIA, SC – December 18, 2008 – Student scores improved last year on state end-of-course exams in English and physical science, according to results released today by the South Carolina Department of Education.  Scores on Algebra tests decreased slightly.

State Superintendent of Education Jim Rex said that while he was encouraged at the improvements, overall scores are too low.

A key issue is whether teachers are covering specific material that students need to master before taking these tests, Rex said.  Are they covering the academic standards in their classrooms?  And even if they are, are they doing it in effective ways?

Last year Rex directed the agency’s subject-area specialists and testing experts to recommend ways that the Education Department could better assist local schools, particularly small schools in rural areas that have limited resources.  Staff from the agency’s Division of Standards and Learning developed English, physical science and algebra curricula that include resource guides, instructional strategies and assessment strategies that are aligned to the state’s academic standards.  More than 600 middle and high school teachers have been trained on the new curriculum guides, which are available for any district to use.

The Education Department, in partnership with the Charles A. Dana Center at the University of Texas, is piloting the South Carolina Algebra Project in middle and high schools across the state.
Participating schools use a special curriculum developed by the Dana Center, and the Education Department is providing ongoing training for classroom teachers.

High school students have long taken traditional final exams in many courses.  But South Carolina’s introduction of the statewide End-of-Course Examination Program, mandated by the Education Accountability Act of 1998, marked the first time that a standards-based, uniform test was administered to all students in the same courses.  Algebra 1 testing began in the 2003-2004 school year, while English 1 and physical science were added a year later.  Results count for 20 percent of each student’s final course grade.  (Students enrolled in an Algebra I and Mathematics for the Technologies II take the Algebra I end-of-course exam; content standards are the same.)

For 2007-08, grade distribution for English was 11.9 percent A, 15.6 percent B, 23.6 percent C, 17.3 percent D and 31.6 percent F.  Grade distribution for algebra was 14.5 percent A, 16.8 percent B, 22.9 percent C, 24.1 percent D and 21.7 percent F.  Grade distribution for physical science was 9.3 percent A, 10.6 percent B, 16.9 percent C, 18.2 percent D and 45 percent F.

Under South Carolina’s uniform grading scale, an A is 93-100; a B is 85-92; a C is 77-84; and a D is 70-76. Anything 69 or below is an F.

Highlights of 2008 results included:

  • English 1 – English 1 test results improved significantly in 2007-2008, going from a mean scale score of 74.4 to 76.3.  The percentage of students scoring either an A or B improved from 21.3 to 27.5, while the percentage of students failing the exam dropped from 35.2 to 31.6.
  • Algebra 1 – Thirty-one percent of the 60,015 students tested in algebra statewide scored an A or B during the 2007-2008 school year. The mean scale score was 79.1, half a point lower than the year before. Grade distribution was mixed compared to the previous year.  More students scored either an A or B, but more students also made either a D or F.  
  • Physical science – Although physical science had the lowest passing score among the three EOCEP tests, the mean scale score improved by 1.4 points, from 70.7 up to 72.1.  More students recorded either an A or B, while the percentage of F’s dropped by 5.3 points (8.4 points over the past two years). A fourth end-of-course exam – U.S. History and the Constitution – was administered for the first time during the 2006-2007 school year. Those scores will count as 20 percent of students’ final grades and become part of the state’s school accountability system during the 2008-09 school year.

A rapid scoring system enables schools to include the test scores in students’ final course grades. Students’ scores are posted on a secure password-protected website within 36 hours after student answers are received by the scoring contractor.

Districts now have the option to administer EOCEP tests on line, and about one out of four tests are administered in that way.