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Changing standards lead to unreliable public school data in SC

Fewer high schools in South Carolina met federal education standards in 2009, but far more elementary and middle schools made the grade. WFAE's Julie Rose explains how the results released today reveal little about how well students are actually doing. None of the 19 public high schools in the upstate counties of Spartanburg, Cherokee, York and Union met the federal standard known as Adequate Yearly Progress in 2009. The previous year, most of the schools met the standard. At the same time, the number of elementary and middle schools in those same counties that met the federal standard more than doubled in 2009. South Carolina Department of Education Spokesman Jim Foster says it's not that the younger students did so much better on the test. . . it's that the standards changed. "We know that the high schools were hurt when the targets they had to hit jumped from 50 percent proficient to 70 percent," says Foster. In other words, 70 percent of the students in a high school had to score at their grade level in math and English - including kids who speak English as a second language or have a learning disability. And by 2014 the bar will rise even higher, so that every student will have to perform at grade level. "Unless Congress makes substantial changes to No Child Left Behind, within two or three years, there will be just a handful of schools in the entire country that are making it," says Foster. Foster says the success of South Carolina's elementary and middle schools last year has everything to do with a new definition for the word "proficient." Congress lets each state decide what "proficient" means for its schools. "In South Carolina, we were among the hardest two or three proficient ratings in the country," says Foster. "So AYP ratings relatively to other states were always skewed." Last year the South Carolina General Assembly lowered its definition of "proficient" to more closely match the national norm, which means a lot more elementary and middle schools students were able to meet the standard. Given those anomalies, Foster says school report cards prepared by the state and posted online are a better way for parents to measure the performance of their child's school. The report cards for 2009 should be out sometime next month.