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Just three of the 15 elementary and middle schools in Lancaster County School District met standards in 2008 for progress under the federal No Child Left Behind Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) measure.
The state Department of Education released the data last week.
Because of concerns over possible data corruptions, the department is delaying the release of the high school scores.
Discovery School, McDonald Green Elementary and North Elementary School met AYP this year.
Across the state, 80 percent of the schools fell short in meeting the standards in a year where targets increased by more than 50 percent.
"Unless NCLB's rating system is revised to incorporate a more commonsense approach, the danger is that this law will lose all credibility with the public," said state Superintendent of Education Dr. Jim Rex.
"That would really be disappointing because its goals are so admirable."
The federal government's goal is that by 2014, all students will be considered well prepared for the next grade level – meaning they score "proficient" or "advanced" on standardized state tests.
AYP measures schools' progress toward meeting that goal.
Each school and district is broken down into demographic subgroups of students based on ethnicity, income, disability and English-speaking skills.
To make AYP goals, a certain percentage of each subgroup must score proficient or above on state tests. Also, a certain percentage of students must be tested.
Attendance must exceed a certain percentage in elementary and middle schools; and in high schools, the graduation rate has to improve each year.
The Palmetto Achievement Challenge Test (PACT) and the high school exit exam (HSAP) are the main indicators for the measure in South Carolina.
Michelle Crosby, principal at McDonald Green Elementary, said her staff met regularly to discuss the AYP goals. From there, they were able to focus on student weaknesses.
"The school had to have ownership in reaching the goals of student achievement," she said. "It's been a collaborative effort among the teachers here. We all have high expectations."
If one subgroup of students fails to meet the standard in math or English/language arts, or one of the other indicators, then the entire school fails to meet AYP.
In Lancaster County, the number of targets for a school ranged from five to 29.
If a school subgroup contains fewer than 40 students, then it doesn't count as a target. The exceptions, though, are in students with limited English proficiency and disability-student groups, which each have to feature at least 50 students.
Three local schools – Brooklyn Springs Elementary, Clinton Elementary and Kershaw Elementary – are on the school improvement list.
Brooklyn Springs Elementary's status is CSI, or Continuing School Improvement, meaning it has missed AYP for three years straight. Brooklyn Springs has to continue offering school choice and implement supplemental services.
Clinton Elementary's status is NI, or Newly Identified, meaning it missed AYP for two years straight. It must now offer school choice.
Kershaw Elementary's status is RP, or Plan to Restructure, meaning it missed AYP for five consecutive years. Kershaw Elementary must continue school choice and supplemental services and develop a plan to restructure. If the school misses AYP the next year, the school has to implement the restructuring plan.
"It's very discouraging to all of us throughout the district," said Brooklyn Springs Elementary Principal Gwen Minor. "I feel there is no school that hasn't done everything possible to reach our goals each year."
Given improvements in many areas on standardized tests, Minor said it's quite discouraging to see the school labeled as failing. The school doesn't plan to make any major changes to its programs or curricula, she said.
"Ultimately, we have to stay focused," Minor said. "It's truly not a reflection on our teachers and our students' ability. We want our standards to remain high."
Contact reporter Jesef Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (803) 283-1152