Scores dip on standardized tests

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Local student performance on PASS, HSAP tests mirror state results

By Reece Murphy

 Reece Murphy


Lancaster County student performance on the 2014 Palmetto Assessment of State Standards (PASS) and High School Assessment Program (HSAP) decreased slightly overall, though results varied widely among the tests individual subject areas.

Lancaster County School District results largely mirror results statewide, according to South Carolina Department of Education data released last week.

PASS results

The state’s PASS test is administered to third- through eighth-grade students in South Carolina as a way of measuring performance toward grade-level standards in writing, English/language arts (ELA), math, science and social studies.

Student performance is graded according to three levels: “Not Met,” “Met” and “Exemplary.” 

“Exemplary” means student performance exceeds grade-level standards.

Overall, student performance slipped most in science, with only 66.3 percent of the school district’s elementary and middle school students demonstrating proficiency, down 3.6 percentage points from last year.

The greatest decreases occurred among fifth-graders with only 59.8 percent demonstrating proficiency in the subject. 

That is a 10.2 percentage decrease from the previous year’s class of Lancaster County fifth-graders.

Student performance overall slipped 2.8 percentage points in ELA, with 73.1 percent meeting or exceeding standards; and math, with 72.9 percent meeting standards, down 2.3 percentage points from the year before.

There was good news, too.

Lancaster County elementary and middle school students performed best overall in writing with 74.9 percent meeting or exceeding grade-level expectations. The figure is up from 72.5 percent in 2013.

Third-grade students made the largest gains in writing than any other class in any other subject area by improving their 78.7 percent proficiency rate 12 percentage points over 2013 results.

The second highest area of improvement is in sixth-grade social studies, with a passage rate of 77.4 percent, up 5.7 percentage points over last year.

The grade-level subject area with the highest proficiency was fourth-grade social studies with 81.4 percent of students meeting standards followed by fifth-grade ELA, with 79.7 percent meeting standards and fifth-grade writing, with 79.5 percent of students meeting standards.


The S.C. General Assembly eliminated the HSAP exit-exam status in April, though last year’s testing still counts toward calculation of federal accountability.

Until then, passage of the ELA and math test – administered first in the 10th grade – was required for high school graduation. Students who did not meet standards were allowed to take the test in subsequent grades until they passed both sections.

Overall student performance declined by 1.4 percentage points on the ELA portion of the test in 2014, with 87.8 percent of the 868 students who took it for the first time meeting or exceeding standards.

Girls outperformed boys on the test with 93 percent passing on the first try compared to 83.4 percent for boys. The results illustrate a slight increase in performance among girls and a slight decrease among boys.

Performance on the math portion of the test decreased significantly with only 73.9 percent of first-time test takers meeting standards, down 9.8 percentage points from the year before.

Among non-disabled subgroups, the performance gap in English between black and white students increased 10.3 percentage points to 16.5 this year, while the gap widened among the groups in math from 21 percentage points to 25.4.

State results

The county’s performance on the tests largely mirrors that of the state’s results.

In a press release announcing publication of this year’s PASS results, S.C. Superintendent of Education Dr. Mick Zais appeared to struggle to paint the state’s less-than-stellar results in a good light.

“While we have not made substantial gains, we have seen similar results in past years,” Zais said. “There are several areas of high accomplishment. Across all five subject areas, in the majority of grades tested, the percentage of students who earned an Exemplary core increased.

“While we’re making progress slowly, but surely, a great focus on literacy is necessary for us to see further improvements,” he said.

Overall, student performance on the math portion of the test decreased from 82 percent last year to 77.4 percent this year. The percentage of students who passed the ELA portion of the test statewide was 89.8 percent this year, down from 90.7 percent.

Zais said he was disappointed with the declines and then pivoted his comments on the replacement test for HSAP. Beginning in 2015, students will take an assessment to determine their college and career readiness along with WorkKeys. Zais said educators must work together to assure student success.  

“While the requirement to pass an exit exam has been eliminated in South Carolina, we must continue striving for high-level achievement by all students,” Zais said.


Contact reporter Reece Murphy at (803) 283-1151