Blythewood Schools Among R2’s Best, Worst in State Scores

BLYTHEWOOD – When the second round of test scores for Richland 2 was released earlier this month, Blythewood High School, Blythewood Middle School, Kelly Mill Middle School and all the Blythewood area elementary schools (Lake Carolina, Bethel-Hanberry, Round Top, Bookman and Langford Road) were among the District’s top academic performers. Westwood High School and Muller Road Middle School, however, landed at the bottom of the scoring heap among the Blythewood area schools and the District. At Muller Road Middle, which feeds into Westwood High, and where the curriculum focuses on project-based learning and students receive instruction and material primarily from internet access, PASS test scores fell further behind Blythewood Middle Schools in almost all areas of testing.

High schoolers’ academic performance is measured with the High School Assessment Program (HSAP) test, while elementary and middle schoolers in grades three through five take the Palmetto Assessment of State Standards (PASS).Meeting the minimum standards on the HSAP is a high school graduation requirement. The HSAP reflects scores of ‘non-competent’ (level 1), ‘competent’ (level 2), ‘proficient’ (level 3) and ‘exceptional’ (level 4) in the areas of English Language Arts (ELA) and math. The HSAP is first given in grade 10 and can be retaken each year until the student scores ‘competent.’

This year 70.5 percent of Blythewood High School students scored at level 3 (proficient) or above (exceptional) in ELA, improving 9 percentage points over last year. However, Blythewood High students who scored at level 3 or above in math dropped from 62.1 percent in 2012 to 58 percent in 2013. Still, the school’s students overall score in 2013 was less than 2 percentage points behind Spring Valley High School, which was the top scoring high school in the District this year and home to the District’s strenuous Discovery magnet program for students with a strong aptitude in math and sciences.

While Westwood High School students were not tested last year in the school’s first year of operation, their 2013 HSAP scores compare poorly with Blythewood High students’ 2013 scores. Only 51 percent of Westwood students scored at level 3 or above in ELA, almost 20 points behind Blythewood High where 70.5 percent of students scored at level 3 or above. In math, 58 percent of Blythewood High students scored at level 3 or above, compared with only 35.8 percent of Westwood students. Overall, 29.4 percent of Blythewood High students scored level 1 (failing) or level 2 (competent) At Westwood, 49.0 percent of students scored in the bottom two levels of level 1 and level 2.

The PASS tests measure the performance of elementary school (grades 3-5) and middle school (grades 6-8) students in five areas — writing, English Language Arts (ELA), math, science and social studies. Their scores translated into ‘not met’ (failing), ‘met’ and ‘exemplary.’

Overall, Richland 2’s middle schools performed dismally, with some students in certain subcategories consistently scoring below the state averages. On the bright side, at Blythewood Middle School, which feeds into Blythewood High School, scores were so good that they helped increase the district-wide score. In every grade in all five testing areas, more students at Blythewood Middle met or exceeded the scores of students in both the state and District. Blythewood Middle School is a school with equitable racial percentages between black and white students and has the lowest poverty rate of Richland 2 middle schools at 31 percent.

On a more troubling note, Muller Road Middle School, which is an i-Pad school, performed poorly on the 2013 PASS. Scores reveal that 40-44 percent of the school’s students (depending on the grade) failed to meet math standards for this year. In 2012, 34-42 percent of the students (depending on the grade) failed to meet minimum standards. Not only is there no improvement for any grade in math performance from last year to this year, but there is a significant dip in performance. In a recent internet blog interview, the school’s Principal, Lori Moreno, announced that Muller Road Middle students did not use textbooks, saying that all information that students need is accessible with their I-Pads. This line of thought permeates the entire school culture and is magnified with its project-based learning magnet programs. Another interesting note is that this year’s seventh-graders at Muller, who have experienced two years of this new learning/teaching format, have experienced drops in achievements from sixth to seventh grade in math, science and social studies.

Lake Carolina Elementary is the PASS test flagship of not just Blythewood area elementary schools, but of the District. Lake Carolina has the lowest poverty levels in the entire district as measured by the number of students receiving free or reduced lunch. Teachers report excellent turnout on parent nights. The number of students ‘not meeting’ standards — meaning failing — in subject areas are five to seven times less than the District average. In other words, Lake Carolina has a culture of success as illustrated by the largest percentage of succeeding.

Bethel-Hanberry Elementary, Round Top Elementary and Bookman Elementary, while not as high in any of the measurements as Lake Carolina were still in the top tier in academic performance of elementary schools in the District and state.