EOC Director responds to Green’s criticism

WINNSBORO – Instead of attacking school report cards, the Fairfield County School District leaders should be tackling ways to improve student achievement, according to a leading state education official.

“Rather than complaining about the system, the best thing we can do is think about how we can improve the outcomes for kids,” said Melanie Barton, executive director of the S.C. Education Oversight Commission, which develops the annual report cards with the S.C. Department of Education.

In a telephone interview Friday, Barton said report cards are designed to help identify how schools can improve, not to punish or embarrass them.

“What I would tell board members is spend your energy focusing on where we can improve,” she said. “Not every school can be excellent. That just defies common logic.”

Barton’s remarks came three days after the Fairfield school board members and staff blasted the report card methodology, calling them unfair and punitive.

Dr. J.R. Green, district superintendent, disputed what he termed as a “forced distribution,” meaning a percentage of schools will always be rated unsatisfactory, regardless of performance.

“It creates a model where one school doesn’t want to help another,” Green said. “I have a problem with a system when you have to have winners and you have to have losers.”

Barton said Green’s assertions erroneously portray the purpose of the report cards.

“To think of it as a competition, I just don’t see educators doing that,” she said. “If they do, they’re not serving children.”

School districts sound off

Fairfield County is not alone in voicing frustration over the report cards. Other superintendents have voiced concerns as well, said Ryan Brown, spokesman for the S.C. Department of Education.

Brown deferred comment on report card methodology to the EOC, but he noted the Department of Education has some concerns of its own regarding the updated report cards.

One issue, he said, is that standardized tests comprise 90 percent of an elementary school’s report card score, while the ratio is less for high school ratings.

He said the Department of Education and other stakeholders hope to hash out any differences at a meeting next month. The meeting is slated for Jan. 28, and any revisions need to be finished by March 1 for U.S. Department of Education signoff.

The new report cards were rolled out Nov. 29 following a two-week delay due to errors in reporting from a vendor, a Department of Education news release said.

The report cards maintain previous ratings of Excellent, Good, Average, Below Average, and Unsatisfactory. What’s new is that only certain percentages of schools fit into each category.

In 2017-2018, only the top 15 percent of schools were rated Excellent. The next 20 percent of schools were considered Good, while the middle 35 percent of schools were classified as Average.

Below Average schools made up 20 percent while the bottom 10 percent were automatically rated Unsatisfactory. There were 116 schools that fit into this category.

No Fairfield County school was rated Unsatisfactory. Two schools – Fairfield Elementary and Fairfield Middle – were rated Below Average. While Fairfield Central High School was rated Below Average in Academic Achievement and Prepared for Success, the Good rating for Graduation rate, Average rating for College and Career Readiness and Excellent rating for School Quality (subjective ratings by students, parents and teachers concerning such areas as school safety)brought the overall average for the school to Average.

At Tuesday’s board meeting, Green likened the state report card system to “The Hunger Games,” a science fiction movie about a dystopian future in which teenagers fight to the death on live television.

“This system has negatively impacted all kinds of districts with all kinds of populations,” Green said. “It creates a ‘Hunger Games’ mentality. Everyone is scrambling to the top and to reach the top.”

Board chairman William Frick described the report cards as “rigging the game,” saying 30 percent of schools in the state are destined to score either Below Average or Unsatisfactory.

“We’re rigging the game by saying 30 percent of the schools, 30 percent of the teachers, 30 percent of our students have to be below average or unsatisfactory,” Frick said. “I just don’t understand it. I, for the life of me, don’t understand why we want to continue to say our schools are bad in South Carolina.”

Board member Carl Jackson was more blunt.

“It’s almost as though somebody’s getting a kickback to make this thing look bad,” Jackson said.

Comparing area high schools

Earlier at the Dec. 19 meeting, Dr. Claudia Avery, deputy superintendent of academics for Fairfield County schools, detailed report card highlights for the board.

Green interjected several times during the presentation to express his disapproval of various aspects of the report card system.

“All schools can’t experience growth,” Green said. “Even if everyone does a good job of moving kids, everyone can’t receive positive points.”

Barton said the purpose of the report cards is to identify schools that are struggling, and to develop ways to help them improve. For that to occur, she said, report cards need to be transparent and frank.

“The point of the system is to identify what we’re doing well and what we’re not, and get the resources needed to change it,” Barton said. “We’re not where we need to be in the state.”

In her presentation, Avery said the district exceeded the state average in graduation rate (86.2 percent vs. 81 percent). She also noted the district’s percent of English Learners making progress toward proficiency (57.7 percent) outpaced the state (48.6 percent).

In addition, Avery said the district was represented well on student survey questions.

Nearly 89 percent of parents agreed or strongly agreed that their child feels safe at school. Another 78.4 percent thought school staff prevents or stops bullying.

Report card data, however, reported several noteworthy statistics in the report card’s “unsafe incident” table.

For example, the district reported seven incidents of “sexual assault (not rape).” There were also eight incidents of “physical attack without weapon,” and 45 threats of physical violence to Fairfield Central High School students, report cards state.

Academically, Fairfield County still lagged behind the state in several key areas.

Only 27 percent of students (303 of 1,121) met or exceeded criteria on SC Ready-English/Language Arts. Statewide, the figure was 41.7 percent. On math, only 31.2 percent of Fairfield students met or exceeded the criteria compared to 44.6 percent at the state level.

Fairfield also trailed the state in SCPASS Science and SCPASS Social Studies, as well as in end of course tests for Biology and U.S. History and Constitution.

Comments

  1. This Is Getting Old says

    How did Richland County School District schools score on the Stste Report Card? I am sure since this covers news in both Blythewood and Fairfield those parents and constituents deserve to know.

  2. Dr. Green says

    Interesting. Despite the inherent challenges of serving students who experience significant economic instability, none of the 116 Unsatisfactory schools were from Fairfield County. No Priority Schools or TSI Schools were from Fairfield County. No mention of Fairfield Magnet receiving an Excellent rating, Kelly Miller receiving a Good rating, Geiger receiving an Average rating, or McCrorey Liston receiving an Average rating. It appears that the reporter, who is not a part of this community, is committed to a goal of marginalizing our students, educators, and our system.

  3. Jeff Schaffer says

    Green said. “I have a problem with a system when you have to have winners and you have to have losers.”
    Dr. Green, unfortunately, either your head and your heart are not seeing the real world.
    There are always winners and losers, the exception being the status quo in a Socialist Society.
    Just because a child comes from a poverty environment does not make that child a loser. There comes a time when you have to get off the ( poverty) crutch, admit to the obstacle and overcome it. Otherwise, all everyone hears are the EXCUSES and EXPLANATIONS for failures and losers. Insanity is when you repeat the same action over and expect a different result. It is time to make a difference in the lives of the young people in this county. Test scores, don’t get children jobs or self-esteem. Overcoming obstacles make winners out of those who have not won yet.

  4. Randy Bright says

    Disliking competition does not alter the reality we live in a very competitive world. Schools are rightly tasked with ensuring their students are prepared to succeed in the real competive world.

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