In an article published on Sept. 1 by Adam Mintzer (Charleston, WCSC), South Carolina Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman said, “I am very, very concerned with the results (S.C. Ready test results).
“As you can see if you look deeply, our students, particularly our younger students who this was their first time taking a summative assessment, our third graders, they did not show as much growth as we had hoped and had been shown in previous years.”
On Aug. 20, in a Morning News article by Matthew Christian, Florence One Schools Superintendent Richard O’Malley said, “In 2020 and 2021 our teachers did an amazing job with virtual learning, but there’s nothing that can replace students in the classroom with a teacher. And that’s what we need to get back to. They call it learning loss. It’s an abyss in the lower grades.”
Were O’Malley’s comments based on what he had seen by the way of the S.C. Ready test results, not only for the state but for Florence District One? The S.C. Ready test is given to third- through eighth-graders. South Carolina standards have been developed for each grade in English language arts (ELA) and mathematics. There are four categories of performance: Does Not Meet Expectations, Approaches Expectations, Meets Expectations, Exceeds Expectations. There are numeric value ranges for each of the categories, and it differs by grade level as well as whether it is ELA or mathematics. For example, for ELA, the Does Not Meet Expectations range for third grade is 100-358 and for eighth grade is 100-537. For mathematics, the Does Not Meet Expectations range for third grade is 100-359 and for eighth grade is 100-526. The maximum scoring at each grade level changes both for ELA and mathematics. It goes from 825 in third grade to 950 in eighth grade.
Reading the comments from Spearman and O’Malley piqued my interest as to what were the 2021 SC Ready test results at both the state level and Florence District 1. There were no SC Ready tests given in 2020. The most recent comparative year is 2019. In comparing 2021 state results to 2019 state results, for ELA the mean score (average) for third grade fell from 445.8 to 427.3. In 2019, 25.5% of the third grade Did Not Meet Expectations in ELA; in 2021, 31.8% of third-graders tested Did Not Meet Expectations.
In mathematics, it was even worse. In 2019 the percentage of not meeting expectations for the state in the third grade was 21.3%, and for 2021 it was 31%, an increase of 9.7 points. Another worrisome statistic is of the 50,480 eighth-grade students tested in South Carolina in 2021, only 30.7% of the students met or exceeded expectation in mathematics. Close to 70% of the students did not meet or approach expectations, and they are high school freshmen this fall.
In comparing Florence One Schools between 2019 to 2021 as well to state averages, you will begin to understand why O’Malley called the learning loss an abyss. In ELA for 2021 for Florence One, the mean score for third grade was 415.9, almost 12 points below the state average for 2021 and 29.9 points lower than in 2019 for Florence One. In 2021 for Florence One, 32.1% of third-graders taking the ELA portion of the test Did Not Meet Expectations. In 2019, that percentage was 23.7%.
In mathematics, for Florence One third-graders in 2021, 41.6% of the students tested Did Not Meet Expectations. This is 10 points higher than the state percentage. In 2019, 24.2% of third-graders Did Not Meet Expectations.
Another sobering statistic in mathematics for 2021 is that of the 1,044 eighth-grade students taking the test, only 17.8% met or exceeded expectations.
Are the SC Ready scores provided in a timely manner so that school districts can make adjustments to the curriculum over the summer to be prepared for fall incoming students? What is being done to mitigate the abyss, especially in third grade, which is so critical to the foundation of the student? Is there any way to make up this loss in education, or are there going to be students who will always be fighting an uphill battle over the next nine years?
Students can’t be successful in other subjects if they are not reading on grade level. When less than 40% of your third-graders are meeting or exceeding expectation, what will happen to the other 60% in other subjects that are dependent on reading skills?
The success of the Florence area is dependent on an educated workforce. Enticing companies to relocate to the Florence area for increased employment opportunities is dependent on a successful school system.
Communicating with the citizens of Florence by both the school district and the school board on their efforts to increase the performance of the students is important. Silence is not the answer.
The wife of citizen columnist Tom Sheehy, Michelene Sheehy moved to Florence from Fairfax, Virginia, nine years ago. Married for 48 years, she is the mother of two sons and four grandchildren. She was a high school math teacher, Georgetown University’s budget director, Catholic University’s associate vice president for finance and administration and chief financial officer. She is a past president and treasurer of the Florence Symphony Guild, past vice president of the Wildwood Garden Club and a past member of the Florence Symphony Orchestra board. She loves gardening, arts, crafts and floral designing.