South Carolina’s last–ever release of PACT scores came with moderate increases in academic achievement, and predictably immoderate hype from the South Carolina Department of Education.
According to the SC Department of Education, “South Carolina students rode a wave of progress in Proficient and Advanced scoring across the board in 2008.” In reality, 2008 PACT scores show a disturbingly low number of students who scored “Proficient” or “Advanced” in this year’s round of testing.
For example: Of the 51, 252 third graders taking the PACT in 2008, only 56.6 percent scored “Proficient” or “Advanced” in English Language Arts. For eighth graders, the percentage of students meeting the standard is even lower, with only 27.9% scoring “Proficient” or “Advanced” on the reading and writing portion of the test.
Math scores are even more troubling.
Proficiency in Math for 3rd grade test takers is only 33%, which drops all the way to 20.8% of eighth graders who scored “Proficient” or “Advanced.” For eighth graders this represents only a 1.1% increase in math proficiency from 2007; hardly the “wave of progress” praised by the State Department of Education.
Furthermore, scores for eighth grade test takers average 15 points behind that of third graders. This trend suggests that students are routinely moved up to the next grade level, whether they are prepared or not.
But there is deeper trouble afoot.
Once again Rex and friends are “playing with the numbers.”
Federal assessment of academic performance recognizes only PACT scores of “Proficient” and “Advanced” as meeting the NCLB standard. In a misleading attempt to camouflage their own underperformance, public education bureaucrats include students with only a “Basic” understanding of subjects among those who have “met the standard.” The result? Students regularly being moved up to the next grade without an adequate grasp of core subjects.
How many parents do you know who are content with their child receiving a “basic” education?
Perhaps the most alarming aspect of the 2008 PACT scores is the indication of a continued trend toward a black-white, and rich-poor achievement gap. Only eight of every one hundred African American eighth grade students obtained a score of “Proficient” or better on the math portion of the PACT, over 20 percentage points behind their white classmates!
In what should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with South Carolina edu-politics, Jim Rex has tried to characterize these scores as an astounding success. He has also argued for further weakening of state and federal accountability laws as part of a long-term failure apology strategy.
Lawmakers and policy experts have already noted the newly released PACT scores are at odds with results from recent national tests, both ACT and SAT scores, as well as recent federally conducted tests such as the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP).
Rather than going through the yearly ordeal of hearing the SC Department of Education try to put a positive spin on unacceptable test scores, South Carolina families deserve to have clear results from a single assessment test that they can easily compare to scores from around the country. Unless the new PASS test provides exactly this kind of data, we can look forward to hearing just another variation on the same tired tune next year.