Controversy over final PACT scores highlights flaws in state reporting

September 11, 2008 by  
Filed under SC Politics

Contact: Neil Mellen
Tuesday, September 10, 2008
(803) 212-1051

Amid heated debated about weakening of state standards and reform of student funding, the last-ever results of the Palmetto Achievement Challenge Test (PACT) were released today.
Scores among eighth graders averaged fifteen percentage points behind students in the third grade, suggesting that social promotion of unqualified students remains a major problem in public schools.

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.

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.

A mere eight in one hundred African American eighth grade students obtained a score of “Proficient” or better on the math portion of the PACT. This shameful figure reflects a long-term trend in the growth of the black-white and poor-rich student performance gaps.

Despite these major problems, Jim Rex has tried to characterize the scores as a success. He has also argued for further weakening of state and federal accountability laws.
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).

Part of the disparity is based on South Carolina’s unique manner of grading its test, including rating children who are at a “basic” level of performance – but still “nonproficient” – as meeting the state standard. This problem will worsen in coming years because education bureaucrats will reduce the number of performance categories as part of the PACT replacement legislation that passed earlier this year.

“The major disconnect with falling SAT and ACT scores once again shows South Carolina’s public schools are not holding themselves to a high and objective standard,” explained Randy Page, President of South Carolinians for Responsible Government.

“South Carolina needs to use a single nationally-normed test to compare student progress with scores throughout the country in a true apples-to-apples way,” continued Page. “Whether it is PACT –or the new PASS test– South Carolina is not giving parents real and relevant data about the status of their children’s academic progress. A quality education for every child, and accurate information for their parents, are basic civil rights.”

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