SC schools falling behind on test scores

February 3, 2019
Education Reform

FLORENCE, S.C. – House Speaker Jay Lucas is at the forefront of a bill to reform the state’s educational system.

Last week, Lucas outlined several reasons why the bill is needed.

S.C. students lag behind their peers nationally

No matter the tests taken, the results bear out that South Carolina’s students lag behind their peers nationally.

On the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which is taken by representative samples of students from schools nationwide in grades 4-8, 29 percent of South Carolina’s students score at proficient or above. This places the state 45th of 53 testing jurisdictions. Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia and students at military bases are added to the 50 states. In mathematics on the NAEP, 32 percent of the state’s students score at the proficiency level or higher. This places the state 42nd of 53 jurisdictions tested.

Lucas said that 42.63 percent of students in South Carolina score at the proficient level or higher on either the mathematics or reading tests.

A chart he provided indicates that the results of the five Florence County School Districts are below the state average. Florence One (35.04 percent) and Florence Five (33.14) are the highest scoring. Florence Two (29.28) and Florence Three (22.56) are lower. Florence Four has the lowest percentage of students in the state at 12.05 percent. Other Pee Dee school districts are also below the state average: Darlington (32.19), Dillon 4 (28.64), Marlboro (22.19), Marion (19.54), and Williamsburg (20.51). Only Dillon 3, which includes students from Latta in southern Dillon County, at 44.63 ranks above the state average.

On the ACT, South Carolina ranks next to last in average composite score. The state’s students average a score of 18.3. Nevada is the lowest at 17.7. South Carolina ranks only ahead of Nevada in percentage of students meeting the ACT’s English and reading benchmarks. In mathematics, South Carolina is tied with Louisiana and ahead of only Mississippi and Nevada. In science, South Carolina is tied with Mississippi and ahead of only Nevada.

A widening achievement gap

According to the numbers provided by Lucas, 44 percent of South Carolina’s white children were ready for kindergarten, compared with 27 percent of African-American children and 22 percent of Hispanic children. Additionally, the information Lucas provided indicates that the gap between races and ethnicities widens once students are in school.

On the NAEP, results show that African-American students did worse in 2017 than they did in 2009.

Results also show that the gap in achievement between students receiving free or reduced lunch and those that do not increased in grade 4 but decreased in grade 8, the achievement gap between African-American and white students increased in both grades 4 and 8, and the gap in achievement between Hispanics and whites decreased in grade 4 but increased in grade 8.

Thirty-three percent of white students met three of the ACT’s benchmarks as compared to 16 percent of Hispanic students and 5 percent of African-American students.

S.C. has been passed by Mississippi

NAEP statistics also indicate that other Southern states, including Mississippi, have passed the Palmetto State in the gains made on the test.

According to statistics provided by Lucas’s office, Mississippi is in the top 5 nationally in terms of gains made in reading and math and in low-income gains. Also, Mississippi is outperforming South Carolina across all ethnicities at the grade 4 level.

State funding of education

There are also issues in terms of the funding of education in the state of South Carolina. There is a disparity between rural schools and urban schools in terms of facilities and the money available. There is a significant difference between teacher salaries between districts. The state also has a teacher shortage and a problem of teachers leaving the profession.

The bill

House Bill 3759 was introduced by Lucas on Jan. 24. A similar bill in the Senate, Senate Bill 419, was introduced by Sen. Greg Hembree, who is chairman of the Committee on Education.

In the House, the bill has been referred to the Education and Public Works Committee. Rep. Terry Alexander is the only Pee Dee representative on the committee.

In the Senate, the bill is in the Committee on Education. Sen. Gerald Malloy joins Hembree as Pee Dee senators on the committee.

Lucas said he drafted the bill by using reforms from other states as models for what should be done in South Carolina. Among the state reforms used are those from Arizona, New Hampshire, Florida, New York, Pennsylvania, Idaho, Iowa, Michigan, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Maryland, California, Vermont, Washington, North Carolina, Indiana, Louisiana, West Virginia, South Dakota, North Dakota, Georgia, Mississippi, Nevada, Ohio, Connecticut, Wisconsin, Massachusetts and Texas.

Lucas outlined what the bill attempts to do.

Increased rigor

The bill would make it so every high school student is offered a class, beyond typing, in computer science. It would also remove some assessments not required under the law and require students seeking lottery scholarships to take a mathematics and English course in grade 12. The bill also would require the creation of a report on expanding the reach and participation in the 4K program.

Enhancing read to succeed

The bill would allow students who are reading on or close to grade level to advance and assist those who are not. The bill also would strengthen the “portfolio exemption” and remove the parent or guardian appeal. It also would enhance requirements for reading coaches and add an examination to make sure that graduates of teacher-preparation programs can teach students to read.

Improving collaboration

The bill would create a statewide dual-enrollment agreement, provide parents with quantile and lexile test scores, move remediation efforts from college to high school, create a common set of admissions criteria for technical schools and allow multiple schools of choice for students in each district. The bill would require the development of a report on moving adult education into the technical schools. The bill also would create a 0-20 committee to improve collaboration and add a 0-20 czar to the governor’s cabinet.

Lucas and Rep. Jay Jordan said they have received some pushback because of the additional creation of government positions, but both said they believed the positions are necessary to get the state’s educational system’s parts all moving the same direction.

Teacher preparation, recruitment, retention

The bill would allow the state board to review teacher preparation programs and allow the state department of education to share its performance data with teacher preparation programs. The bill also would increase starting teacher salaries to a minimum of $35,000, allow districts to reimburse teachers who live more than 25 miles away, provide a $2,000 tax credit for businesses hiring teachers as interns, and replace the state salary schedule with career bands.

Unsatisfactory schools

The bill would require better renewal plans for schools and districts rated unsatisfactory and require input from community partners. Under the bill, chronically under-performing schools must be reorganized, reconstituted or placed under different management. Chronically underperforming districts would be dissolved and the schools moved or managed by a transformation district or charter school.


The bill would require mandatory consolidation of all school districts with fewer than 1,000 students by the end of fiscal year 2021-22. That would include Florence County School District Four (Timmonsville), which has fewer than 700 students. The bill also would require the creation of a consolidation report from the superintendent of education.


The bill also would more closely align the requirements and career paths for in-demand careers between K-12 and technical colleges. The bill would add more stringent ethics requirements for school boards and require the state department of education to publish its documents.

Lucas also added that the bill was not a finished product and that he looked forward to the input and changes to be made during the legislative process.

Jordan added that he applauded the speaker for taking the initiative on education reform.

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