• South Carolina’s accountability system is built on indicators that are aligned with college and career readiness. The state deserves credit for including science and social studies in its accountability system, which will help signal the critical importance of a well-rounded education for all students.


  • The state also places a significant emphasis on the growth of schools’ lowest performing students. The state will also report the percentage of graduates who are college ready, career ready, or college and career ready.


  • South Carolina’s accountability system goes above and beyond ESSA’s minimum requirements for identifying schools for comprehensive support and improvement. As a result, it is likely that the state will identify a greater number of very low-performing schools.


  • In addition, its exit criteria for schools identified for comprehensive support requires schools to demonstrate some improvement rather than simply no longer qualifying for the designation.


  • South Carolina deserves credit for taking a strong stance on the 95 percent assessment participation rate. The state counts untested students as a zero for determining achievement ratings. Schools that miss the participation requirement cannot receive the highest rating in achievement or in the summative rating. In addition, the state threatens the loss of Title I funds if the problem persists.




  • South Carolina’s plan could be improved in a number of ways. The state’s goals are overly complex and disconnected from the accountability system. The state’s approach to awarding points and assigning corresponding ratings to indicators and schools likely over-emphasizes high-performing students and  masks underperformance and achievement gaps. This is particularly likely because student subgroup performance is not included in the state’s rating system.


  • South Carolina should provide greater detail about its plans to support and intervene in struggling schools. For example, the state says it plans to award all of its 7 percent set-aside for school improvement activities through a formula, but it does not specify how it would implement that formula.


  • Moreover, the state would have had a stronger plan if it had used some portion of that money for competitive grants to the schools and districts with the strongest improvement plans. This step could materially improve the quality of interventions in identified schools.


  • The state’s identification criteria for targeted support schools and exit criteria both deserve further clarification and confirmation that sustained improvement is likely.


Click through the tabs on the left to see how South Carolina scored in each category.



South Carolina sets a strong overarching vision, which is not easy to measure against student performance.


South Carolina articulates a comprehensive “profile for a graduate” that includes world class knowledge, world class skills, and life/career characteristics. The goals the state proposes to meet that vision are overly complex, the time span is long, and there is some ambiguity about the interim target numbers.


The state’s long-term goal is for 90 percent of students to graduate college, career, and citizenship ready by 2035—but it is difficult to reconcile this goal with its overarching vision.


To meet this goal, it sets two different academic goals. The first is for 90 percent of students to score at Level 2 or higher on the statewide assessments in English language arts and mathematics by 2035. The second is for 70 percent of students to score at a level 3 or higher. However, Level 3 or higher corresponds with college and career readiness, while a Level 2 corresponds to a “D” for high schools and a level that is below meeting expectations for elementary and middle school. A goal of 90 percent of students performing at the level of a “D” or better is not aspirational.


The state might consider eliminating the 90 percent goal and focusing on the 70 percent goal of performance at a level 3. Having only one goal would be clearer for stakeholders.


The state also sets mid-way targets that will require serious focus and resources to achieve the required gap closure.


For the first goal, the state set mid-way goals of reducing the percentage of students scoring at level 1 by 50 percent by 2026. For the second, the mid-way goal is to reduce the students scoring below level 3 by half by 2026. It is positive that this approach set the same goals for all student groups, with an obvious and ambitious focus on gap closure and high expectations for all schools and districts.


Beginning with the graduating class of 2020, the state, each district, and each high school aims to increase by 5 percent annually the percentage of students who graduate ready for postsecondary or credential without remediation. It is unclear why the state waits until the class of 2020 for this goal to begin.


South Carolina’s graduation rate goal is to increase its four-year adjusted cohort rate to 90 percent. The mid-way target is to reduce the number of students who did not graduate on time in half based on 2017 data by 2026. Those schools or student subgroups who have already met the 90 percent threshold must set other ambitious goals. It is unclear what would qualify as “ambitious” in this context.


South Carolina proposes two English language proficiency goals.


The first sets the goal that by 2035, 70 percent of English learners to meet or exceed their individual growth targets on the ACCESS 2.0 assessment. The interim target is to increase the percentage of students meeting their targets by 50 percent by 2026. It is difficult to know whether this goal is ambitious and achievable without additional context on past performance. The second goal is for 70 percent of English learners to reach proficiency within five years.



South Carolina is transitioning to new assessments and will have fully transitioned by 2018.


Their assessments are aligned to their standards, which are aligned to college- and career-readiness benchmarks. The plan clearly explains their standards-setting process and how they aligned the new assessments to the standards. It is too early to tell if their assessments and standards alignment will set students up for success, but it will be important to monitor data.


The state would strengthen its submission by articulating more robust plans to accommodate English learners.


Despite identifying five languages other than English that are present to a significant extent among its student population, South Carolina does not provide any assessments in a language other than English or seemingly any accommodations to English learners. The state argues that, since instruction is in English, assessments must be as well for their results to be valid.


For its English proficiency assessment, South Carolina will use the WIDA ACCESS test, which is aligned to college- and career-readiness benchmarks.


The state should strengthen its plan by ensuring that it has a process in place to meet the 1 percent cap on alternate assessments for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities. Furthermore, the state should provide more information about its alternative achievement standards and aligned assessments for students with the most severe cognitive disabilities.



South Carolina’s selection of indicators and weights is noteworthy—but it’s unclear how performance on the indicators translates into a summative rating.


South Carolina’s academic performance indicator is based on student achievement on the statewide assessment in English language arts and math in grades 3-8, as well as end-of-course exams for Algebra I and English I in high schools. The state will use a complex performance index to assess school performance across all indicators, which may make it difficult to compare across schools and could mask the achievement of lower-performing students.


The balance between academic and non-academic indicators is high at 90-10 in elementary and middle schools and 95-5 in high school.


The state will include a student growth measure in elementary and middle schools. Additionally, these schools will be evaluated on the state’s “preparing for success” indicator, which is based on students’ performance on science and social studies assessments.


Instead of a growth measure in high schools, the state will use an indicator that assesses students’ college and career readiness.


Schools must meet any one of nine state-identified college- and career-readiness criterion. While these “menu” items could encourage schools to offer well-rounded curricula and meet student needs in a variety of ways, it may also pose a challenge to compare schools. The measure would be stronger if South Carolina were to modify the calculation and apply it to the 9th grade cohort. Additionally, the state should monitor its data to ensure that all of its options are comparable or if certain types of students are tracked into specific pathways (i.e. students from low-income families or students of color disproportionately tracked into career preparation pathways versus college preparation pathways).


To measure school quality, the state will also use a student engagement survey—but more information is needed around how English learners and students with disabilities will be counted.


After its pilot, the student engagement survey will constitute 10 percent of a school’s rating. South Carolina should monitor its survey results to ensure they are valid and reliable to play a significant role in school ratings.


English language proficiency indicator targets are crafted in a linear way, which does not reflect that students come into the system at different points. For example, the current plan appears to allow 4-years for a student entering at a level 4 to grow to a level 4.4. We recommend revisiting this section to clarify how initial age/grade or proficiency level is taken into account in setting student targets. In addition, this section should clarify what level of growth will be required based on the state’s 5-year timeline.


Concerns also exist around the effective learning environment indicator. Specifically, students taking the alternative assessment may be excluded by an IEP team.


It’s unclear how indicator point totals are translated into a rating.


Peers are concerned that the rating system appears completely normative. This is problematic because ratings could be misleading for parents and the public. For example, it appears possible for a school to receive an “excellent’ rating, despite performing below the state’s goals.


Although the bands are different for high schools than for elementary and middle schools, each is assigned a range of scores. Based on the plan, it is unclear how they selected those bands. Given the percentage of schools falling into each category, it appears to be a relatively normal distribution, except that it’s skewed to the high side. For example, only 5 percent of schools are unsatisfactory compared with 15 that are excellent. In high school, the lowest band is roughly 5 percent, however, the highest band is 25 percent. This suggests that South Carolina may have set the cut score so that it only identifies the bottom 5 percent of schools.



South Carolina will weight student growth comparably to academic achievement and will give significant weight to both. The state’s growth model is also not aligned to grade-level expectations.


However, neither measure places much weight on students reaching grade-level standards. To measure achievement, South Carolina plans to use a performance index that rewards performance at all levels, but especially for students scoring at the highest levels. The particular points system South Carolina has chosen de-emphasizes the proficiency threshold and may result in overlooking or undervaluing underperforming students.


To measure growth, South Carolina will use the Education Value-Added Assessment System (EVAAS), which compares student growth in a school to the average historical growth of similar students statewide. This approach is a relative measure and will assess how well some students perform compared with similarly situated students, regardless of how much progress they make toward grade-level standards. Half of the growth points in the accountability model will come from growth of all students schoolwide, and the other half will come from growth demonstrated by the bottom quintile of students—essentially double-counting lower-performing students, encouraging schools to focus on growth for the lowest-performing students and sending a signal to school personnel to allocate resources to this key subset of students.


This is the first time that South Carolina will use a student-growth measure in its accountability system. As such, it will be important for the state to ensure that educators and parents can understand the measure, identify the students in the bottom quintile, and know how to respond.



South Carolina’s rating system does not specifically take into account the performance of student subgroups.


The state’s growth measure, which applies to elementary and middle schools, is split 50-50 between the growth of all students and the growth of the bottom quintile. This approach will encourage schools to prioritize the academic growth of its lowest performing students; still, it does not specifically incorporate student subgroups.


The state will identify schools with three consecutive years of a consistently underperforming subgroup for targeted support—meaning that the first schools will not be identified for this designation until November 2020. This approach is too slow and appears to run counter to federal rules, which requires the first group to be identified in 2018-19. Moreover, a subgroup must be two standard deviations below the state’s average performance for the subgroups for three consecutive years. Absent additional data on the number and percentage of schools that would be identified using this methodology, this appears to be a very low bar. Moreover, measuring subgroup performance against itself lowers the expectations for historically-underserved students.


South Carolina deserves credit for taking a strong stance on the 95 percent assessment participation rate and reducing its n-size.


The state counts untested students as a zero for determining achievement ratings. Schools that miss the participation requirement cannot receive the highest rating in achievement or in the summative rating. In addition, the state threatens the loss of Title I funds if problem persists.


South Carolina reduces its n-size, the minimum group size used to determine if schools should be held accountable for the performance of subgroups, from 30 to 20 students. The state provided evidence demonstrating how this new approach will help to ensure that more student subgroups count in the state accountability system. The state should, however, consider expanding the number of racial and ethnic categories to include American Indian/Alaska Native and biracial.



South Carolina’s policy to identify schools for comprehensive support is strong but its targeted support policy warrants further attention.


Every three years, South Carolina will identify schools for comprehensive support if they meet one or more of the following criteria: a Title I school performing in the bottom 10 percent of all schools; non-Title I schools disaggregated by grade span performing in the bottom 10 percent; a high school with a four-year graduation rate below 70 percent; or, a Title I school with at least one chronically low-performing subgroup. Chronic subgroup underperformance is defined as a group of students performing below the “all students” category of the highest performing Title I school identified for comprehensive support over the previous two identification cycles. The state should be applauded for identifying more schools for comprehensive support than is required under law.


The state’s approach to identifying schools for targeted support is potentially strong, but it has a few elements that could limit its reach. The state says it will identify schools with underachieving subgroups who perform in the bottom 10 percent across all indicators for three consecutive years. Schools will only be identified based on performance across all indicators, which will have the effect of requiring students to fail on every indicator before the school is identified for improvement. The state should consider identifying schools both for low performance on all indicators and very low performance on a single indicator. The state could also strengthen its plan by presenting data on the number and types of schools these rules would identify.



South Carolina has developed a Tiered Support and Intervention Matrix to guide the implementation of improvement strategies based on a school’s relative need.


Schools are assigned a tier from 1 to 4 based on key elements within the school. These tiers correspond with interventions and supports the school improvement team will pursue to raise achievement in that school. The higher the tier, the less autonomy and more evidence required to support the intervention.


South Carolina also will conduct resource allocation assessments, and then offer recommendations for improvement based on need and circumstance. The State plan also lays out a system for support for LEAs with significant numbers of schools that are identified for improvement.


However, the state does not provide sufficient detail to fully understand how the state will support schools.


The state encourages evidence-based interventions, but much more information is needed than the descriptions provided to be confident that these efforts will translate into actual support that improves outcomes for students.


South Carolina plans to distribute the 7 percent of Title I funds set aside for school improvement efforts through a formula rather than a competitive process designed to identify the most promising plans. In its plan, the state does not specify the formula, or how it will ensure this money is well spent. In addition, South Carolina should consider using the 3 percent Direct Student Services set-aside to reinforce school-improvement efforts.



South Carolina’s exit criteria for comprehensive support are strong, but the targeted support exit criteria policy warrants improvement.


The exit criteria incorporate improvement beyond simple improvement above the entrance criteria. Specifically, a growth rating of “good” is required. In addition, at the high school level, an increase in graduation rates alone is insufficient – it must be accompanied by an increase in college and career readiness. Schools must also demonstrate a 3 percent increase in achievement. However, it is unclear whether the state requires a 3 percent or 3 percentage point increase. A 3-percentage point increase is a higher bar.


Unfortunately, the exit criteria for targeted support schools are not as strong. Students merely need to perform above the “all students” level among the lowest performing 5 percent of schools – which may result in the repeated identification of schools.



South Carolina provides some general information about its continuous improvement activities.


For example, the state plans to evaluate annually the results of the district strategic plans to assess the effectiveness of interventions. This could eventually be positive, but it is difficult to tell from the plan.


The state should review its data to ensure that schools with low-performing subgroups do not receive high ratings, and consider modifying the state’s rating system if this is a problem. In addition, the state should review its data to see if schools with low-performing subgroups are not identified because their identification criteria are modest.


South Carolina should consider developing a formal feedback loop.


This would allow educators, school and district leaders, and stakeholders to provide feedback on how the plan might be improved. Furthermore, the state should develop a process to engage with other stakeholders and routinely work to improve its plan.

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