Overall, test scores for elementary and middle school students in South Carolina are falling and were the worst on state-standardized tests in 5 years.
The state's Palmetto Assessment of State Standards (PASS) is taken in third through eighth grade in writing, math, reading, science, and social studies. The tests are used to establish how well the state's students are meeting both local and federal educational goals.
"The standards and assessments require a higher depth of understanding by the student," the independent oversight agency said in a two-page statement on the scores Tuesday. "It is important to remember that the academic skills and knowledge required of these standards and assessments are to ensure that students will be ready for college, careers and life in the 21st century."
The largest drops can be seen on the state's reading exam for sixth and seventh graders. Both fell by 5.1 percentage points from the 2013 numbers to 69.3% and 68.1%, respectively.
Each subject area saw similar drops in the percentage of passing students.
An increase was seen in the state's third-grade reading exam, which is in its second year, writes Seanna Adcox for The State. Scores on the exam were up by 7.8 percentage points to 78.1% of students passing.
According to Melanie Barton, executive director of the Education Oversight Committee (EOC), other states that have implemented Common Core standards have seen similar drops in test scores while the students and teachers become acclimated to the higher academic work involved.
Barton also said the drop in scores was very revealing in terms of the achievement gap in minority students, writes Amanda Kerr for The Post and Courier. Black students passing third-grade English tests dropped from 73.5% to 67.3%, Hispanic students passing the same test dipped from 77.1% to 71.4%. White students' scores went down by 2 percentage points to 87.3%.
"You see the gaps forming and unfortunately they're forming around students who are historically underachieving," Barton said.
The EOC found that 41% of those who graduate from a public high school in South Carolina require extra reading and math help during their college years.
Scores were posted on the State Department of Education website without informing educators for the first time since the exams were introduced in 1999. No information or explanation for the drop was listed.
As a result, South Carolina State Board Association executive director Paul Krohne said, "local media and local school districts have had little to no time to digest, interpret and report the data. This has been a disservice to parents, students and our communities."
Dropping scores are being associated with the transition to new standards for what students in each grade level need to be learning. While Common Core standards in math and reading were initialized last year, the state is hard at work replacing these standards with a set of their own.
"This was supposed to be a bridge year," Aiken County associate superintendent for instruction King Laurence said. "The old South Carolina standards and Common Core standards were tested, and there was some confusion with that. It really is something that will be hard to analyze this year and the next."