Wednesday, March 19, 2014
After months of research, comparisons and meetings with state and federal officials followed by months of waiting, Dorchester District Two received notice Monday from the US Department of Education denying its request to utilize an alternative assessment system – ACT – for accountability purposes.
In August and September of 2013, the district requested and received permission from the South Carolina State Board of Education and the Education Oversight Committee to replace the SC Palmetto Assessment of State Standards (SC PASS) and the High School Assessment Program (HSAP) with a digitally administered, Common Core State Standards aligned assessment. The South Carolina Legislature also ratified a proviso during the 2013-2014 budget process granting high-performing school districts permission to replace the same assessments.
According to the district, despite receiving permission from relevant state agencies and officials, DD2’s request was not ratified at the federal level.
USDOE Assistant Secretary Deborah Delisle’s communication to State Superintendent Mick Zais cited the accountability requirement for all of South Carolina’s students to be taught the same standards and measured by the same assessment.
Her letter stated, “Approval of the request for Dorchester Two would permit the district to permanently administer assessments that will not be the same as other local educational agencies in South Carolina even after the pilot years. The ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act) requirements that all students be held to the same academic achievement standards and be assessed on the same assessments are essential as states, including South Carolina, move forward to implement new, more rigorous college- and career-ready content standards.”
Superintendent Joseph Pye expressed disappointment with the decision but remained committed to the intent of the district’s waiver request. “We appreciate the support of our state leaders and recognize the restrictions that have been cited by the Assistant Secretary. Every day we teach our students the basic tenets of leadership but there comes a time when we, as adults, have to ‘walk the talk.’ We’re not just fighting for the students in our community, we’re advocating for students across our state.
“South Carolina has some of the most rigorous academic standards in our nation; however, the current expectations for learning are not preparing all students to be productive, 21st Century citizens. Our current assessment system lacks relevancy for students, parents, and the business community. Our waiver request was an attempt to implement higher expectations for performance while better connecting families and business to the educational process.”
In addition to South Carolina accountability requirements, DD2 has established an ACT longitudinal assessment system that emphasizes college and career readiness indicators and work-based certifications in each of its high schools. The district’s waiver request was an attempt to connect Grades 3 – 8 to its locally-endorsed, longitudinal system.
As part of the state-level approval process, the district rallied support from regional and state organizations which praised the effort to monitor student performance in a way that is valued by parents and contributes to the development of a bona fide workforce.
As a result of the USDOE decision, students in Dorchester School District Two will continue to participate in PASS and HSAP testing this spring. Pye said, “Regardless of the assessment, our teachers and staff are holding every student accountable for learning at a higher level. Although we have not been given permission to move forward, I believe our efforts have encouraged educators, legislators and vital stakeholders to reconsider the current state of accountability assessment in South Carolina. We remain committed to working with our families, businesses and educational partners to provide a viable workforce for our region”
Dorchester School District Two earned an “Excellent” South Carolina School Report Card rating in 2012 and 2013.