Aiken County's Schools Make Progress In School Performance: 90% Meet & Exceed Criteria To Ensure All Students Meet The Profile Of The SC Graduate
South Carolina’s State Department of Education has released 2022-2023 School Report Card ratings which highlight student performance information and other elements of school quality and effectiveness. Aiken County’s Chief Instructional Officer Dr. Amy Edwards celebrated the progress being made within the district’s schools during the regularly scheduled meeting of the school board on October 24, 2023.
Among the highlights Edwards shared was a more than 36 percent increase over the previous year in the number of top-rated schools (“Excellent” and “Good”) within Aiken County, including six schools rated among the elite group named “Excellent” overall. Thirty-five percent of the county’s schools advanced at least one entire Report Card Proficiency Rating; four schools increased two proficiency ratings, one increased three. No schools were rated “Unsatisfactory,” and 90% landed ratings of “Average,” “Good,” and “Excellent” overall.
The state’s accountability system includes performance indicators at the elementary and middle school levels of Academic Achievement, Preparing for Success, Student Progress/Growth, School Climate, and Multilingual Learners’ Proficiency. Two additional indicators at the high school level include Graduation Rate and College and Career Readiness. Each indicator reflects the schools’ proficiency in preparing all students to meet the criteria outlined in the Profile of the South Carolina Graduate, ensuring each graduate possesses the World Class Knowledge, Skills, and Life and Career Characteristics necessary for future success.
“There is a nice trend in Aiken County,” Edwards shared in comparing year-over-year results for the District’s schools and 2023 highlights. “Whenever you look at Report Card data across the state of South Carolina, these (highlights) rate right up there with being some of the best. This upward trend in overall performance indicates that we are on the right track,” she continued. “The teaching and learning momentum is quite impressive. Our intention is to keep moving in this positive direction.”
SIX “EXCELLENT” RATED SCHOOLS
Among the District’s “Excellent” Rated Schools are Belvedere, Gloverville and Oakwood-Windsor elementary schools, New Ellenton STEAM Middle Magnet, and Paul Knox Middle, and at the high school level, Aiken Scholars Academy.
Belvedere Elementary, Gloverville Elementary, Oakwood-Windsor Elementary, and Paul Knox Middle’s “Excellent” ratings were all “firsts” for the schools since the state transitioned to the Absolute Ratings system in 2006. New Ellenton has maintained its “Excellent” rating for four consecutive years, and Aiken Scholars Academy has qualified for this elite status since becoming eligible two years ago.
The impact of the supportive student and family-centered climate at Belvedere Elementary cannot be underestimated with the increase of three entire proficiency categories in one year, from its 2022 rating of “Below Average,” past “Average” and “Good,” with a 2023 rating of “Excellent.”
Belvedere Elementary School’s principal Allyson Long shared that the entire school team worked diligently to reflect and plan to rebound from their previous rating. “To see that hard work pay off with one of the highest report card point increases in the state while simultaneously earning an excellent in climate rating is still surreal,” she said.
Davina Truitt, Principal of Oakwood-Windsor Elementary (OWES), mentioned how proud she is to serve as principal of a school whose students are experiencing substantial growth in academic achievement. The latest report card ranks OWES number seven of 660 elementary schools in the state for overall student growth, a major contributor to the school’s first-ever “Excellent” rating.
“Our students, staff, parents, and community have been working hard to ensure academic, social, emotional, and physical growth is our focus. It truly takes a village,” Truitt explained. “Our Wise Owl family works together to prepare our students for their future success and desires to make the world a better place in the process.”
Gloverville Elementary Principal Nathan Lobaugh also shared his excitement for the school’s first-ever School Report Card “Excellent” rating. “I look forward to continuing to work with our incredible team of teachers, staff, students, and community members to help our students and the school as we strive to grow even more.”
At the elementary level, 38% of the county’s schools are rated “Excellent” or “Good.” Greendale and Warrenville elementary schools both increased their overall rating by two categories, from “Below Average” to “Good.” The “Good” rating for Greendale marks the highest rating to date for the school. Other overall rating improvements at the elementary level were seen at Aiken Elementary, Byrd Elementary, and Chukker Creek Elementary, which each moved up a category to “Good.”
In total, 86% of ACPSD’s elementary-level schools are rated “Average” and above. Busbee, East Aiken School of the Arts, Graniteville, Hammond Hill, J.D. Lever, Millbrook, Mossy Creek, North Aiken, North Augusta, and Redcliffe elementary schools are meeting state accountability metrics in ensuring all students meet the profile of the South Carolina Graduate (as indicated by their “Average” report card rating). J.D. Lever Elementary and North Aiken Elementary each improved a proficiency rating; Busbee Elementary advanced two.
Busbee’s principal and District Principal of the Year Jeffery Matthews shared that his school set a goal of moving two full proficiency categories last year when their Report Card was released. “Our teachers and staff have worked incredibly hard for our students and community, and I am extremely proud of them,” Matthews shared. “We are excited to achieve this success; however, we are not settling on ‘Average’ moving forward.”
At the middle level, based on all achievement metrics, Paul Knox Middle and New Ellenton STEAM Middle Magnet both earned a rating of “Excellent,” placing them in the top eleven percent of middle schools statewide.
New Ellenton Middle School STEAM Magnet Principal Shunte Dugar explained a little more about their success in being named “Excellent” on the state Report Card for the fourth consecutive year. “We uphold rigorous standards and expectations, firmly believing in the capacity of every individual to excel in their learning journey. Our mantra, ‘Failure is NOT an Option,’ resonates throughout the community. The dedicated teachers and staff actively embody this philosophy, providing an abundance of support to empower our students.”
Paul Knox Middle’s Principal Casey Rogers is incredibly proud of the hard work and dedication that led to their first “Excellent” report card rating. “This achievement is a testament to what can be accomplished with a magnificent team, a passion for learning, and strong community support.”
With North Augusta Middle School’s maintained rating of “Good” from 2022, 27% of the District’s middle schools ranked within the top two categories of “Good” and “Excellent.” North Augusta Middle was also recognized for their commitment to a positive school culture resulting in an overall School Climate rating of “Excellent.”
“Achieving an ‘Excellent’ School Climate rating on our School Report Card is a significant accomplishment and reflects a positive and supportive learning environment,” stated North Augusta Middle School (NAMS) Principal Kimbra Meek. “This rating echoes our beliefs that NAMS is truly a welcoming, safe, and inclusive place for students to learn and grow.”
A.L. Corbett Middle improved its report Card Rating for 2023, advancing the percentage of Aiken County middle schools rated “Average” and above to 91%.
For 2023’s Report Card, South Aiken High and Aiken High both maintained their overall rating of “Good.”
“I am so proud of the hard work of our students, faculty, and staff that resulted in this achievement,” commented Aiken High School Principal Alisa Hamrick. “We strive to prepare our students for success in their lives beyond high school, and the College and Career Readiness data shows that we are meeting that goal.” South Aiken High School Principal Sam Fuller shared that his school is committed to a culture of high expectations and positive relationships.
Ridge Spring-Monetta (RSM) High increased one entire proficiency category to receive an Absolute Rating of “Good.” RSM is ranked number 16 among all South Carolina High Schools in the College and Career Readiness category. Aiken High School received an Overall Rating of “Good” and was also rated among the best in the College and Career Readiness category, receiving an “Excellent” rating for that indicator and placing them in the top 20 percent of all schools in the state.
Aiken Scholars Academy (ASA) has earned back-to-back “Excellent” ratings and is once again ranked in the top five of 242 high schools in the state. As one of only four high schools in South Carolina with 100 percent of students meeting college and career readiness indicators, Aiken Scholars Academy is ranked in the top two percent of all public high schools in South Carolina. ASA Principal Martha Messick could not be prouder of the latest report card’s overall score of 96.
“Being part of ASA is a dream come true,” Messick shared. “Our faculty works diligently every day to ensure that our focus remains on learning, and, in turn, student growth. Our students, and their families, are truly invested in their education, and our partner USC Aiken provides amazing opportunities and experiences for our scholars.”
The application process is currently open for rising ninth grade students interested in Aiken Scholars Academy. “We remain excited about our future and will offer multiple information sessions for interested applicants ahead of the January 25 application deadline,” ASA’s proud principal included.
During her presentation before the Board, Dr. Edwards was pleased to share that 50% of the county’s high schools were categorized as “Good” or “Excellent,” and 100% were in the “Average” and above categories. “That is a great starting point,” Edwards commented. “If this is our baseline data, we are in good shape moving forward.”
Other highlights shared about the county’s high schools included the District’s 89 percent graduation rate, which outperformed the state average of 84 percent and is among the best in the state. College and Career Readiness indicators are also an area where Aiken County consistently shines.
MEETING THE NEEDS OF MULTILINGUAL LEARNERS
Three of the district’s schools, Chukker Creek Elementary, Graniteville Elementary, and Schofield Middle, were recognized for their commitment to meeting the needs of Multilingual Language Learners resulting in 80% or higher of Multilingual Learners meeting their Language Proficiency goals for the 2022-23 academic year.
Graniteville Elementary Principal Michelle Padgett is proud of the progress her school’s Multilingual Learners have made. “With 81% of these students meeting their performance growth targets in 2022-23 school year, that is 34 out of the 42 students tested. This achievement is the result of great teaching strategies that help all of our students in reading and writing."
ACHIEVEMENT, PREPARING FOR SUCCESS & OVERALL RATINGS
Despite the upward trajectory across the District, and marked improvement by the handful of schools rated as “Below Average” for 2022, which each progressed one, two, and, in some cases, three categories, Edwards also acknowledged challenges.
“We do have a new set of schools (Jefferson Elementary, Clearwater Elementary, Ridge Spring-Monetta Elementary and Ridge Spring-Monetta Middle) identified as “Below Average” this year.” In addition, Aiken County students underperformed the state average at several grade levels on the SC Ready and SC Pass and on End of Course testing in Algebra I, Biology and US History.
“We have our work cut out for us moving forward,” Dr. Edwards acknowledged. “We know that and are prepared to address it through an action plan for continuous growth.”
Our district-wide instructional practice focus on Active Learning puts us in a great place to move forward with our plans for continuous growth. Our plan includes professional development, building professional relationships and leadership capacity, stressing “No Excuse” teaching and learning environments, implementing our new observation tool (ELEOT), evaluating all instructional programs, and utilizing data consistently. Our intentions are to identify individual student needs by reviewing performance and building personalized plans for student growth. With these efforts, Edwards is confident Aiken County will experience improved academic achievement and even higher Report Card ratings in the years to come.