The S.C. Department of Education released its district report cards today, and Charleston County schools showed slow improvement as a whole — including huge gains at a few struggling schools — but still fell behind the neighboring Berkeley County and Dorchester District 2 school districts on standardized test scores.

First, the good news: Charleston County maintained its absolute rating of Good, which it earned for the first time in the 2010-2011 school year, and the district’s growth rating was Good. The Good growth rating was different this year than in previous years, as the assessment factored in the district’s high population of historically underachieving students, including poor and minority students.

According to a chart provided by the district, 57.1 percent of Charleston County students are now attending schools rated Good or Excellent, up from 55.9 percent last year. Meanwhile, the percentage of students attending At-Risk or Below Average schools dropped from 20.7 percent to 17.7 percent. In the individual school report cards, 16 schools improved their absolute rating, while five decreased their rating.

The school and district ratings from the state were based on an array of statistics including end-of-course test pass rates, four- and five-year high school graduation rates, and performance on the Palmetto Assessment of State Standards.

Now, the bad news: Charleston County schools still trail their neighbors in Berkeley County and Dorchester District 2 in certain areas. Compare their performance on the PASS test:


Charleston County’s on-time graduation rate was 75.5 percent, up from 67 percent in 2010 and half a percentage point above the state average. This put them ahead of Berkeley County (74.4 percent) but behind Dorchester 2 (76.5 percent). Charleston County spent $9,233 per pupil, compared to $8,167 in Berkeley County and $7,103 in Dorchester 2.

Superintendent Nancy McGinley held a press conference to announce the results at Dunston Primary School, a North Charleston school on Remount Road that includes 4-year-old pre-kindergarten through third grade. Dunston staged one of the most dramatic comebacks in the district this year: In 2011, the school had an absolute rating of Average and an At-Risk growth rating. This year, the school received an absolute and growth rating of Excellent.

At Dunston, 94 percent of students receive free or reduced-price lunch (a common indicator of poverty in schools), and 22 percent have limited English proficiency. Principal Janice Malone, who has led the school for five-and-a-half years, credited the success to a crop of dedicated teachers, a data-driven approach to improvement, and a disciplinary program that reinforces positive behavior. Under the school’s Positive Behavior Intervention and Support system, every grade level sets goals and earns points for good behavior.

“So many of our children come from backgrounds where this is no bedtime, there is no study time, there is no dinner time, and we can’t assume anything,” Malone said. “We have to teach everything.”

To see the school district’s report card and look at individual school report cards, click here.