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      SC schools improve grad rates, report card ratings

      COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -- More of South Carolina's schools and school districts reached "excellent" status on their 2011 state report cards, as areas of high poverty smashed stereotypes to claim their spot among the state's best.

      On the flip side, however, several districts slid backward into the bottom tier, and dozens of schools seem stuck at the bottom.

      The state Education Oversight Committee characterizes the results as a tale of two extremes.

      Of the state's 1,180 schools, 19 percent improved their overall rating from 2010 to 2011, while 6 percent posted worse overall ratings.

      The state's on-time graduation rate also rose to 73.6 percent, an improvement over 2010's 72.1 percent. The increase ends two straight years of declines. However, the state TMs graduation rate is still below the past decade's high water mark of 78 percent, reached in 2003.

      State education superintendent Dr. Mick Zais says while this year TMs gains are good news, the big picture shows there is much room for improvement. The bottom line for students, parents, teachers, and taxpayers is that slightly more than one out of every four students fails to graduate on-time, said Zais. We can do much better as a state and past experience proves we can. A one-size-fits-all approach to education won TMt increase graduation rates. We need creative, innovative, and student-centered solutions that match students with learning environments that meet their needs."

      Officials say more schools and districts are proving the challenges of poverty can be overcome.

      They point to Darlington County, where 82 percent of students live in poverty. The district not only received "excellent" marks, it ranks fifth among the state's 86 districts.

      To see a district-by-district breakdown of how your school district performed click here.

      (The Associated Press contributed to this report.)