More SC schools making grade, reading still a problem

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WACH, AP) - South Carolina education officials say students made positive gains on the state's standardized testing and other assessments.

Nearly three out of every four public schools in the state got either an A or B in new letter-grades.

The grades replace the old system under the federal No Child Left Behind law, which failed a school if it didn't meet any of 27 different standards.

The state Education Department considers a C passing, and 84 percent of schools hit that mark. Officials say 10 percent of the state's 1,082 schools were given F's.

Officials also released results of standardized testing, the Palmetto Assessment of State Standards (PASS), which show improvements in grades three through eight. However, students in third and eighth grades are having trouble with basic reading comprehension and literacy.

Soon-to-be second grader Makayah Diamond was doing her best Thursday to keep up on her summer reading at the Richland County Public Library. And the seven-year-old's grandmother won't have it any other way.

"If you can't read you can't understand what they're trying to tell you," said Elizabeth Grice. "It's important."

Grice makes it a point to bring her two grandchildren to the library at least once a week.

The Richland County Public library offers reading programs to children as young as babies to get them interested in learning. The Summer Reading Challenge offers goals and rewards to young people while school isn't in session.

According to library officials, 30,000 children, teens, and adults took part in the challenge last year. They point out that's an important statistic because it shows reading is a group effort, especially when it comes to parental involvment.

"It is so critical that parents and caregivers start early when teaching their children the love of books, the love of literacy and building those blocks so they can become readers," said Melanie Huggins, executive director of the Richland County Public Library.

The library also conducts outreach efforts into communities that need help establishing programs to promote literacy.

On Thursday, state education superintendent Mick Zais stressed the importance of tackling the reading issue in South Carolina. He wants to push a plan similar to one in Florida that would focus on struggling third-graders by putting them through a year long literacy-based curriculum to help stamp out the problem, instead of making students repeat the third grade.

"The reason children are doing worse in 8th grade than they were in 3rd grade is because they went to 4th grade, didn't know how to read and every year they fall farther and farther behind," said Zais.

Makayah Diamond's family is already focused on her reading skills and they plan to keep pushing her to improve.

"They learn to be more aggressive and more assertive," said her grandmother. "And it lets them be more talented at what they want to do."

State education officials just hope more progress outside school carries over into the classroom.