Charleston Co. school board meeting heats up over test data

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) — A Charleston County School Board meeting turned contentious Monday night, pitting board members against district staff.

The testy exchange over a disappointing academic achievement presentation prompted board member Lauren Herterich to request a brief suspension.

“I guess I’m just sick of seeing this kind of report, pointing out the disparity between blacks, Hispanics, whites and everyone else,” board chairman Eric Mack said. “We are not moving students as we should.”

Director of Studies Karolyn Belcher presented the latest test data that showed the Charleston County School District is performing better than similar-sized districts across the country, but largely on the backs of white students and Asian-Americans.

According to the data, only 26% of black students and 36% of Hispanic students meet their math achievement goals in grades 2-8, compared to 77% of their white counterparts and 71% of Asian American students.

“I know it doesn’t feel good. I don’t think I tried to excuse our poor results, but I don’t know what the strategy was before these two years to improve these schools. We have a strategy now,” Belcher said.

Belcher has worked in the school district for two years and implemented the turnaround strategy in a district where the achievement gap between black and white students has always been an issue. However, the issue has not seen much improvement over this period.

It’s not just math. Data presented Monday evening showed that black and Hispanic students are well below the national average this year, at just 34% and 35% respectively. These numbers are down from last year and pre-pandemic levels. Meanwhile, White and Asian American students improved or remained stable from last year at 77% and 73% respectively.

“Your job and the job of the staff is to find a way to improve scores and put resources where they need to be,” Mack said.

“Achievement gaps have been going on for decades, but to assume that a recovery effort that typically takes three to five years, in a pandemic year, is going to show achievement gains is simply unrealistic. [in year two]”, Belcher said. “Point to any other district across the country that has done this and I will happily follow in their footsteps.”

Board member Kristen French also took pictures during Belcher’s presentation saying the data was confusing and difficult to understand.

“Even in this presentation, you used two different graphics systems. It’s completely confusing. It’s frustrating for me, to say the least,” French said. “I also want to say, because you’ve been quite confrontational with Reverend Mack, this data slide doesn’t show at all that we’re doing better for black kids. Don’t tell us we’re better. We are not.”

Visibly agitated, Belcher said she had no intention of being confrontational.

“I feel like I represent teachers and principals who are working very hard to improve student achievement in a very difficult time,” Belcher said. “I’m trying to portray people that I don’t want to lose heart on the court, who are working very, very hard to move the needle in closing that gap.”

Belcher says there are promising signs in the data that while black and Hispanic students aren’t hitting the pass mark, they’re growing from where they started. She says an increasing growth percentile means they expect the pass numbers to finally show progress next year.

Meanwhile, board member Helen Frazier commented on the district’s priorities, pointing out that the single image of the test results presentation represented all white and Asian American students.

“If you’re going to tell me about differences in test scores, then I need to see myself represented on this paper,” Frazier said, holding up a copy of the presentation. “I don’t see the majority of the board represented here and I’m insulted by that. I really, really am. Not only are we left behind in the reading, but we are left behind when you present things to the council.

Council paused for approximately 10 minutes before ending the meeting.

Copyright 2022 WCSC. All rights reserved.

Comments are closed.