With students returning to class in Columbia on Wednesday, nearly all public schools in South Carolina are now back in session. There have been several notable statewide changes this year, including a new grade system and more emphasis on reading.
New grades in high school: Students will now be graded on a 10-point scale instead of a 7-point one. For example, while a grade of 93 and above was considered an “A” last year, the new scale means the bar is now 90 and higher. A score between 80-89 is now a “B,” while a C is a 70-79. Education Superintendent Molly Spearman says South Carolina students were disadvantaged when out-of-state colleges looked at GPAs based on those tighter score requirements.
“It’s fair for our students and puts them on a level playing field with students across the nation,” she told South Carolina Radio Network. “It’s a good thing.”
Some opponents are worried the changes effectively lower standards by making it easier to get an “A” and lowering the score needed to pass a class from at least 70 to now 60 and higher.
Students who are sophomores or higher will not have their previous grades retroactively changed to the new scale.
“Read to Succeed” a year away: The state is transitioning towards new requirements beginning next year that will require students in third-grade to read on level or risk being held back a year. Districts are already preparing for the change, however, starting with increased focus on reading in elementary schools to prepare for the shift.
That focus includes increased teacher preparation; summer reading camps; reading interventions; reading plans on the state, district and school levels;and reading camps. Parents will have the final say on whether a student should be assigned to a reading camp over the summer.
Teachers are also being trained to better recognize reading disabilities, like dyslexia, that may otherwise go unnoticed, hurting the student’s ability to learn.
Transgender restrooms: Recent court rulings have also caused South Carolina school districts to reconsider rules for transgender students. Some districts are allowing teens to use the restrooms or locker rooms of their choice, while others only allow the use of single-stall non-gender specific restrooms.
The US Department of Education has issued guidelines requiring districts let students use the restroom of the gender with which they identify. While the federal guidance is not mandatory, the agency could withhold funds from those districts that do not follow them. South Carolina is among 23 states that have filed a lawsuit against the federal government over the changes.
Spearman said the state Department of Education is telling districts to handle their own students on a case-by-case basis. “Always the top priority is the safety of all children,” she told South Carolina Radio Network. “But, secondly, it’s the protection of the civil rights of all children, too. So that everybody feels secure where they are.”
The Supreme Court is considering a case involving a Virginia transgender teen and school district that will likely impact South Carolina policies should a decision come this school year.