September 2, 2014

Test scores decline in English and Math for grades 3-8


FILE photo

State Education Superintendent Mick Zais said SC students “have not made substantial gains,” but pointed to improving scores among disabled students (File photo)

Education officials say South Carolina’s newest test scores are disappointing, but somewhat expected.

South Carolina students scores in grades 3-8 declined in most subjects on the state-standardized Palmetto Assessment of State Standards (PASS) test compared to 2013. But state officials said those results were not surprising because schools are switching to new Common Core learning benchmarks in math and reading for 2014 and 2015.

Those transition showed, as tests scored either “Met” or “Exemplary” dropped in every grade for English Language Arts and declined in Mathematics for all grades but 3rd and 7th.

However, scores also dropped across the board in Science. Results were mixed in the Social Studies section, with grades 4-6 seeing improvement over last year, while the other three tested age groups regressed. Writing also broke even. Grades 3-5 saw significant improvement on the tests, but middle school students dropped slightly. However, a higher percentage of students scored “exemplary” in writing for each grade than in 2013.

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Wanted: Pickens County marijuana addicts for new study

A Pickens County substance abuse clinic is recruiting marijuana smokers who believe they are addicted and want to quit as part of a potentially groundbreaking new study.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) is sponsoring a new Medical University of South Carolina clinical trial that will try to determine if a widely-available over-the-counter drug can reduce marijuana dependency.

Behavioral Health Services of Pickens County is one of just six nationwide sites participating in the MUSC clinical trial. In all, MUSC researchers hope to get 300 participants for the overall study into the potential for N-acetylcysteine (NAC) medication which is normally used for Tylenol overdoses and to treat cystic fibrosis.

MUSC researchers earlier discovered the potential benefits for breaking marijuana dependency in teens during a 2012 study. NIDA officials say about 9 percent of those who have used marijuana in their lives are dependent on the drug, while nearly one in six adolescents struggle with addiction.

“Despite how common cigarette smoking and marijuana use are in young people, our existing treatments are actually not particularly good in terms of outcomes,” lead researcher Kevin Gray, an MUSC psychiatrist, told South Carolina Radio Network. He emphasized that the study is only intended to help those who are struggling with dependency, much like others struggle with alcohol or tobacco addictions.

“I think it’s underappreciated how difficult a time these people have with quitting, even with the best of existing treatments,” Gray said. “I think there’s a very real gap in our knowledge of how best to treat this. And that’s why this is such a critical study.”

Behavioral Health Services of Pickens County is accepting marijuana smokers ages 18-50 for the study, which is also being conducted in five other states. Researchers are looking for 300 overall participants for the study before it gets fully underway in March.

“This is a really exciting research study, because it’s possible this will be a viable treatment option for people who are experiencing problems due to marijuana use,” the clinic’s research liaison Margaret Garrett said. “That’s going to continue regardless of whether or not marijuana is legalized.”

Participants will be reimbursed for their time. Half will be given NAC while the other half will receive a placebo. The trial will be double-blind, meaning even workers at the clinics will not know which patients are receiving the actual medication.

New poll shows increased support for 4K in South Carolina

A new poll released this week found more than two-thirds of South Carolina voters support more state government involvement in early childhood education and also believe the state is not doing enough to properly prepare its children for school.

The poll was commissioned by the Institute for Child Success (ICS)– a nonprofit that works to better coordinate resources for pre-school children in South Carolina.

The poll surveyed 581 South Carolina voters last week and found that 69 percent said they are in favor of the state legislature’s recent expansion of four-year-old kindergarten for low-income children living in certain school districts. But 53 percent said they did not think South Carolina’s children are prepared for school by the time they begin kindergarten, compared to just 30 percent who believe they are.

“This poll was very encouraging for us, because it demonstrates that most South Carolinians are supportive of investing in young children,” ICS vice president Joe Waters told South Carolina Radio Network. “But most South Carolinians also believe that there’s more that needs to be done and they would support the state doing more.”

The poll by left-leaning Public Policy Polling surveyed roughly even numbers of self-identified Republicans and Democrats (38 percent and 37 percent, respectively), while 25 percent said they were either independent or another party. The results have a margin of error of 4.3 percentage points.

It’s the second year that the Institute for Child Success has sponsored the poll. Last year, pollsters found 65 percent support for expanded 4K and 56 percent support for more state involvement in early childhood education (compared to 69 percent and 62 percent this year).

After four consecutive questions on early childhood education, respondents were then asked what they thought was the most challenging issue facing children aged 0-5 in South Carolina. Lack of access to pre-K had the most answers at 26 percent, while poverty and living in single-family households trailed slightly at 25 percent and 21 percent, respectively.

Agreement on evolution teaching standards may be near


Sen. Mike Fair (L) listens to EOC Chairman David Whittemore during Tuesday’s meeting

An agreement on the new teaching standards for the science of biology may soon be hammered out after two years of debate over how much evolution should be questioned in the classroom.

A committee made up of three members each from the state Board of Education and the Education Oversight Committee (EOC) met in Columbia on Tuesday. EOC executive director Melanie Barton said they carefully analyzed the National Science Teachers Association’s position statement on evolution and what the group believes should be taught.

Barton said everything those science teachers suggested and pushed forward to change the science standards on biology were included in the latest proposed document, with one important addition.

“The beginning of the world as we know it, how did that start?” she said. “None of us were there, of course, and all of us have our own cultural conceptions, our personal beliefs of how the world started. So this is just to say when science comes with ideas and suggestions on how things evolved over time, that students will have access to that and critically think about it.”

The recommendations will now go to the full EOC on August 11. The revised standards would then be presented to the State Board of Education on August 13. Approval from both is needed before the new standards can take effect.

Barton said the analysis of the biology standards is part of the cyclical review of standards of sciences as taught in the public schools. The 2005 standards are in place until the revision takes place.

“All we’ve done is add one more to say that students must be able to critically analyze new scientific evidence and decide how this fits in with what we know about evolution, how does it not, how does it raise other questions, really focusing on the critical analysis of students,” she said.

State Sen. Mike Fair, R-Greenville, is the Senate’s representative on the Education Oversight Committee. Fair has been one of the most vocal opponents against teaching natural selection as fact, adding that there are other theories students deserve to learn. Fair said he hopes the new requirement will create critical thinking.

“Synonymous with critical thinking is research,” Fair said after Tuesday’s meeting. “It would be wonderful if high school students would debate each other on some significant parts of the science standards and look at some of the facts out there and come up with some great conversations in the science class.”

The standards will require students show proficiency by being able to “Explain how scientists develop theories and laws by using deductive and inductive reasoning in situations where direct observation and testing are possible and also by inference through experimental and observational testing of historical scientific claims. Students should understand assumptions scientists make in situations where direct evidence is limited and understand that all theories may change as new scientific information is obtained.

Barton said developing students’ abilities to critically analyze material is a key element in measuring students’ grasp and basic understanding of the material.

“Can they look at scientific evidence and come to their own conclusions rather than being fed the information by an instructor? Because that’s the way students will get engaged in science. If they can take it, own it, and apply it.”

USC’S McNair Center lands home for research

Harris Pastides USC president

Harris Pastides
USC president

The University of South Carolina’s McNair Center for Aerospace Innovation and Research announced Monday it has secured a 13,500-square-foot office and research home near downtown Columbia.

The school announced a new five-year lease agreement with SC Research Authority on Monday. The building has housed the offices for the center for the past two years, but will now expand to include a new $4.5 million research center.

The new Advanced Composite Materials Research Center will include an automated fiber placement machine for use in developing new lightweight composite structures and advanced robotic technology used to build aircraft composites. At the official facility announcement Monday, USC President Dr. Harris Pastides said this will be the first time such a state-of-the-art industrial machine will be owned outside a corporate entity.

“That’s the kind of equipment and facility that will allow companies, large and small, to come to South Carolina and play their role as best they can in developing the great aircraft and parts of the future,” Pastides said.

Pastides said for some time now the university has had the students and the faculty, but not have the right physical space to conduct the kind of research that Boeing and other aeronautic companies want. But he said the massive center allows the university to conduct the type of research that will attract other companies to the state.

“We hope to attract, maybe even lure, other companies that can’t afford that machine where they are, but would move to South Carolina so that they can have an opportunity to work with it and work with us,” he said.

The McNair Center has more than two dozen contributing researchers working in a wide range of aerospace-related fields. Pastides said the center cannot be more aptly named because Lake City native Ron McNair worked long and hard to transform himself from small town dreamer to physicist/astronaut. Pastides said the story of Ron McNair’s life continues to serve as an inspiration.

“When it came to attending college, they told him he couldn’t go to MIT. They told him he couldn’t become an Air Force pilot or an astronaut. So that’s the kind of role modeling that will continue to inspire us. When people tell us ‘no you can’t,’ we’ll say ‘Ron McNair did; we can, too.’”

Construction on the Advanced Composite Materials Research Center is expected to begin in August.