Wren Report: Accountability Lives

Though the General Assembly has adjourned for the year, we are glad to report that one of Palmetto Promise Institute’s top priorities for the 2017-2018 legislative session is still in play.

Here’s a very quick background. According to a new federal law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the State of South Carolina must adopt a new public school accountability system this year. The pressure of that deadline along with strong feelings in each chamber (in both political parties) generated more sparks than we anticipated on this legislation.

But the bottom line is: Accountability survives and has a fighting chance. A Conference Committee of Senate and House members will meet on Tuesday morning (May 23) to iron out differences between the two versions of H.3969. Senators Greg Hembree, John Matthews, and Scott Talley along with Representatives Rita Allison, Raye Felder and Robert Brown are charged with the task.

In our view, the Senate is clearer in the arrangement of language in some sections, but the House bill has a number of features that are essential. The House tweaked the original bill as drafted by making it clear that any numerical grading scale should be 0-100, not some non-100 point scale. The House also grades lowest performing schools “Unsatisfactory” rather than the more opaque “At Risk.” These provisions are parent friendly and need to make the Conference Report.

But the heavy lifting for the Conference Committee may be on the issue of testing high school juniors for college readiness and career readiness.

Our view is that every high school junior should be required to sit for the ACT (or a test like it to be determined by the Department of Education) in order to know their college readiness whether they may think of themselves as bound for collegeĀ or not. As for Work Keys or another career assessment, that’s also important information for a student to know going into her or his senior year. Some may argue that there is “too much testing,” but assessments like ACT and Work Keys are in a class by themselves–they are solid gold for students, parents and educators. We urge the Committee to continue to make those tests available for juniors to take and seniors to retake. Knowledge is power!

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Born and raised in the beautiful Upstate of South Carolina, Oran Smith has developed a reputation as a trusted adviser and advocate for solution-driven policy during his many years of service in the Palmetto state.