The Daily Journal: Education act passes legislature; awaiting governor’s John Hancock

By Greg Oliver (Contact / Staff Bio)

COLUMBIA — Only the signature of Gov. Mark Sanford is required before the Education Accountability Act Reform Bill, which includes the elimination of Palmetto Achievement Challenge Testing (PACT), officially becomes law.

The state legislature sent the bill to the governor Thursday following a 112-0 vote in the House and an uncontested vote in the Senate. The governor has five days, excluding Sunday, to determine the fate of the legislation. Should he decide to veto it, the general assembly will meet June 5 to vote on overriding the veto prior to the end of the legislative session.

State Rep. Bill Whitmire, R-Walhalla, served as vice-chairman of the six-member conference committee that ironed out differences in the House and Senate versions of the legislation.

“This is the most significant piece of legislation I’ve seen passed during my time on the committee,” Whitmire said.

Whitmire added that the bill was truly a compromise effort, providing “half of what the House wanted and half of what the Senate wanted.” He said the most noteworthy compromise was agreeing with the Senate version to implement the new measure in 2009, rather than 2010 as the House had proposed.

The biggest positive, Whitmire said, is that PACT will soon be a thing of the past. As of July 1, PACT will no longer meet the requirements of the Education Accountability Act and a new test will be administered in the spring of 2009.

“The House and Senate both agreed that the writing component of the test would be administered earlier in the year and the multiple-choice component sometime in March,” he said, adding, “We also agreed that the assessment data had to be due by Aug. 1.”

Whitmire said the House agreed with the Senate’s request not to name a specific test to replace PACT. Previously, the House had named the replacement test the Elementary and Middle School Achievement Program (EMSAP).

The house also agreed to the Senate’s request for an additional report card, meaning that a two-page executive summary will be mailed to parents and a comprehensive report card will be published on state, district or school Web sites.

Whitmire said the Senate agreed with the House request to maintain strand information in the legislation.

“Teachers and administrators said there was no previous information on what the child missed on the test, only a percentage of what was missed,” Whitmire said. “This will follow up on what the child missed.”

Both House and Senate members agreed that English/language arts, math, science and social studies would continue to be tested and eliminated academic plans required of teachers in grades third-eighth for students not performing to grade level. The Senate also agreed to the House request of mandatory testing for grades first-ninth in English/language arts and mathematics.

They also agreed to allow principals to write their narrative report after reviewing the school’s performance on statewide assessments, rather than beforehand, and for it to be reviewed by the district superintendent or an individual in charge of the local charter school.

The bill includes a cyclical review every five years in which a broad-based group of stakeholders will take part in the decision-making process of developing criteria for school and district performance ratings as well as student performance levels.

Whitmire said the Senate also agreed to the House request to add one additional performance award, dubbed “Closing the Achievement Gap,” to the Palmetto Gold and Silver and Red Carpet awards already presented to selected schools.

“I’m sure it (bill) isn’t everything educators wanted,” Whitmire said. “But I believe that, overall, they’ll be very pleased.”

State Rep. Bill Sandifer, R-Seneca, praised the work of Whitmire and conference committee members, adding, “I think this is a giant step forward in making the testing of our students more informative so the tests actually show the true progress of the students and the educators.

“I think it basically fit with my philosophy of what should be in it,” Sandifer said.

State Sen. Thomas Alexander, R-Walhalla, said he feels that students will be the primary beneficiaries.

“This is going to be a very effective means of assisting the evaluation of progress being made on an individual basis, and that’s what education is all about,” Alexander said. “This will allow the focus to be on where they need assistance or where they’re excelling so they can be challenged with additional instruction.”

“I’m very excited about the potential of what can happen,” he added later.

State Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens, said he is delighted the bill is finally on its way to the governor.

“There were changes that a lot of educators have advocated now for two or three years,” Martin said.

Martin added that providing a test that will produce more immediate results than PACT is a key element of the reform bill.

“If the type of testing you’re using doesn’t provide you with a timely assessment to remediate and attempt to address the deficiencies that the test reveals, it doesn’t do you a lot of good,” he said.

School District of Oconee County Superintendent Mike Lucas wrote in his blog Friday morning that he is pleased with the number of individuals who shared their concerns regarding the current accountability system with legislators. “I’m pleased that members of the South Carolina General Assembly have taken action.”

School District of Pickens County Superintendent Lee D’Andrea said she is especially pleased to see the elimination of academic assistance plans and PACT. Regarding the latter, D’Andrea said instituting a new formative assessment will allow for both accountability and diagnostic data.

“This change can make a huge difference in student achievement,” D’Andrea said.

Although there is a possibility that Sanford could veto the bill, thus requiring legislators to muster up a two-thirds majority to override, Whitmire feels the fact that the House unanimously approved the measure bodes well.

“Right now, I’m confident we’ll override,” Whitmire said.


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