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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Suspensions may have role in low graduation rate

Study shows state's students perform 'on par' with nation's

Published: Wednesday, November 14, 2007 - 2:00 am

By Ron Barnett

South Carolina public schools suspend students at a higher rate than all
but one state in the nation, and that seems to have a role in the
state's graduation rate being among the lowest in the country, a report
released Tuesday by the Carolina First Foundation shows.
The study, done by a Boston-based consulting firm called the Monitor
Group, reiterated findings from a similar report the group did two years
ago showing that despite public perception, South Carolina students
perform on par with students across the nation on standardized tests.
"The message here that I came away with is that we're not last in
education. We're last in some things, but we're not last in education,"
said Mack Whittle, president and CEO of Carolina First Bank. "And I want
to be able to recruit people to come especially to the Upstate to work."

The state's low graduation rate can't be explained just by factors such
as poverty, low educational attainment of parents and single-parent
families, according to the study, called the South Carolina Education

Part of the explanation might be found in the state's suspension rate,
which was at 12 percent for the 2003-04 school year, according to the
The study compared suspension rates at public schools in states across
the nation and found a correlation between suspensions and the
graduation rate. Only Louisiana's suspension rate was higher than South
The study shows South Carolina's graduation rate at 60.3 percent, but it
could be about 7 percentage points higher if not for three factors: the
effect of suspensions, the requirement that students must pass an exit
exam, and elimination of inaccurate data, said Kurt Dassel, who did the
Grady Butler, a member of the Greenville County school board, said he
believes the schools should work harder to take care of disciplinary
problems without suspending students as often.
"Kids are getting suspended and expelled when there could be another way
of handling it," he said. "We have just got to find some more ways."
A school board committee has just begun a review of the district's
disciplinary policy after complaints about expulsions for such things as
using a steak knife to cut cardboard for a school project.
The foundation report uses scores from the National Assessment of
Educational Progress, also known as the Nation's Report Card to compare
South Carolina students' academic achievement with those of other
The test, given to fourth- and eight-graders every two years, is the
only standardized test given in all the states. The results show South
Carolina above or near the national average in math and reading.
The state's SAT scores, much maligned when compared nationally with
states that have much lower numbers of students taking the test, are
close to the national average when South Carolina is compared to states
that have similar levels of participation, Dassel said.
The study found that South Carolina's 24-unit requirement for a high
school diploma doesn't reduce the graduation rate, but if the exit exam
were eliminated, it would increase the rate by about 2.5 percentage
points. The study also found no correlation between the level of
spending on education or the student-teacher ratio and the graduation

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