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Evidence Matters | Making the Grade: A Series on the Complexities of School Report Cards

Last updated June 15, 2023

By Kelly Gregory

June 15, 2023

With the school year coming to a close, all grades and final report cards have been issued. But one major end-of-year assessment remains outstanding: the South Carolina school report card.

Each fall, South Carolina schools are rated on a series of performance indicators and are awarded a rating of either Excellent, Good, Average, Below Average, or Unsatisfactory. School report cards are released once per year and are intended to give stakeholders a snapshot of an individual school’s overall performance.

While school report card ratings can offer parents and the broader community insights into a school’s performance, it is important that school ratings are interpreted with caution and in conjunction with consideration of factors that may not be fully captured in a numerical score. This is especially important given the power that school ratings hold in terms of their ability to shape both public perception and public policy.

In South Carolina, schools are awarded overall numerical scores based on seven indicators, including:

  • Academics, which includes academic achievement (measured by standardized test scores) and English learners’ progress. More recently, measures of student growth have been added to the mix to allow for a more nuanced understanding of how schools are performing.
  • School Environment, which includes measures of perceptions of school climate taken from surveys of students and teachers. Results from parent surveys are also reported alongside other information on school climate.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This post was edited to clarify that the above bullets are not an exhaustive list of what is factored into overall school ratings, and to clarify that parent surveys are reported on, but are NOT factored into overall ratings. For full information on exactly how overall scores are determined, please visit page 9 of the South Carolina Education Oversight Committee’s report card guide or their school report card website.)

The trouble is that research has shown that schools located in under-resourced communities typically receive lower report card ratings—and these ratings may not necessarily reflect the educational “quality” offered by a school.

A study released in January of 2022 sought to analyze the relationship between school ratings and other factors, such as educational quality and various sociodemographic factors. Researchers posited that for public middle schools in New York City and Denver, the overall rating of a school was influenced by the socioeconomic makeup of the families whose children attend the school and not simply by the quality of education that was provided. In other words, it is possible that, rather than accurately reflecting the quality of teaching and learning that is occurring in a specific school, school ratings may inadvertently penalize those schools that serve a higher percentage of historically disadvantaged populations of students.

Ultimately, because these rankings may influence policymakers and parents in ways that further perpetuate inequitable outcomes, it is important that we consider the following questions:

  • How and why are rankings—and the test scores that heavily inform them—correlated with socioeconomic factors?
  • To what extent, if any, does a child’s access to additional support outside of school play a role in these rankings?
  • To what extent can a school’s and its teachers’ performance really be measured objectively in light of external factors influencing student success?

Over the next four posts, our blog will look specifically at how socioeconomic factors and access to quality early learning experiences may influence students’ future academic performance and, in turn, school ratings. Then, we’ll turn to a discussion of how parents and policymakers might use this information to help ensure equitable outcomes for all students.

Read the next post in this series: Evidence Matters | Making the Grade: The Socioeconomic Achievement Gap

Kelly Gregory is the Riley Institute’s Director for Public Education Partnerships and Projects and previously taught for 11 years in South Carolina public schools. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a master’s degree in Special Education. She also holds a National Board certification as an Exceptional Needs Specialist. She can be reached at