Focus and Priority schools

What it is: Focus and Priority schools are high-poverty (or Title 1) schools with student achievement problems. Focus schools have the highest average performance gap between subgroups of students, such as racial minorities, low-income students, those learning English and special-needs students. Ten percent of the state's high-poverty schools are considered Focus schools. Priority schools are the state's lowest-performing high-poverty schools. Five percent of the state's Title 1 schools are considered Priority schools.

What it means: Focus schools must offer students the option of transferring to a higher-performing school or tutoring services to students who were part of the subgroups that were under-performing. Priority schools must offer students the option of transferring to a higher-performing school or tutoring services to all students in the school. Once a school is named a Focus or Priority school, it stays on the list for two years unless it no longer is considered low income. All the schools listed below were on the same lists last year, and the state didn't add any new schools to the list.

Local Focus schools:

Berkeley: None

Charleston: Haut Gap Middle, Pepperhill Elementary

Dorchester 2: Newington Elementary, Summerville Elementary, Windsor Hill Arts Infused

Dorchester 4: None

Local Priority schools:

Berkeley: None

Charleston County: Apple Charter, Burke High, Lambs Elementary, Memminger Elementary, Stall High

Dorchester 2: None

Dorchester 4: None

S.C. Department of Education

Charleston County School Superintendent Nancy McGinley felt pleased with the district's progress in literacy, but she says the district needs to see more improvement in math.

The school district maintained its “B” average, but its score on the federal letter-grading scale fell nearly 6 points to 83.2. One of the biggest reasons the score dropped appeared to be tied to elementary students meeting fewer state goals in every subject tested except social studies.

“I am pleased with the progress we are making in the area of literacy compared to our 2012 results,” McGinley wrote in a statement. “We have more work to do to accelerate the achievement in math.”

On the PASS exams, the district generally saw improvement for the four subjects tested. The district outscored the state average at every grade and in every subject, with the exception of fifth-grade English/language arts and third-grade social studies.

Charleston school leaders expected to see a boost in scores for third-graders, who had the benefit of the district-wide First Grade Academies during the 2010-11 school year. Those literacy investments seem to be paying off, with all grades except fourth seeing more students passing the state PASS tests.

Middle school teachers had training in literacy this past year, and the district revamped its literacy efforts in the middle grades, she wrote. McGinley wrote that she expects to see more growth next year because every school had more help for struggling second- and third-grade readers during the 2012-13 school year.

Two of the low-performing high schools that received the most attention this past year were North Charleston and Burke, and they saw mixed results. They faced possible state takeover last summer, but the state allowed the district to maintain control.

Principals of both schools were given three-year contracts and earn about $45,000 more than the average principal. They also can earn bonuses.

Burke High's grade improved from a 35 “F” to a 66.2 “D,” and that mostly was because of gains made in its middle grades. The high school portion of the index score declined.

North Charleston High's “F” grade didn't improve, and its index score fell from 53.8 to 46.2.

McGinley wrote that she wants to wait to see the school's end-of-course exam scores and graduation rates before concluding they have not made adequate progress for the past school year.

Reach Diette Courrégé Casey at @Diette on Twitter or (843) 937-5546.