SPARTANBURG, SC (WSPA) — South Carolina’s most competitive public high schools, where students earned better grades in classes and scores on standardized tests, are statistically more likely to prepare kids for success in college.

However, the best indicator we have to predict the success of a child in school is how much value parents put on education.

In addition to placing more importance on education in the home, the challenge is for parents to find a school where students and families also value education highly. This can be difficult due to a lack of academic opportunities in many parts of the state.

US News ranks South Carolina near the bottom for PK-12 public education in the country.

South Carolina has one of the lowest percentages of rural students taking at least one Advanced Placement course at 14 percent, and the eleventh lowest graduation rate for rural students, according to a 2017 Brookings Institute report.

To help readers navigate this complicated landscape, we gathered data published by the South Carolina Department of Education; and ranked educational institutions three times based on different test scores.

It’s important to remember, that using these tests as the sole measure of student achievement and performance is misleading, according to Patrick Kelly, director of governmental affairs for Palmetto State Teachers Association, and member of the national assessment governing board.

A recent study shows a child’s high school grades are better at predicting college completion than standardized tests like the ACT and SAT.

“As measures of individual students’ academic readiness, ACT scores show weak relationships and even negative relationships at the higher achievement levels,” according to a 2020 study published by the University of Chicago.

The following list shows the top public high schools in South Carolina where students are most likely to finish college, based on the data we have available.

Top 10 SC Public High Schools, ranked by the state’s End-of-Course Examination Program (EOCEP)

The End of Course Examination Program (EOCEP), published by SC’s Department of Education, reports standardized test scores for South Carolina in several subjects at the end of the semester. This data includes four courses: English 2, Algebra 1, Biology 1, and History and the Constitution.

The ten public high schools that reported the most students meeting or exceeding standards in those subjects are ranked below.

EOCEP RankSchoolLocation
#1Academic Magnet HighHorry
#2SC Governor’s School For Science And MathematicsHartsville
#3SC Governor’s School For The Arts And HumanitiesGreenville
#4Brashier Middle College Charter High SchoolSimpsonville
#5Greer Middle College Charter High SchoolGreer
#6Charleston School Of The ArtsCharleston
#7Fort Mill High SchoolFort Mill
#8Greenville Technical Charter High SchoolGreenville
#9 (tie)Berkeley County Middle College HighMoncks Corner
#9 (tie)GREEN Charter SchoolGreenville
SC Department of Education

For parents considering which public high school is best for their children, Kelly recommends visiting several to make an informed decision.

The EOCEP examination scores count for 20 percent of final grades in those four gateway courses, which are tested to measure progress in fundamental subjects, according to SC’s Department of Education.

While the EOCEP exams measure how well students are doing academically, they are not designed to reflect the reasoning skills that students need to thrive in college.

How well are high school students prepared for college in South Carolina?

This void is filled by the two most widely used standardized tests for college admission, the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) and the American College Testing (ACT) exam.

“Research shows that students who perform better on the SAT and ACT are more likely to succeed in a college academic environment. Now, it’s not a set-in-stone predictive factor. There are students that don’t score as well on the SAT that thrive in college and students who blow the SAT out of the park who struggle in college,” he said.

Students don’t necessarily take both of these exams, since some colleges may require one test and not the other, and the state only pays for one exam. Therefore, it’s important to look at scores for both exams to see how well students are prepared for college at each high school.

To determine the top 10 public high schools in South Carolina with the highest percentage of students prepared for college, we are publishing the 2021 SAT and ACT data from SC’s Department of Education. We then assigned point values to each school depending on how high they ranked on each exam. The schools with the most points are ranked below.

Top SC public high schools with the highest percentage of students prepared for college (ACT)

ACT RankSchoolLocation
#1 Academic Magnet HighNorth Charleston
#2SC Governor’s School for Science and MathematicsHartsville
#3 Palmetto Scholars AcademyNorth Charleston
#4 Charleston School Of The Arts Charleston
#5 Academy for the Arts, Science, and TechnologyMyrtle Beach
#6 SC Governor’s School For The Arts And Humanities Greenville
#7 Riverside High SchoolGreer
#8 Fort Mill High SchoolFort Mill
#9 Greenville Technical Charter High School Greenville
#10 Wando High SchoolMount Pleasant
SC Department of Education

“There’s a correlation there [between SAT and ACT scores and college success] that’s worth looking at. But I think that what we also have to look at when we’re comparing student performance on SAT and ACT across states is we need to look at two things number one, we do need to look at the socioeconomic status of a state because there is a consistent correlation between student resource access and student performance on these national standardized assessments,” Kelly said.

Top SC public high schools with the highest percentage of students prepared for college (SAT)

SAT RankSchool Location
#1 HCS Scholars Academy HighConway
#2Academic Magnet HighNorth Charleston
#3SC Governor’s School for Science and MathematicsHartsville
#4Berkeley County Middle College HighBerkeley County
#5GREEN Charter SchoolGreenville
#6SC Governor’s School for Arts and HumanitiesGreenville
#7Charleston School of the ArtsCharleston
#8Greenville Technical Charter High SchoolGreenville
#9Riverside HighGreer
#10D. W. Daniel HighPickens County
SC Department of Education

The Coleman Report

A study that still looms large over how to close achievement gaps in education is the 1966 Coleman Report, which found the largest predictive factor for student success was home life

“All factors considered, the most important variable—in or out of school—in a child’s performance remains his family’s education background,” Coleman explained in 1972.

Out of 703,003 residents recorded living in the state in 2020, about 30 percent had a bachelor’s degree or higher by age 25, according to South Carolina Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office.

South Carolina’s 1,200 public schools serve about 774,000 students, of which over 61 percent are high needs (i.e., eligible for food assistance (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Medicaid, homeless, transient, or in foster care), according to South Carolina’s Whole Child Education Policy.

The SC Pupils in Poverty Index for each public high school data shows the inverse correlation between education and poverty.

As you might expect, students from disadvantaged socio-economic conditions did not perform as well on the state’s End of Course Examination Program (EOCEP), published by SC’s Department of Education, with the exception of HSC Early College High School, whose students scored well on the exam despite a high percentage of them coming from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

“The research results indicate that a child’s performance, especially a working-class child’s performance, is greatly benefited by his going to school with children who come from different backgrounds,” Coleman said. “If you integrate children of different backgrounds and socioeconomics, kids perform better.”

This could also mean kids whose parents placed more value on college or surrounded their children with students who value education more, regardless of income, would be in a better position for academic success, according to an article from John Hopkins Magazine.

Here’s a more detailed look at student poverty data in the state:

Another important factor to consider, according to Kelly, is access to additional academic opportunities, including dual enrollment in college courses and Advanced Placement classes. High schools do not have equal access to these resources, potentially limiting the academic development of the most advanced students.

Better standardized testing data needed in South Carolina

It is estimated that nearly two-thirds of the Profile of the South Carolina Graduate is not assessed, according to a report from the state’s Whole Child Education Policy.

The report claims that disputes in the state over sharing data have “stifled” the development of more comprehensive standardized testing.

The Economic Development Act of 2005 set the stage for South Carolina to develop the kind of
data system needed for what you are calling whole child education,” according to an educational leader cited in the report. “However, we have seen resistance from both the (political) far right and far left about developing the data system that you are asking about. The far-right folks are concerned about data that will make big brother government bigger, and the far-left people are more concerned about tracking kids and privacy.”

According to Kelly, what is needed in South Carolina are assessments that better capture the totality of student performance.

“If all we do is look at those standardized test results, then we’re potentially ignoring areas where as an educator, I’ve seen children thrive that may not do well on a paper-pencil or now online standardized test, but you put them in a performing arts situation or you put them in a kitchen as a culinary student, they thrive and they show skills that will serve them well throughout their life,” said Kelly.

Kelly argues the state needs to find a way to assess student soft skills.

“Let’s move away from the old multiple-choice assessment format that’s based solely on recall and let’s transition more to stimulus-based tests where students are given new material and asked to do something with it based on what they already know and can do,” he said.

Tests need more disaggregated data, he said. For example, in the US history End-of-Course Exam Program, only a numeric grade is given for a student on a scale from zero to 100.

So if a student gets 90 percent of answers correct on the exam, there is no data that shows what 10 percent they missed. Was it early American history? Was it World War Two? Where was the deficiency? The data doesn’t show us, he said.

“We’ve got to give our teachers that kind of disaggregate data so they can inform their instructional practice and we need to give them more timely data,” he said.

Interview with Patrick Kelly, director of governmental affairs for Palmetto State Teachers Association and member of the National Assessment Governing Board.

One such exam that will benefit South Carolina educators is The National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP). The exam, Kelly said, does provide a more detailed breakdown of where students are succeeding or failing academically.

Elementary and middle school test results will be released nationally in October, providing a better snapshot of learning successes and deficiencies in South Carolina.

“This test has some really innovative features that include the types of scenario-based and skills-based activities,” Kelly said in an email. “However, the assessment has only been administered twice – 2014 and 2018. The scheduled 2022 administration was canceled due to a host of factors.”

NAEP is a congressionally mandated program that is overseen and administered by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), within the U.S. Department of Education and the Institute of Education Sciences, according to the program’s website.

Top SC public high schools with the highest percentage of students prepared for college (SAT & ACT)

Below you can browse SAT and ACT scores for each public high school in the state to see specific results for reading and writing; and math.