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Every time South Carolina’s God-awful test scores come out, our public school system receives a glowing report card from the state Ministry of Failure and Non-Competition.

And why not? If you can’t actually improve academic achievement in this state, why not cook the books and pretend you did?

Two weeks ago, for example, the Ministry put out a press release praising South Carolina’s modest gain in SAT scores, except they left out one relevant detail – the gain was provided exclusively by the private schools they’re trying to run out of business.

The public schools (which the Ministry runs) actually dropped points.

This charade was in full swing once again yesterday, as our state’s exorbitantly-expensive, woefully-inaccurate and easily-manipulated Palmetto Achievement Challenge Test (PACT) concluded a decade of fudging our state’s academic failure (the PACT is being replaced next year by the PASS test, which we have no doubt will be a similarly worthless assessment).

Anyway, the Ministry’s final response to the PACT report was, predictably, sunshine and dandelions.

“South Carolina students rode a wave of progress,” Superintendent Jim Rex beamed.

Not so fast.

According to our friends at The Voice (i.e. only place in this state other than the Policy Council where you can get accurate education data), the numbers don’t add up.

From their analysis of the scores, we learn the disturbing truth behind the spin:

Of the 51, 252 third graders taking the PACT in 2008, only 56.6 percent scored “Proficient” or “Advanced” in English Language Arts. For eighth graders, the percentage of students meeting the standard is even lower, with only 27.9% scoring “Proficient” or “Advanced” on the reading and writing portion of the test.

Math scores are even more troubling.

Proficiency in Math for 3rd grade test takers is only 33%, which drops all the way to 20.8% of eighth graders who scored “Proficient” or “Advanced.” For eighth graders this represents only a 1.1% increase in math proficiency from 2007; hardly the “wave of progress” praised by the State Department of Education.

Furthermore, scores for eighth grade test takers average 15 points behind that of third graders. This trend suggests that students are routinely moved up to the next grade level, whether they are prepared or not.

Here’s the other interesting thing – PACT administrators count kids at “proficient” and “advanced” levels even if they only earned “basic” proficiency. So much for all that talk of South Carolina having the “toughest standards in the nation.”

Yet even “fudging” these numbers, Columbia bureaucrats still couldn’t do anything about a gaping (and growing) 20 percent achievement gap between white and black students.

Hopefully, African-American lawmakers will grow a set of balls sometime this millennium and demand better for their kids.