Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools graduation rate rose to 75 percent in 2012, while the states rate hit 80 percent for the first time ever, according to a state report released Thursday.
The CMS increase, from 73.5 percent in 2011, means 319 more students earned on-time diplomas this year, with the biggest gains among the African-American, Hispanic and low-income students who have traditionally been less likely to graduate.
Deputy Superintendent Ann Clark said Thursday the gain is good, but we know weve got a ways to go before we get to the 90 percent goal.
The academic showing of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools ranged from among the best in the state to among the worst, according to the states report on 2012 exam results.
South suburban neighborhood schools and selective magnets topped the list, with 12 in CMS boasting greater than 95 percent proficiency. In addition, Metrolina Regional Scholars Academy, a south Charlotte charter school for highly gifted students, and the Collaborative College for Technology, an early college magnet in Statesville, were among 20 in the state with 100 percent proficiency.
Six of 33 CMS high schools had four-year graduation rates topping 90 percent, including Hough High in Cornelius and Rocky River in Mint Hill, which graduated their first classes in 2012.
But seven, including West Charlotte, West Meck and some of the small schools at Garinger and Olympic, graduated fewer than 70 percent of the students who entered as freshmen four years earlier.
And two CMS schools, along with one Charlotte charter, were among 15 that landed on the states low-performing list. That means the schools logged pass rates below 50 percent and failed to show the expected level of progress.
One of those, Reid Park Academy, is among eight preK-8 schools CMS created in 2011 after closing three low-performing middle schools and sending those students to former elementaries. The combined elementary/middle schools were touted as a better academic environment for the students, most of whom are African-American and come from low-income homes.
The report shows proficiency levels on reading, math and science exams at the new combined schools ranged from 75 percent at Berryhill to just under 44 percent at Reid Park. Thats well below last years results for Reid Park Elementary or Wilson Middle, which had served the neighborhoods that were reassigned to Reid Park.
Principal Mary Sturge had started gearing up for the expansion with teachers who had been told they were losing jobs at other schools. But when the county came through with money to avert layoffs, those teachers went back to their original jobs, leaving Reid Park with vacancies as school opened.
I still believe in the preK-8 model, Sturge said. Everybody just needs to give us a chance to work it.
Taking schools pulse
The ABCs of Public Education report presented to the state Board of Education Thursday is designed to help the public get a handle on school effectiveness. After 15 years, it is the last of its kind. Next year North Carolina will launch a new system of exams and ratings.
For each school, the state calculates how well students would be expected to score on exams, based on previous years. Schools that exceed expectations are labeled high growth, a designation that used to bring $1,500 bonuses to faculty before the state cut that money from the budget. Statewide, 44 percent of schools reached that level. The report shows that 96 of 163 CMS schools, or almost 59 percent, made high growth.
Just over 20 percent of the states schools and 16 percent of CMS schools logged less than the expected years growth. The remainder fell into the expected growth category.
Proficiency or pass rates, a composite of all exams that scored at or above grade level, show a long-established pattern: Many high-poverty schools are clustered at the bottom. In addition to Reid Park, two other K-8 neighborhood schools created in 2011, Druid Hills and Bruns, had pass rates below 50 percent. However, they avoided the low-performing label because they met the growth goal.
Morgan School, the other CMS school labeled low performing, is a special education school for students with severe behavioral and emotional disabilities. Kennedy Charter, with a pass rate of 42 percent, is a K-12 school that caters to at-risk students.
CMS reported gains in most of the elementary and middle school grades tested in reading, math and science, with the biggest increase in science pass rates. High school students were tested in freshman English and biology, where CMS saw a small overall gain, and algebra I, where the CMS average declined. Clark said CMS will work at improving algebra courses next year, because we know that algebra I is a critical linchpin course.
Two of CMS most scrutinized high schools, West Charlotte and Harding, have no results listed because the state says they failed to test at least 95 percent of students in the classes with state exams. Schools that fall short of that standard get no state ratings.
West Charlotte has struggled for years with low test scores and graduation rates. It is the focus of Project LIFT, a five-year, $55 million public-private partnership that aims to reverse those trends.
Harding, also located on Charlottes west side, has recently been one of the districts top performers. Until 2011-12 it was a magnet school offering International Baccalaureate and math-science programs and did not accept low-scoring students. Last year CMS closed the low-performing Waddell High and assigned many of those neighborhoods to Harding, while moving the math-science magnet to nearby Berry Academy of Technology.
Discipline problems and crime reports at Harding soared during the fall. Many parents and supporters have worried that the schools academic success would falter.
Clark said CMS is consulting with state officials to decide whether to independently release results for Harding and West Charlotte.
Boosting the graduation rate has been a top priority for CMS for the last five years, since district leaders acknowledged that previous years rates were inflated by inaccurate reporting. The CMS four-year graduation rate has risen from 66 percent in 2008 to 75 percent in 2012.
Clark said in 2011-12, CMS counselors reviewed every seniors transcript to make sure they didnt fall short of needed credits.
The district also worked with groups such as Communities In Schools to provide support for students at risk of failure.
The state has also seen steady gains, from 68 percent in 2006 to 80 percent this year.
A March report from the Americas Promise Alliance, a group founded by former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, credited North Carolina as being one of the 12 states responsible for the majority of progress in increasing the nations graduation rate between 2001 and 2009.
The report also found that North Carolina was among the top 15 states in reducing the number of students attending dropout factories schools where fewer than 60 percent of students graduate.
The CMS rate could get another boost in 2013, the first year the district is allowing students to graduate with 24 credits, instead of the current 28. The state requires only 20, but most districts add to that. The CMS board voted in 2009 to scale back the requirement for the freshmen who would start high school that year, in hopes it would help more students cross the finish line.
A detailed spreadsheet provided by the state Department of Public Instruction shows all groups of CMS have gained in the last five years, though the district remains below state averages for the minority and low-income students who make up the majority of CMS students.
For instance, the on-time graduation rate for CMS low-income students has risen steadily from just over 52 percent in 2008 to almost 69 percent this year. Statewide, about 75 percent of low-income students graduated on time in 2012.
Black students in CMS have gone from a 59 percent rate to 70 percent in the last five years but remain below the state average of 75 percent. CMS Hispanic students rose from 55 percent to 64 percent, but trail the state average of 73 percent.
CMS white students, who account for about one-third of the student body, had a 77 percent on-time graduation rate in 2008, rising to 88 percent in 2010 and declining slightly for the last two years. In 2012, 85 percent of CMS white students graduated on time, topping the state average of 84 percent.
School rates ranged from 56 percent at West Charlotte to 99 percent at Cato Middle College High, a small, application-only school for upperclassmen that offers free college credits on a Central Piedmont Community College campus.
Hough, Rocky River, Ardrey Kell and Providence, full-size neighborhood high schools in the suburbs, topped 90 percent, as did Northwest School of the Arts, a magnet that draws students from across the county.
T. Keung Hui of the News & Observer contributed.