CMS test scores spotlight need for resources, focus

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools' Superintendent Peter Gorman was on point about CMS test scores Tuesday. He said: “Additional focus and resources for our economically disadvantaged students seem to be having an effect. We're glad to see it's beginning to make a difference.”

Too bad the scores weren't released earlier. Maybe the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners would have given CMS more of the extra $28 million school leaders requested for next year's budget. But CMS got just $10 million more, barely enough to cover enrollment growth and the opening of new schools. Cuts are anticipated in initiatives aimed at improving student performance at struggling schools.

This week's test scores show why those resources matter.

Take West Charlotte High School, for example. It's one of four CMS high schools where students have struggled academically and test scores have remained low. West Charlotte got a dynamic leader when John Modest stepped in as principal a few years ago. Last year, there was a staff shake-up as officials pushed to get more of the most effective teachers there.

Those changes seem to be paying off. Last June, West Charlotte made big gains, moving to 45 percent of students proficient – a jump of 6.4 percentage points over scores in 2006. This year, West Charlotte made an even bigger one-year leap to nearly 58 percent proficient. That's double the percentage-points gain of last year.

But those gains haven't come cheaply. Luring and keeping effective leaders and faculty at challenging schools is daunting. CMS provides bonuses and other incentives but must work harder to improve working conditions.

That was underscored this week in a new teacher survey. It showed that CMS teachers rated their schools below state average on key measures of satisfaction. To boost test scores and improve academic performance at struggling schools that must change. CMS must attract and retain highly effective teachers. That becomes more difficult when resources are cut.

Even with this year's gains, CMS has lots of work to do. Several schools saw declines in overall performance. The test performance gap between low income and higher income students narrowed slightly. The gap between whites and blacks didn't budge.

Superintendent Gorman summed up the results aptly: “We're not satisfied, but the scores overall are moving in the right direction.” He's right. But the schools need our help and commitment – as a community and individually – to continue on the correct path. We must show more willingness to give it.