After four years, is Project LIFT a success or failure?
The corporate and foundation donors supporting the public-private partnership are paying experts to comb the data and analyze how much bang they’re getting for their 50 million bucks. But even a quick scan of the data released last week shows how hard it is to answer that question.
For each school, the numbers tell a different story – and as LIFT leaders are quick to note, “data never lies, but it doesn’t tell the whole truth.”
Here’s a snapshot of West Charlotte High and eight schools that feed into it.
West Charlotte: More graduates
The high school’s rising graduation rate – from 54 percent in 2012 to 86 percent in 2016 – is Project LIFT’s biggest success. Principal Timisha Barnes-Jones says the school is overcoming a bad reputation, though many of LIFT’s younger students still opt for magnet schools when they reach high school.
But only about one-third of students who took Math 1, English 2 and biology exams passed them, and fewer than one-quarter were deemed college and career ready based on those scores. Twenty percent of juniors who took the ACT last year earned a score that would qualify for admission to a UNC system college.
West Charlotte moved up from a D to a C on state ratings this year and met the state target for student progress.
LIFT officials say one-third of last year’s West Charlotte graduates went to college or enlisted in the military, and the school celebrated their choices the way athletes’ signing for college has traditionally been lauded.
Statesville Road: Best performer
Statesville Road Elementary School was Project LIFT’s academic star, exceeding state growth targets for the third year in a row. It earned a C for the second year in a row, after moving up from a D in 2014.
It topped all other LIFT schools on state exams, with 86 percent passing the fifth-grade science test, 62 percent passing math and 43 percent passing reading. This year math proficiency jumped 12 points, with a similar jump in the percent whose scores qualified as on the career/college track.
Ashley Park: Big improvement
Ashley Park PreK-8 School rose from an F to a D, and went from falling short of expected growth in 2015 to exceeding it in 2016. The growth gain meant Ashley Park was removed from the state’s low-performing list.
Growth measures how much progress each student made during the year; a student who started well below grade level could show more than one year’s growth, even if he didn’t pass the exam.
The school saw significant gains in science (50 percent passing) and math (34 percent passing), with a small uptick in reading (27 percent passing).
Thomasboro: Mixed results
Thomasboro Academy, a preK-8 school, exceeded the growth goal for a second year in a row. It earned a D, the same as last year, because pass rates remain relatively low.
Thomasboro logged a 65 percent pass rate in science, rising 7 percentage points, but landed below 30 percent passing math and reading exams. The reading results still exceeded expected growth because so many students started below grade level.
Thomasboro is one of two LIFT schools where private money pays for a longer school year. During the first two years, studies found little to no benefit; this year’s analysis is in progress.
Ranson Middle: A setback
Ranson Middle School fell from a C to a D despite exceeding expected growth. The state formula, which counts proficiency for 80 percent and growth for 20 percent, yielded a score that fell just short of the cutoff for a C.
Almost 73 percent of Ranson students passed the science exam, down from 2015. Pass rates were 30.5 percent in math and 42 percent in reading.
Allenbrook: Trying to rebuild
Allenbrook Elementary earned a D and fell short of expected growth, landing on the state’s low-performing list for the second year in a row. That means students will likely be offered priority for enrollment in magnet programs and higher-scoring neighborhood schools with available space next year, based on student assignment changes the school board is working on.
Allenbrook’s pass rates were 49 percent in science, 55 percent in math and 32 percent in reading. The school’s science results show the difficulty of tracking year-to-year progress: Pass rates plunged in 2015, then returned last year to about the same level as 2014.
Principal Katharine Bonsera said the entire administrative team and many key teachers were new last year. This year, she said, most have returned and expect to show progress.
Druid Hills: Progress, but still low
Druid Hills Academy, a preK-8 school, moved up from an F to a D and met state growth goals after falling short in 2015. But it’s on the low-performing list for a second year, placing it on the list of schools expected to receive priority for students trying to move out.
Pass rates were 43 percent in science, 32 percent in reading and 28 percent in math.
Druid Hills is the other LIFT school with a longer school calendar.
Bruns and Byers: Stuck at the bottom
Bruns Academy and Walter G. Byers, both preK-8 schools, are the two remaining F schools in Project LIFT. Although both met the state’s growth goals in 2016, that wasn’t enough to move them off the low-performing list, and both are among the schools like to get opt-out priority next year.
Byers saw small gains in proficiency on reading (31 percent) and math (26 percent), with science dropping to 37 percent.
Bruns is Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s lowest-scoring school, with 40 percent passing the science exam, 21 percent passing reading and 14 percent passing math.
Both have year-round calendars designed to prevent students from slipping during long summer breaks, though they attend the same number of days as other schools.