For 820, failing wasn't failing

More than 800 Charlotte-Mecklenburg third-, fifth- and eighth-graders who had been told they had to retake state math tests to be promoted learned recently they actually squeaked by.

It's the latest twist in a state testing system so byzantine some school board members say they wish they could scrap it.

Here's how it works: Students in the “gateway grades” are supposed to pass N.C. reading and math exams to be promoted. But the state lets them slide by if their scores are so close to the cutoff point that it's statistically likely they'd pass if they took the test again.

This summer, schools are looking only at math results. Scores on the reading exams are delayed until fall because the state is bumping up the score required to pass.

In the past, students within three points of the cutoff got credit for clearing the gateway. So when CMS scored its spring math tests, officials assumed that any student four points or more below grade level was in danger of being held back. Teachers helped them brush up and retake the test last week.

Then CMS learned that this year's state margin is four points, which meant that about 820 cleared the gateway, even without the retest.

“As a result of this change and late notice some of your students ended up being unnecessarily retested,” Chief Accountability Officer Jonathan Raymond said in an e-mail to principals late last week.

About 470 students of those students did better on their second try, while 256 scored worse. The rest did the same or didn't take last week's test.

Donna Jenkins Dawson says she was dismayed when she got a letter saying her daughter, a fifth-grader at Lake Wylie Elementary, might be held back. And she was confused when she got a follow-up call recanting.

Dawson said she had already suspended her daughter's TV and telephone privileges because of the failing score. “I know of one child that actually got a spanking.”