Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools students improve on end-of-year tests

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools students posted gains on end-of-year tests in reading, math and science and outpaced the state in most measures of college and career readiness, the district announced Thursday.

CMS leaders also revealed that the district’s graduation rate exceeded that of the state of North Carolina as a whole for the first time in years.

“This has been a great two days of sharing information,” said Superintendent Heath Morrison, who had released the system’s graduation rate numbers a day earlier.

But large gaps between the performance of white and minority students remained in measures of reading and English scores. Proficiency gains were also boosted by changes to the state grading system that make it easier to get a passing grade.

Across the district, the percentage of elementary and middle school students who were proficient in reading on end-of-grade tests increased from 45.5 percent to 56.8 percent on the new scale. The district reported a similar increase in math scores and an even larger jump in science test scores.

At the high school level, English end-of-course scores increased from 53.2 percent proficient last year to 67.1 percent proficient in 2014. CMS posted a larger increase in math scores and a slightly smaller increase in biology.

The state tweaked how it reports test score data to add a new distinction of “college and career ready.” Before, students were scored between 1 and 4, with 3 and 4 marking proficiency.

This year, students are scored between 1 and 5, with 3, 4, and 5 marking proficiency. Scores of 4 and 5 are also considered college- and career-ready.

When comparing last year’s proficiency numbers with the percentage of students college- and career-ready this year, gains made by CMS students were much smaller. Scores were roughly flat in elementary and middle school reading, and increased 1.9 percentage points in math to 48.3 percent.

CMS still outpaced the state in college and career readiness in 17 of 18 measures across the three subjects. Only in sixth-grade reading did the district lag behind.

Disparities in reading and English scores between black and white students shrunk slightly in 2014 at both the elementary and middle and high school levels.

Of white students, 81.4 percent were proficient on reading tests in elementary and middle school this year, compared with 42.9 percent of black students – a 38.5 percentage point gap. That compares with 71.7 percent and 30.2 percent last year – a 41.5 percentage point gap.

Gaps diminished more in science and math scores. The gap also narrowed in third-grade reading scores. That level has been a particular point of emphasis since state lawmakers passed the Read to Achieve act last year. The law aims to ensure third-graders can read on grade level before being promoted.

Morrison said CMS is not content to settle for “proficiency” levels but wants students to score at levels 4 and 5, so they can be ready for college or jobs.

“If the goal is to leave high school and attend college or be ready for that job, then our students have to be at that ‘college- and career-ready’ level,” he said.

Northeast Middle School Principal Alicia McCree, whose school exceeded state-set growth levels in test scores, said her staff focused on improving in math.

“Math scores kept us from reaching goals last year, so we put together a 90-day action plan,” she said.

The plan included getting photos of students and arranging the photos into different groups, according to achievement levels. Teachers looked at those photos and discussed individualized lesson plans during staff meetings.

“We made a number of changes and got wonderful support from our area superintendent, Tonya Kales,” she said. “It’s exciting to see all of that work out.”

CMS had announced Wednesday that its graduation rate increased to 85.2 percent in 2014. The state reported its graduation rate Thursday at 83.8 percent.

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