As Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools approaches tough decisions on student assignment, state academic rankings released Thursday highlight steady progress and stubborn challenges.
The Department of Public Instruction released preliminary 2016 graduation rates, results of state exams and school letter grades.
CMS saw small gains on virtually all tested subjects, matching or topping state averages and consistently outperforming most of North Carolina’s other large districts. Wake, the largest, was the exception.
“We applaud our colleagues in Wake, but we’re coming for you,” quipped Chief Accountability Officer Frank Barnes.
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This year more CMS schools earned As, fewer earned Fs and a growing number topped state expectations for student progress. The district’s on-time graduation rate rounds up to 90 percent, unimaginable just a few years ago, and only one high school fell below 80 percent.
At some schools – generally suburban neighborhood schools and selective magnets – exams show most students mastering the skills they need to move toward successful adult lives.
But despite the progress, failure on state exams remains prevalent at many schools. Forty-three of 165 schools had overall pass rates below 50 percent. Last year those schools served 33,500 students, most of them poor and 95 percent of them nonwhite.
Nowhere are the gaps clearer than in high schools, where test scores raise questions about the value of some diplomas. (Click dots on the map below to see details for CMS and charter high schools in the Charlotte region.)
At suburban Ardrey Kell and Providence, as well as the selective Cato and Levine Middle College high schools, more than 90 percent of students passed state exams and received ACT scores indicating they’re ready for college.
I had already asked myself: It’s great that these students have a diploma, but so what?
CMS Superintendent Ann Clark
At West Charlotte, West Mecklenburg, Harding and Garinger, high-poverty neighborhood schools where graduation rates have risen dramatically in recent years, pass rates on state exams ranged from 44 to 50 percent and fewer than 30 percent at each school earned college-ready ACT scores.
This spring, Superintendent Ann Clark and the school board acknowledged that challenge. To beef up the value of a diploma, they set a goal of having all 2018 graduates leave with an industry certification or academic credentials, such as college credit or an International Baccalaureate diploma, showing they’re ready for higher education and/or a job.
“I had already asked myself: It’s great that these students have a diploma, but so what?” Clark said Thursday.
The stark gaps between schools pose a challenge as district leaders rework their assignment policies in a bid to provide better opportunities for more students.
The school board meets next week to continue crafting options for students to leave persistently low-scoring schools by giving them priorities for magnet seats and transfers into other neighborhood schools. The board is also looking at revising magnet admission requirements and using socioeconomic status to give magnets more balance.
In the coming months they’ll start looking at boundaries for neighborhood schools.
It’s a tricky business, watched anxiously by thousands of families. Skeptics say there’s no guarantee that moving students will improve their education, and plenty of risk that disrupting successful schools could send families fleeing to charter or private schools.
North Carolina’s accountability program crunches test scores and graduation rates and student growth into A-F letter grades for schools. The program is designed to celebrate success and spur change where schools fall short. But the lowest-rated schools in CMS have already been the focus of intensive support from the district, the state and the community.
At the end of the day, a parent’s experience is as good as the teacher their child is assigned to.
CMS Superintendent Ann Clark
Bruns Academy, which received an F with a 20 percent pass rate, is part of Project LIFT, a public-private partnership that has pumped millions of dollars into nine schools over the past four years. It was converted from an elementary school to a preK-8 school in a move CMS officials said would boost performance, and the school is using a year-round calendar designed to prevent kids from slipping during a long summer vacation.
Reid Park Academy, which received an F with a 28 percent pass rate, is part of the CMS Beacon Initiative, which pulls together strategies learned from various turnaround plans. It has also been converted to a preK-8 school, received a state School Improvement Grant and has seen an infusion of volunteers trying to support students, families and faculty.
Clark said she doesn’t plan any “knee-jerk reaction” to the lingering low performance, but instead will continue supporting the ongoing efforts and the educators who carry them out.
This year, the convergence of a late school opening and an early state Board of Education meeting mean the 2016 ratings land just four days after classes started for most students. For schools like Beverly Woods Elementary, which hosted the CMS news conference after moving from a B to an A+, that can be a morale booster.
For other schools it’s the opposite.
Many educators question the value of school grades, saying they oversimplify a complex effort and can be demoralizing to educators, students and parents facing the biggest challenges.
Clark says she tells parents trying to make sense of performance data to zero in on their own children’s schools, and then on each child’s experience there. That may or may not match the state’s rating.
“At the end of the day,” Clark said, “a parent’s experience is as good as the teacher their child is assigned to.”
Results at a glance
The state issues letter grades based on a mix of proficiency and growth, a measure designed to gauge how much progress students made regardless of where they started. Proficiency counts for 80 percent of the letter grade, and schools are also rated on whether they met, exceeded or failed to meet growth goals for their students. Two Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools received grades but not growth ratings.
▪ 25 of 165 CMS schools, or 15 percent, received an A or A+
▪ 42 schools, or 25 percent, received a B
▪ 61 schools, or 37 percent, received a C
▪ 32 schools, or 19 percent, received a D
▪ 5 schools, or 3 percent, received an F
▪ 85 of 163 CMS schools, or 52 percent, exceeded the goal
▪ 55 schools, or 34 percent, met it
▪ 23 schools, or 14 percent, fell short
These Charlotte-area schools received A+ grades, which means they had a performance score of at least 85 percent and had gaps between groups of students (such racial and income groups) that were no larger than the state average. Listed with each school is its overall proficiency and whether it met, exceeded or did not meet growth goals.
CMS: Providence Spring Elementary (95 percent, met), Providence High (94 percent, exceeded), Elon Park Elementary (90 percent, exceeded), Polo Ridge Elementary (90 percent, met), McKee Road Elementary (87 percent, exceeded), Olde Providence Elementary (87 percent, exceeded), Piedmont Middle (87 percent, exceeded), Hough High (86 percent, exceeded), Beverly Woods Elementary (86 percent, exceeded), Hawk Ridge Elementary (86 percent, exceeded), Huntersville Elementary (86 percent, exceeded), Bain Elementary (85 percent, exceeded), Torrence Creek Elementary (85 percent, met).
Charter: Metrolina Regional Scholars Academy (greater than 95 percent, not met), Community School of Davidson (87 percent, met), Pine Lake Prep (86 percent, exceeded).
These Charlotte-area schools received F grades, which means they received a performance score below 40.
CMS: Bruns Academy (20 percent, met), Reid Park Academy (28 percent, met), Byers School (30 percent, met), Sterling Elementary (31 percent, not met), Eastway Middle (31 percent, not met).
Charter: Stewart Creek High (14 percent, no growth rating), Crossroads High (15 percent, not met), Charlotte Learning Academy (20 percent, not met), Kennedy Charter (23 percent, met), Aristotle Prep (24 percent, not met), Community Charter (27 percent, met), ACE Academy (29 percent, not met).