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Ups and downs for CMS results with revised state test standards
Growth expectations up, preparedness inconsistent
Published Wednesday, September 12, 2018 9:00 am
by Herbert L. White | The Charlotte Post

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is a mixed bag of state test results.

The district showed improvement in college- and career-ready science scores, which were offset by falling literacy scores for the 2017-18 year. Three-quarters of CMS campuses met or exceeded growth expectations, compared to 72.6 percent a year earlier.

Changes in state calculations for results affected scores, had a negative impact in most areas.  Areas with changes included how the cohort graduation rates are calculated, how eighth-grade scores in math are grouped, students who are learning English, WorkKeys assessments for CTE students and ACT scores.

Taken together, the results are confusing, especially for students of color and schools in low-income communities where academic performance is more likely to suffer.

“Equity is good for everyone – we must be clear about our challenges to create real change,” Superintendent Clayton Wilcox said. “The changes to the state testing calculations will help us over time because the challenges we face as a district are very clear. The Breaking the Link study already showed us that we are not meeting the needs of our poor, Hispanic and black students, and these test results echo that conclusion, particularly in reading and English II. The results add to the urgency to focus on what matters most – building equity through a strong, viable curriculum at every school and rigor and consistency across the district. This emphasis on equity is at the core of the new 2024 strategic plan.”

So, what’s the takeaway?

The percentage of students testing at or above grade level fell 2.1 points in reading for grades 3-8 and was flat in science among fifth- and eighth-graders. Changes in the math calculation for 2017-18 made accurate year-over-year comparisons impossible, district officials say, while reading scores fell across subgroups.

English-learning students showed improvements, with graduation rates jumping to 62.6 percent from 59.9 percent in 2016-17.

In reading for grades 3-8, 23.2 percent of EL students were college- and career-ready, compared to 11.2 percent the year before. In science for fifth- and eight-graders, 44.7 percent of EL students were college- and career-ready, compared to 20.3 percent a year earlier.

In English II, EL students were the only subgroup with increases: 15.7 percent were college- and career-ready, compared to 5 percent the previous year.  

Ready for college, careers
College- and career-readiness rates, measured by the percentage of students who scored 4 or a 5 on state tests, took a dip.

In English II scores, Hispanics lost 4 points, blacks 3.8 points and 3.5 points for poor students. White students fell by 2.7 points and Asians by 2.1 points.

College- and career-readiness rates increased in all student subgroups in science among fifth- and eighth- graders, with the largest gains recorded by blacks and Hispanics.

Black students bumped up by 2.2 points; Hispanics by 1.6, students with disabilities 1.7 points and low-income students by 0.8 points. Whites and Asians gained 0.4 points each.

“This is how you close gaps,” said Frank Barnes, CMS’s chief equity officer. “You move everyone ahead, with the ones farthest behind moving the most.”

Changes in the state math score calculations are likely to lower scores in the immediate future, district officials said. There will be two categories of math scores: Math 8, which includes students who take Math I in middle school, and Math 9-12.

Because the early takers of Math I are usually top performers, district officials believe their inclusion in the overall calculation may have overshadowed the struggles of less advanced students and inflated overall scores. Starting last year, eighth-graders take either Math 8 EOG or Math I EOC.

Graduation rates and accountability
The graduation rate also fell, in part because of a change in calculation.

In years past, students who came into high school lagging on credits needed to graduate – designated as “off track” – were not counted in the graduation rate. Starting in 2017-18, they are included.

The district graduation rate dipped to 85.1 in 2018 from 89.4 in 2017, but under the previous calculation, the decline would have been 88.1 percent.
The state dropped the A-plus designation in school performance grades, using only an A instead. Nineteen CMS schools earned an A grade; 48 earned B schools and 60 a C designation.

Thirty-eight campuses earned D grade and 10 were F – double last year’s number.

“Everyone should remember that our kids are not just test scores, and our schools are defined by much more than letter grades,” Wilcox said. “We will continue to advocate for a more balanced assessment that weighs growth and proficiency in a more balanced way, which is important in a large urban district where students face so many challenges coming into school – we must find ways for their progress to be a source of inspiration and a reflection of the real teaching and learning taking place in our schools.”

There were also additions to the state accountability model. The state adopted a federal requirement that set 10-year targets to improve:

• Literacy scores in  grades 3-8 and grade 10;  

• Math in grades 3-8  and grade 11;

• Cohort graduation rates and

• Academic results of English learners.

Targets are set by the state Department of Public Instruction based on 2015-16 results.

The state added school performance grades for subgroups where there are more than 30 students in a demographic enrolled. The groups are black, white, multi-racial, Asian, Hispanic, Native American, disabled, English learners and low-income.
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