Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ graduation rate rose to 75 percent in 2012, while the state’s rate hit 80 percent for the first time ever, according to a state report released Thursday morning.
The CMS increase, from 73.5 percent in 2011, means 319 more students earned on-time diplomas this year, with the biggest gains among the African American, Hispanic and low-income students who have traditionally been less likely to graduate.
The academic showing of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools ranged from among the best in the state to among the worst, according to an advance copy of the report on graduation rates and test results provided to the Observer.
South suburban neighborhood schools and selective magnets topped the list for performance on state exams, with 12 in CMS boasting greater than 95 percent proficiency. In addition, Metrolina Regional Scholars Academy, a south Charlotte charter school for highly gifted students, and the Collaborative College for Technology, an early college magnet in Statesville, were among 20 in the state with 100 percent proficiency.
Six of 33 CMS high schools had four-year graduation rates topping 90 percent, including Hough High in Cornelius and Rocky River in Mint Hill, which graduated their first classes in 2012.
But seven, including West Charlotte, West Meck and some of the small schools at Garinger and Olympic, graduated fewer than 70 percent of the students who entered as freshmen four years earlier.
And two CMS schools, along with one Charlotte charter, were among 15 that landed on the state’s low-performing list. That means the schools logged pass rates below 50 percent and failed to show the expected level of progress.
One of those, Reid Park Academy, is among eight preK-8 schools CMS created in 2011 after closing three low-performing middle schools and sending those students to former elementaries. The combined elementary/middle schools were touted as a better academic environment for the students, most of whom are African American and come from low-income homes.
The report shows proficiency levels on reading, math and science exams at the new combined schools ranged from 75 percent at Berryhill to just under 44 percent at Reid Park. That’s well below last year’s results for Reid Park Elementary or Wilson Middle, which had served the neighborhoods that were reassigned to Reid Park.
Taking schools’ pulse
The “ABCs of Public Education” report presented to the state Board of Education Thursday is designed to help the public get a handle on school effectiveness. After 15 years, it is the last of its kind. Next year North Carolina will launch a new system of exams and ratings.
For each school, the state calculates how well students would be expected to score on exams, based on previous years. Schools that exceed expectations are labeled high growth, a designation that used to bring $1,500 bonuses to faculty before the state cut that money from the budget. Statewide, 44 percent of schools reached that level. The report shows that 96 of 163 CMS schools, or almost 59 percent, made high growth.
Just over 20 percent of the state’s schools and 16 percent of CMS schools logged less than the expected year’s growth. The remainder fell into the “expected growth” category.
Proficiency or pass rates, a composite of all exams that scored at or above grade level, show a long-established pattern: Many high-poverty schools are clustered at the bottom. In addition to Reid Park, two other K-8 neighborhood schools created in 2011, Druid Hills and Bruns, had pass rates below 50 percent. However, they avoided the low-performing label because they met the growth goal.
Morgan School, the other CMS school labeled low performing, is a special education school for students with severe behavioral and emotional disabilities. Kennedy Charter, with a pass rate of 42 percent, is a K-12 school that caters to at-risk students.
Two of CMS’ most scrutinized high schools, West Charlotte and Harding, have no results listed because the state says they failed to test at least 95 percent of students in the classes with state exams. Schools that fall short of that standard get no state ratings.
West Charlotte has struggled for years with low test scores and graduation rates. It is the focus of Project LIFT, a five-year, $55 million public-private partnership that aims to reverse those trends.
Harding, also located on Charlotte’s west side, has recently been one of the district’s top performers. Until 2011-12 it was a magnet school offering International Baccalaureate and math-science programs, and did not accept low-scoring students. Last year CMS closed the low-performing Waddell High and assigned many of those neighborhoods to Harding, while moving the math-science magnet to nearby Berry Academy of Technology.
Discipline problems and crime reports at Harding soared during the fall. Many parents and supporters have worried that the school’s academic success would falter.
Normally, CMS releases its own test-score results before the state report. This year, with a new superintendent arriving and a new data chief just hired, it has provided no such details.
Boosting the graduation rate has been a top priority for CMS for the last five years, since district leaders acknowledged that previous years’ rates were inflated by inaccurate reporting. The CMS four-year graduation rate has risen from 66 percent in 2008 to 75 percent in 2012.
The CMS rate could get another boost in 2013, the first year the district is allowing students to graduate with 24 credits, instead of the current 28. The state requires only 20, but most districts add to that. The CMS board voted in 2009 to scale back the requirement for the freshmen who would start high school that year, in hopes it would help more students cross the finish line.
A detailed spreadsheet provided by the state Department of Public Instruction shows all groups of CMS have gained in the last five years, though the district remains below state averages for the minority and low-income students who make up the majority of CMS students.
For instance, the on-time graduation rate for CMS low-income students has risen steadily from just over 52 percent in 2008 to almost 69 percent this year. Statewide, about 75 percent of low-income students graduated on time in 2012.
Black students in CMS have gone from a 59 percent rate to 70 percent in the last five years, but remain below the state average of 75 percent. CMS Hispanic students rose from 55 percent to 64 percent, but trail the state average of 73 percent.
CMS’ white students, who account for about one-third of the student body, had a 77 percent on-time graduation rate in 2008, rising to 88 percent in 2010 and declining slightly for the last two years. In 2012, 85 percent of CMS white students graduated on time, topping the state average of 84 percent.
School rates ranged from 56 percent at West Charlotte to 99 percent at Cato Middle College High, a small, application-only school for upperclassmen that offers free college credits on a Central Piedmont Community College campus.
Hough, Rocky River, Ardrey Kell and Providence, full-size neighborhood high schools in the suburbs, topped 90 percent, as did Northwest School of the Arts, a magnet that draws students from across the county.
Despite the concerns about changes at Harding, the state report shows its graduation rate virtually unchanged at just over 88 percent. However, students who did not start at Harding are included in the tally only if they were on track to graduate when they arrived.