West Charlotte and Harding high schools saw dramatic plunges in the percent of students passing state exams in 2012, newly released state data shows.
Only 44 percent of the West Charlotte students who took algebra I, English I and biology last year passed the state exams, and only 38 percent of students performed as well as the state predicted they would. That performance would have landed West Charlotte on the state’s low-performing list, but the school fell short of the requirement to test at least 95 percent of students who took those courses.
At Harding, a traditionally high-performing magnet that merged last year with the low-scoring Waddell, 64 percent passed exams and 48 percent made expected progress.
Those results make West Charlotte and Harding the lowest-performing high schools in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. Both were omitted from last week’s state “ABCs of Public Education” report because they failed to test enough students. That requirement is designed to prevent schools from padding pass rates by keeping weak students away from the exams that are used to rate schools.
Only one other school statewide – a Banner Elk charter school serving abused children – was blocked from an ABC rating because it tested too few students.
Last week Deputy Superintendent Ann Clark said CMS would not release details about performance at the two schools, saying that “we’re going to follow the lead of DPI,” the state Department of Public Instruction. State officials provided the Observer with a spreadsheet listing specifics for all schools.
An Observer analysis of the data indicates that even if the roughly 200 West Charlotte students who did not take the exams had taken them and passed, West Charlotte would remain the district’s lowest-performing high school.
CMS officials have not yet been reached for comment Monday morning.
In 2011, West Charlotte had a 68 percent pass rate, with 63.5 percent of students making expected growth. The pass rates are not directly comparable, because the state eliminated exams from some higher-level courses in 2011-12. But the 2012 scores represent a reversal after years of efforts to boost performance at the high-poverty school. In 2005, a judge presiding over a statewide lawsuit on adequate public education accused West Charlotte and a handful of other CMS high schools of “academic genocide” and threatened to close them if pass rates didn’t improve.
The West Charlotte results also indicate a large number of students lack the basic skills for high school, as the public-private Project LIFT (for Leadership and Investment for Transformation) launches a $55 million, five-year push to transform West Charlotte and the eight schools that feed into it. The goal is a 90 percent graduation rate and significantly better academic results by 2017. In 2012, West Charlotte logged a 56 percent on-time graduation rate, up from 54 percent in 2011.
Shelton Jefferies, West Charlotte’s principal for the last three years, resigned at the end of the school year to take an administrative post in Union County Schools. CMS has hired John Wall Jr. from a Raleigh magnet school to take over at West Charlotte.
Mitzi Porter, last year’s West Charlotte PTSA president, said she had gotten no information about problems with academic performance or testing. “This is the first time I’ve heard about it,” she said Monday.
A different school
Harding’s slump was more predictable. As a magnet offering International Baccalaureate and math-science specialty programs in 2010-11, Harding logged a 94.5 percent proficiency rate, among the best in CMS. About 63 percent of students made expected growth that year – a measure designed to gauge whether schools are making gains with all students, from those who arrive behind grade level to those at the top.
During a sweeping review of schools that included concerns about a budget crisis and efforts to improve academics, CMS voted in 2010 to close about a dozen schools in 2011-12, including the struggling Waddell High. Harding’s math-science magnet moved to nearby Berry Academy of Technology. Harding nearly doubled its enrollment, taking neighborhood students from Waddell and West Mecklenburg High.
Harding’s graduation rate was virtually unchanged at 88 percent in 2012. But students who fell behind before they arrived at Harding don’t count in the school’s tally. Most struggling students get held back in ninth or 10th grade.
For the past year, CMS has grappled with questions about the reliability of its data. The district withdrew and revised its 2012 school progress reports after the Observer found errors and an internal review uncovered even more flaws.
The new report poses questions about what happened to students who should have taken state exams.
The state spreadsheet shows almost 1,600 West Charlotte students should have taken the algebra, freshman English and biology exams last year, but only 1,393 did, for a testing rate of 87 percent. Students who didn’t take the tests were counted as failures in calculating pass rates, said Kenneth Barbour of the N.C. DPI accountability department. However, students who passed algebra in eighth grade were added as passing scores.
If all the missing students had passed the exams, West Charlotte would have logged a pass rate around 58 percent.
Harding is listed as having given 1,486 tests, not quite 94 percent of approximately 1,583 students taking the courses.