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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The updated North Carolina school report cards are out, bearing a wealth of data for families who are thinking about where their kids should go to school next year.

School safety is always a big question, and these reports offer a couple of key data points. The most meaningful one in my eyes is the short-term suspension rate (once you've gone to a school's report card, click the Safe, Orderly & Caring Schools tab).

These numbers always remind me of the time a teacher friend called to chew me out: You've listed some schools as having more than 100 suspensions per 100 students. That's obviously wrong. You'd think so, but sadly, every year some Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools have so many repeat offenders that they end up with more suspensions than students. This year I checked CMS high schools and found West Charlotte with 176 suspensions per 100 students and Harding with 157 (on the low end were Providence with 4.56 and Ardrey Kell with 7.55).

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know what's coming next: Numbers never tell the full story, but they help you ask good questions. Low suspension rates can indicate a principal is overlooking offenses to make the numbers look good. High ones may signal a faculty that's cracking down to change a culture. But when suspension rates are high, parents and students deserve good answers about what's going on.

The more eye-catching number is the one at the top of the safety page: The number and rate of criminal and violent acts at each school. My quibble is that it takes too long to compile and report this data. The numbers you're looking at in late 2012, potentially to judge school selections for 2013-14, are from the 2010-11 school year. This is also a category where you definitely want to get beyond raw numbers. Here's the state report that breaks down the type of offenses at each school. Even then, ask more questions about what happened and how it was handled. Assault on school personnel, for instance, can be anything from a teen attacking a teacher to a kindergartener lashing out during a tantrum.

There are detailed breakdown of test scores under the High Student Performance tab. They're pretty self-explanatory. One warning: The numbers listed under the end-of-grade performance breakdown for elementary and middle schools won't match the more familiar composite score. The composite is the combined pass rate for reading, math and science. The report-card breakdown lists the percent of students who passed both reading and math, which is almost always lower. That's arguably the best measure of students who are ready to move up to the next grade; it just tends to make me do a double-take.

The Quality Teachers tab offers a lot of data about credentials and experience. I'm not convinced it tells much about how good the faculty really is, but it's worth knowing.

The district report card, found by clicking the district name at the top of the list of schools, offers some additional information, such as the principal turnover rate. With all the talk about CMS principal churn last year, I was curious how that would look. The tally shows 15 percent of principals left the district in 2011-12, up from 9 percent the previous year. That's well over the state average of 11 percent and Wake County's 8 percent rate. But it's close to the turnover rates for Union County (14 percent) and Guilford County (13 percent).

Read more here: http://obsyourschools.blogspot.com/2012/11/how-safe-is-your-school.html#storylink=cpy

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