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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Almost 1 in 5 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools freshmen failed to pass enough classes last year to be promoted, according to a report on dropout rates going to the school board Tuesday.

At three high schools - West Charlotte, the now-closed Waddell and the small Garinger Business/Finance School - more than a third of ninth-graders were retained. Districtwide, just over 18 percent were.

To be promoted to 10th grade, students must pass at least six classes (a full course load is eight), and one of them must be English I, algebra I or biology, which are graduation requirements.
Ninth-grade retention is a major risk factor for failure to graduate on time, or at all. The school-by-school retention rates are among the newest and most startling numbers in a report on CMS graduation rates.

The district has made progress but remains well short of its goal of 90 percent graduating on time by 2014. Last year's four-year graduation rate was 74 percent, up from 70 percent in 2010. North Carolina's average was 78 percent.

The odds of earning a CMS diploma are linked to race and gender. On-time graduation rates range from 87 percent for white females to 58 percent for African-American males. But the report indicates African-American students have made bigger strides, with rates for males and females up 11 percentage points over 2009. White males and females gained two to three percentage points during that time.

This year, CMS plans to flag students at each school who are dropout risks, based on attendance, behavior, grades, ninth-grade retention and other factors. Principals are being trained on how to use that data to steer students toward programs such as credit recovery (special classes that let students retake the portions of required classes that tripped them up) or support services such as Communities In Schools.

Several schools also have truancy courts, designed to identify students who are piling up absences and see whether their families need support. And CMS is providing education to parents on helping their kids stay on track to graduate.

We have recognized ninth-grade promotion rate is a double-edged sword, said Chris Cobitz, the CMS official who calculated the school-by-school numbers. Promotion standards must be tough enough to be meaningful, he said, but a large number of students stalled in ninth-grade is a sign of trouble.

Most of the schools that look bad on the ninth-grade retention list also have low graduation rates and are in the midst of change, he said. Garinger, which had been split into five small schools, has been reconstituted as one. Waddell closed, and its students were sent to three other schools. Others, such as West Charlotte and Vance, have relatively new principals and are getting other support.

Seven of 30 non-alternative high schools promoted more than 90 percent of their ninth-graders, according to the report. Those included high-performing neighborhood schools, such as Providence, Ardrey Kell and Hough, and magnets such as Harding and Berry that didn't admit students who hadn't passed eighth-grade reading and math exams.

Three other schools - Northwest and Davis, both magnets, and the Garinger math/science school - had fewer than five students retained. CMS does not calculate rates in such cases because it's considered a breach of confidentiality, Cobitz said.

Meeting at 6 p.m. today

The graduation report will be part of today's meeting, which starts at 6 p.m. at the Government Center, 600 E. Fourth St. It will air live on CMS-TV 3 and online at .

Read the graduation report at http:// www .cms .k12 .nc .us /sites /agenda /Lists /Agenda %20Items /Attachments /823 /1 %20 -%20Graduation %20Cohort .pdf .

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