Raising the bar for student success 
 
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools reported district results above the North Carolina average on the new state tests linked to the Common Core standards. The release of the 2012-2013 results Nov. 7 marked the first scores on the new tests, which significantly raise the level of rigor to better prepare students to graduate college- and career-ready.

“Our most important task is to make sure that every student leaves Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools prepared for the next step, whether that is college, a career or the military,” said Dr. Heath E. Morrison, superintendent. “By increasing the level of rigor, the new Common Core State Standards will help us better prepare students to be globally competitive.”

The new state standards are designed to ensure students graduate from high school college- and career-ready by requiring more higher-level, critical skills in reading, math and science.  The new standards focus on these skills, rather than memorization of knowledge. Because the tests are so different from previous years, comparing scores from earlier tests to these is not an apples-to-apples comparison.

The new tests replace the End-of-Course and End-of-Grade assessments given across the state in earlier years. New, more rigorous standards aligned with the Common Core State Standards were applied by all schools in all subjects last year and the tests, which are also new this year, are intended to measure student mastery of those standards.

The new tests also set a new baseline, with higher scores required to earn a rating of proficient or above. Dr. Morrison said that the most important aspect of the new tests was that they measure the higher-level, critical skills that students will need to succeed after high school.  

“We’re asking students to learn not just more things, but more complex things –and it will take time for our students to adjust to this new way of learning and testing,” Dr. Morrison said.

Four other states which have adopted Common Core State Standards since 2010 are Tennessee, Kentucky, New York and Florida. In all of those states, student proficiency levels declined after the standards were adopted – and the experience in North Carolina appears to be similar.  North Carolina students in grade three through eight are tested in reading and math, and in five and eight in science. These are the End-of-Grade tests. In high school, students are tested in Math I, English II and biology. These are the End-of-Course tests.

Statewide, overall proficiency rates declined on the 2012-2013 assessments, with achievement gaps between groups of students increasing. Results were similar for CMS, although the district’s results were better than state averages.

In CMS, 46.4 percent of students in grades three through eight were proficient in math, compared to 42.3 percent for the state as a whole. In reading, 45.5 percent of students in grades three through eight were proficient, compared to 43.9 for the state as a whole. In science, 53.5 percent of students in grades five and eight were proficient, compared to 52.2 percent for the state as a whole.

For high school students, the numbers for CMS were also higher than the state averages. In Math I, 45.4 percent of CMS students were proficient, compared to 42.6 for the state as a whole. In English II, 53.2 percent of CMS students were proficient, compared to 51.1 for the state as a whole. In biology, 47.2 percent of CMS students were proficient, compared to 45.5 for the state as a whole.

“We want to see much higher numbers for our students,” said Dr. Morrison. “However, we take some encouragement from the fact that we’re outscoring the state average because it means we are already successfully teaching some students to the new standards. Now we must focus on making sure that every student in every class masters the new material aligned to the Common Core State Standards.”

In addition to individual and composite scores on state tests, North Carolina also measures growth in each school. Student academic growth is put into one of three categories: did not make expected growth, made expected growth or exceeded expected growth. The standard is roughly equivalent to a year’s worth of expected growth for a year’s worth of instruction.

In CMS, growth was measured at 156 schools. There were 127 schools that met or exceeded growth expectations, or 81.4 percent of all schools measured.

An area of particular concern for the district is the academic performance of individual subgroups – groups of students sorted by race/ethnicity, income level, knowledge of English or academic ability. Disaggregating scores by subgroups allows a clearer view of academic performance in each group.

Under the new Common Core State Standards, gaps between subgroups widened significantly, particularly between white and Asian students and their black and Hispanic classmates. Similar widening gaps were reported between white and Asian students and students who are economically disadvantaged, in special education or learning English. Gaps ranged from nearly 30 points to more than 50 points. In math for grades three through eight, for example, 72.5 percent of white students were proficient and 69.6 of Asian students – but only 27.6 percent of black students and 36.4 percent of Hispanic students were proficient. Similar gaps were reported in high school testing.

 “We have some programs in place to help students who are falling behind and we will use these test results to help us identify who needs more help and the best way to deliver it,” Dr. Morrison said. “We will work with our teachers to increase support for them, with job-embedded, differentiated professional development and tangible tools that can be used tomorrow. We will also provide direct support for students, with targeted interventions, increased time for extra help and consistent monitoring of student performance.”

The district also plans to foster a culture of high engagement and cultural competency, with internal collaboration and cross-functional partnering to increase efficiency and effectiveness. Central and school-based resources will be aligned to maximize student support, and the district will develop a menu of strategies to stretch learning in all schools, with attention to chronically underperforming schools.

“Our Strategic Plan 2018: For a Better Tomorrow is aligned with these new higher standards for student learning,” Dr. Morrison said. “The plan focuses on academic growth and high academic achievement, with emphasis on strengthening professional development for teachers and enhancing family engagement and partnerships to nurture student success.”

To see a slide presentation highlighting district test results, click here and view a video message from Superintendent Morrison.