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NCLB Outrages

ABC Results Show Gains But Some Teachers Lose Bonuses

State test scores released Thursday showed good news for most Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools students, but bad news for a number of teachers.

Districts also found mixed results throughout the Charlotte region and across the state.

In Charlotte-Mecklenburg, 33 of the district's 135 schools received top honors, up from 25 last year.

Overall, 83 CMS schools had at least 80 percent of their students hit grade level, up from 67 last year and 46 the year before.

But the district lost ground in the number of schools meeting their goals for raising students' performance -- 95 schools this year, down from 123 last year.

Missing this so-called growth goal -- which happened in many middle schools in CMS and statewide -- costs teachers in those schools bonuses ranging from $750 to $1,500.

And one CMS school, Phillip O. Berry Academy of Technology, was one of only two schools statewide to land on the "low-performing" list -- the lowest possible category. It was the first time in four years that CMS has had a "low-performing" school, meaning fewer than half the students scored on grade level and the school did not make its growth goal for raising test scores.

"The district has some very good things to say, and it has some things to deal with," said Assistant Superintendent Susan Agruso.

Across the state, more than 81 percent of students in grades 3-8 performed on grade level in math and reading, the best showing in the eight-year history of the ABC testing program.

But statewide, one school in four fell short of goals for academic growth. This year, 75 percent of schools hit state marks for improving student performance, down from 94 percent last year. Teachers in those schools will not get bonuses.

South Carolina releases its school ratings in September.

While many N.C. districts celebrated their pass rates, a growing number of education advocates have raised questions about the scores' validity.

State testing director Lou Fabrizio said lawmakers recently told him to hire outside experts to assess such things as whether the tests are tough enough and whether the formula for measuring growth is working well.

That evaluation is "great news and long overdue," said Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board member Larry Gauvreau, who has long called for such a review.

Fabrizio said he wasn't surprised by the statewide decline in schools' meeting growth goals. Last year's performance was extraordinarily high, and this year's level is more in line with previous years.

Contrary to what many think, though, rising pass rates shouldn't make it harder for schools to meet growth goals, Fabrizio said.

The state uses a complicated formula to calculate whether students have made at least a year's progress. A low-scoring student can make strong gains but still fall short of a grade-level score, while even high scorers shouldn't "top out" on the state exams.

"That's why there are lots of hard questions on the tests," said Agruso.

Across the Charlotte region, 28 high schools -- more than twice as many as last year -- were named Schools of Distinction, meaning they met their growth goals and had pass-rates of at least 80 percent.

But middle schools struggled to improve student performance. Consider:

Of the 29 middle schools in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, nine met or exceeded growth goals. Last year, 22 reached that mark.

Last year, all but three of Gaston's 11 middle schools made their growth goals. This year, none did.

Last year, all six of Union County's middle schools hit their growth goals. This year, four fell short.

"I wish I knew why," said Union County's Deputy Superintendent Bill Stegall. "That's one thing we'll be looking at."

State and local officials are also scrutinizing a trend they've known about for years: As sixth-graders move up to middle school, their reading and math scores slip.

One idea -- suggested Wednesday at a CMS school board meeting -- is to create mandatory summer programs and intense school-year support for some rising sixth-graders. The programs would be targeted at students with borderline test scores, low grades, attendance problems and other signs of trouble.

Statewide, middle-schoolers tend to perform lower on the ABC tests than elementary students. Many blame the often-uneasy transition from elementary to middle school.

Last year, state officials studied test scores at the handful of schools where sixth-graders don't switch schools -- such as CMS's Smith Language Academy, which has grades K-8. Sixth-graders at those schools were less likely to see their scores slump than peers who had moved to middle schools, said Fabrizio, the state testing director.

Berry's low ranking means it will get lots of attention this year.

A state team will be assigned to work with the faculty and staff, and CMS officials said the district is "marshaling forces."

Berry will continue offering tutorials after school and on Saturdays, and class lengths for math, English and science will be doubled for struggling students. Programs are being launched to increase parental involvement and boost student confidence. And an additional assistant principal will be added to focus only on curriculum and instruction, in a school where about 80 percent of the teachers have less than three years of experience.

"If we can't turn this around," said Principal David Baldaia, "I shouldn't be here." -- STAFF WRITERS EMILY S. ACHENBAUM, KAREN CIMINO, SCOTT VERNER, KATHRYN WELLIN AND JIM WRINN CONTRIBUTED.

— Peter Smolowitz & Ann Doss Helms
Charlotte Observer


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