State Test Results
State test scores highlight continuing challenges in reading, progress in science
EL students show large gains; changes in methodology affect graduation, other indicators
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools saw overall results on state tests essentially flat, with advances in college- and career-ready science scores, and declines in literacy scores for the 2017-2018 year. Three-fourths (75.1 percent) of the district’s schools met or exceeded growth expectations, compared to 72.6 percent a year earlier.
The state announced changes in calculations that affected scores, pushing most downward. Areas with changes included how the cohort graduation rates are calculated, how eighth-grade scores in math are grouped, the population of English Learners (EL) whose scores are counted in test results, WorkKeys assessments for CTE students and ACT scores.
For CMS, the percentage of students testing at or above grade-level proficiency declined 2.1 points in reading for grades three through eight and stayed flat in science for grades five and eight. Changes in the math calculation for 2017-2018 made accurate year-over-year comparisons impossible. In reading, scores declined across subgroups.
However, EL students showed strong progress over one year in many areas. The EL graduation rate increased to 62.6 percent from 59.9 percent a year earlier. In reading for grades three through eight, 23.2 percent of EL students were college- and career-ready, compared to 11.2 percent a year earlier. In science for grades five and eight, 44.7 percent of EL students were college- and career-ready, compared to 20.3 percent a year earlier. And in English II, EL students were the only subgroup with increases: 15.7 percent of EL students were college- and career-ready, compared to 5 percent a year earlier. (It should be noted, however, that the calculations for EL students were changed in 2017-2018.)
“Equity is good for everyone – we must be clear about our challenges to create real change. The changes to the state testing calculations will help us over time because the challenges we face as a district are very clear,” said Dr. Clayton Wilcox, superintendent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. “The Breaking the Link study already showed us that we are not meeting the needs of our poor, Hispanic and black students, and these test results echo that conclusion, particularly in reading and English II. The results add to the urgency to focus on what matters most – building equity through a strong, viable curriculum at every school and rigor and consistency across the district. This emphasis on equity is at the core of the new 2024 strategic plan.”
Dr. Wilcox said that the district had begun looking at the instructional model for teaching reading in the early grades after seeing declines last year and would continue to investigate how to strengthen the curriculum in all reading and language-arts classes as a part of the newly released 2024 CMS Strategic Plan entitled What Matters Most. Many of the academic efforts driven by What Matters Most will be led by Brian Kingsley, the district’s new chief academic officer.
College- and career-readiness rates measure the percentage of students who scored a 4 or a 5 on the state tests (5 is the highest score possible). In English II, all subgroups showed a decline in scores. The largest declines were 4 points for Hispanic students, 3.8 points for black students and 3.5 points for economically disadvantaged students. White students’ scores declined by 2.7 points and Asian students by 2.1 points.
By contrast, college- and career-readiness rates increased in all subgroups in science for grades five and eight, with the largest gains recorded by black and Hispanic students. “This is how you close gaps,” said Dr. Frank Barnes, the district’s chief equity officer. “You move everyone ahead, with the ones farthest behind moving the most.” Black students showed a gain of 2.2 points, Hispanic students 1.6 points, students with disabilities 1.7 points, economically disadvantaged students 0.8 points. White and Asian students both showed gains of 0.4 points.
The changes in the math score calculations are likely to lower scores in the immediate future, district officials said. There will now be two categories of math scores: Math 8 (including students who take Math I in middle school) and Math 9-12. Because the early takers of Math I are usually top performers in math, it is possible that their inclusion in the overall math calculation has served to mask the poor performance of less advanced students and inflate the overall scores. Starting in 2017-2018, eighth-graders no longer take two tests; they take either the Math 8 EOG or Math I EOC.
The district’s graduation rate also declined, in part because of a change in calculation. Formerly, students who came into high school behind on credits needed to graduate – called students “off track” – were not counted in the cohort graduation rate. Starting in 2017-2018, they are included in the calculation. The CMS graduation rate dipped to 85.1 in 2018 from 89.4 in 2017. CMS calculates that had the same calculation been applied in 2018 as was used in 2017, the decline would have been less – to 88.1 percent.
In school performance grades, the state dropped the A+ designation, using only an A instead. CMS had 19 A schools, 48 B schools, 60 C schools, 38 D schools and 10 F schools. The number of B and C schools each increased, D schools decreased by one, and F schools increased to 10 from 5 a year earlier.
“Everyone should remember that our kids are not just test scores, and our schools are defined by much more than letter grades,” said Dr. Wilcox. “We will continue to advocate for a more balanced assessment that weighs growth and proficiency in a more balanced way, which is important in a large urban district where students face so many challenges coming into school – we must find ways for their progress to be a source of inspiration and a reflection of the real teaching and learning taking place in our schools.”
There were also additions to the state accountability model. The state has adopted a federal requirement that each state set 10-year targets to improve literacy scores in grades three through eight and in grade 10; to improve math scores in grades three through eight and grade 11; to improve the cohort graduation rate; and to improve academic results of English Learners. In North Carolina, the targets are set by the Department of Public Instruction based on the 2015-2016 results.
The state is also adding school performance grades for each subgroup (where there are more than 30 students of that group in a school) to the existing overall school performance grade. The subgroups are white, black, Asian, Hispanic, multi-racial and Native American, students with disabilities, English Learners and economically disadvantaged students.