Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Billingsville tops Washam? Maps give new twist

MeckEd has updated its map of CMS schools to add data on the percentage of students who made at least a year's gains on state reading and math exams last year, and the results can be surprising. Some high-scoring schools, such as Washam Elementary in Cornelius, fared poorly on those measures, while the low-scoring Billingsville landed near the top on the growth list.

That's because a school like Washam starts the year with most students performing at or above grade level. Those students are likely to stay in the "passing" category,  leading to a high proficiency score (87 percent last year)  even if their scores don't advance as much as expected.  Billingsville, where most kids are poor and some are homeless or refugees,  has the opposite situation:  Even if teachers help them make a year's progress or more,  the students may still fall short of grade level at year's end (last year's pass rate was just under 50 percent).

Bill Anderson,  a former CMS principal who heads MeckEd,  calls the growth ratings one of the most important measures of school success.  The UNC Charlotte Urban Institute worked with MeckEd,  a nonprofit information and advocacy group,  to map the state growth data for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. They included the percent of all students who made a year's gains in reading and math,  and a separate breakout for the students at each school who were on grade level when they arrived.  Anderson said the second measure is designed to provide a look at how stronger students fare at each school.

At Billingsville,  for instance,  only 45 percent of all students made a year's gains in reading, but almost 82 percent of those who were reading on grade level made those gains.  In math,  86 percent of all students and 96 percent of those who started on grade level made a year's growth.

One thing that jumps out,  especially for middle schools,  is the profusion of red dots on the MeckEd maps. The group decided to use the red label for any school where fewer than 70 percent of students logged a year's growth,  with yellow and green for higher levels.  Anderson said that's not intended to pass any kind of judgment on schools, but to get discussion started:  "MeckEd's goal is to provide objective,  clear information."

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