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Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) is moving closer to finalizing a plan to evaluate schoolhouse performance — and reward success with greater autonomy from the central office.

“We are sending a signal, first and foremost to the schoolhouse, but also to our community, about things that are important indicators of success.”

The plan, which CMS calls an “accountability framework,” was among the recommendations of one of the 22 task forces assembled in 2012 by then-Superintendent Heath Morrison. It is designed to track eight different indicators — such as academic proficiency, achievement gaps, and post-graduation readiness — in order to measure school performance.

“We are sending a signal, first and foremost to the schoolhouse, but also to our community, about things that are important indicators of success,” said CMS Deputy Superintendent Ann Clark. District staff presented an outline of the framework to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education last week for feedback.

In addition to being a barometer of progress, the accountability framework is intended to be something of a carrot for schools; if they perform well against the grading scale, they can earn rewards, such as funding for extra staff positions. “We would hope this creates this opportunity for earned autonomy,” Clark said.

Measuring school performance is tricky, educators say, because so many factors influence progress. Consider this mock scenario: Red High School has a graduation rate of 96 percent, but a 35-point achievement gap between white and minority students. Blue High School has a graduation rate of 80 percent but a 10-point achievement gap. Which school is successful? Are they both successful?

That was the quandary the 22-person Accountability Framework Task Force dealt with during their initial review of the concept. “One size doesn’t fit all kids, and one size would not fit all schools, either,” said Frank Barnes, CMS’ chief accountability officer. Barnes led the citizen task force in 2012 and is responsible for developing the framework at the central office. “For some of our schools, in some of our communities, the students are far behind when they come to us.”

To date, the CMS framework would evaluate schools on:

  • Academic proficiency
  • Growth
  • Performance of not-yet-proficient students in elementary schools and middle schools
  • Closing achievement gaps
  • Four-year cohort graduation rate (high school only)
  • Rigor
  • College- and career readiness
  • School culture

CMS plans to monitor achievement gaps between males and females, black students and white students, Hispanics and non-Hispanics, Exceptional Children and non-EC students, and economically disadvantaged and non-economically disadvantaged students.

Rigor, Barnes told the school board, includes analysis of Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses, among others. “We will be looking at both access to these and being able to do well in these courses,” he said.

The final category, school culture, will report data on suspensions and chronic absenteeism, along with surveys of students and teachers. “There are some things that aren’t a test score but still have an impact on the quality of experience in a school building,” Barnes said.

CMS is still working to determine how to weight each performance area.

CMS is still working to determine how to weight each performance area. Some parents would prefer the district not focus heavily on test scores to prevent “teaching to the test.” The district also needs guidance from principals and the school board about the incentives — CMS calls them “freedoms and flexibilities” — that successful schools could earn.

The development of this framework comes as the state prepares to release for the first time its North Carolina School Performance Grades — letter and number grades based on academic proficiency and growth. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board has previously said it is concerned with the way the state report card will be calculated. Board members say schools making strong academic progress will not be rewarded as well as schools that already demonstrate high proficiency.

Clark and Barnes stressed that the CMS school evaluations are not intended to supplant or diminish the state grades.

“We are very clear that performance, proficiency and growth are our core metrics,” Clark said.

Adam Rhew

Adam Rhew attended Beverly Woods Elementary, Carmel Middle, and South Mecklenburg High schools, all part of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. He earned a journalism and political science degree from UNC-Chapel Hill. He is a contributor to Southern Living, Charlotte magazine, and SBNation Longform, among other publications. Previously, Adam was an award-winning television and radio news reporter, with stops at stations in Chapel Hill, N.C., Charlottesville and Richmond, Va., and Charlotte, N.C.