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CMS seniors aren’t meeting goals, but district leaders question what the numbers mean

Students throw their caps in the air ahead of their graduation ceremony at the Royal Festival Hall in London, England.
Students at a graduation ceremony.

High school seniors in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools are far below the school board’s goal for making sure they’re ready for life after graduation. But district leaders said Tuesday that CMS might be looking at the wrong data.

One of the board’s goals has to do with what’s known as endorsements — recognition from the state that a graduate has not only met the minimum requirements but has gone beyond to demonstrate readiness for college and/or a career.

Only 39% of this year’s seniors are expected to earn endorsements — far short of the board’s goal of 70% this year and 75% next year.


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Some of those endorsements require a minimum score on the ACT or SAT college readiness exams. The update presented to the board says those minimum scores are “a relatively new addition” that thwarted more than half the seniors statewide who otherwise would have been eligible.

The report also notes that many colleges and universities have made SAT and ACT scores optional in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, which can “create a disincentive for students to take the exams seriously.”

Several board members said they think it’s important to make sure high school students get rigorous preparation for life after graduation, but questioned the use of ACT scores.

“Are we looking at the right metrics to measure whether a student is graduating ready for what’s next?” board Chair Elyse Dashew asked Interim Superintendent Crystal Hill.

“As it stands right now and the way that the endorsements are lined up, I would say no. It does not capture what all students can and should be able to do,” Hill said.

She said there are three key measures of success for graduates: “Are they employable? Are they enrolled in post-secondary education? Or are they enlisted?”

But she noted that it’s difficult to track what graduates do after they leave the school system. She said the state is working on a new “Portrait of a Graduate” measure of success, but for now all North Carolina juniors must take the ACT. And the state still uses those scores to grade schools — and as a measure of whether to award those endorsements.

Tuesday’s report is part of the CMS board’s ongoing effort to identify a few key academic goals and publicly track progress. The district has also struggled to meet goals for younger students, such as third-grade reading and high school Math I scores.

The report on endorsements notes that when the board first identified endorsements as a benchmark to measure the final outcomes for students, the available data was unreliable. That has been corrected, but Hill says the peak level of 51.7% in 2021 is “a false positive.” Seniors who graduated in 2021 were juniors when the pandemic hit, so ACT exams were canceled and didn’t count toward endorsements.

The board’s current goals run through 2024. Dashew noted that the board will soon begin updating its strategic plan.

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Ann Doss Helms has covered education in the Charlotte area for over 20 years, first at The Charlotte Observer and then at WFAE. Reach her at ahelms@wfae.org or 704-926-3859.