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CMS plan for meeting 2024 graduation goal: Drop the bar to match reality

Graduates stream out of Bojangles Coliseum Tuesday after Central Piedmont Community College's first winter commencement.
Darnell L. Vennie
Central Piedmont Community College
CMS graduates celebrate after commencement in winter 2022.

It’s long been clear that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has no chance of meeting the school board’s goal for having graduates prepared for college and careers by 2024.

On Tuesday the board reviewed a proposal for making that goal more attainable — by dropping the target to something that’s in line with current achievement levels.

The problem, according to Superintendent Crystal Hill, is that previous boards chose a deeply flawed data point — state diploma endorsements — to measure an important aspiration.

“I believe what the board was going after, and we all agree on, was, ‘Are kids ready when they graduate?’ But the measure of (whether they are) ready when they graduate is not a diploma endorsement,” she said Tuesday.

Hill, who became superintendent this summer, wasn’t working for CMS when the board set its six-year academic goals in 2018, or when the board revised them in 2021. In January, when Hill was interim superintendent, she told members the goal of having 75% of graduates earn state endorsements by 2024 was based on faulty data and a meaningless label.

Hill’s proposal, outlined in a report included with Tuesday’s board agenda, calls for changing the 2024 goal to 37% graduating with endorsements. That’s the level that CMS graduates hit in 2022 and 2023, and it’s in line with projections for 2024.

Hill said there’s little the district can do to dramatically change that outcome, given that it applies to seniors who took their ACT exams last year.

State endorsements recognize achievements like a high grade-point average, strong ACT scores, proficiency in world languages or a concentration of career-tech classes — all things that Hill said are valuable. But the endorsement itself can be derailed by such things as falling a couple of points short on the reading portion of the ACT.

And Hill, the mother of a senior, said colleges don’t care about state endorsements. So students are not motivated to take extra measures, such as retaking the ACT, to earn that recognition.

“Nobody is asking the question, ‘What endorsement are you getting when you graduate?’ Kids get stickers and they don’t know what to do with those stickers,” she said.

But she said CMS has several strategies to help prepare students for college and careers, including a campaign to make them more aware of the importance of a high GPA and hiring college and career coaches to help students enroll and succeed in the right classes.

Board members did not vote on changing the goal Tuesday — or even mention Hill’s proposal in its discussion of progress toward the goal. They are still working on a better way to measure readiness for college and careers in the coming five years.

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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.