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Schools improve in meeting No Child Left Behind standards, but don't be fooled

This year, 68 percent of 163 schools in CMS made what's called Adequate Yearly Progress under the No Child Left Behind Act. Last year just 23 percent of schools met the standard. The Act measures performance of all third through eighth grade students and high school juniors within each school. If just one student doesn't meet a benchmark set by federal standards, the entire school falls short of making progress. But this year, all the elementary students who failed end of year tests the first time received a second chance - thanks to a new state law that mandates retesting. Chris Cobitz oversees data analysis at CMS. He says this year the numbers really skewed upward. "It's a no loose situation. A student who doesn't pass the test in the first round is given a second attempt. And so it can't decrease test performance. It's can only increase test performance," he says. The pass rate at numerous schools jumped by 8 to 10 percent because of retesting. Cobitz says this makes for an apples to oranges comparison, yet it's accepted by No Child Left Behind. Cobitz says a handful of schools however, did well even if they did not include retest data. He says Shamrock Gardens Elementary, in particular made it even without retest figures. The struggling school missed the standard for six years straight before this year. The district expects AYP numbers to tumble next year because they'll be compared to this year's results. Union, Gaston, Iredell and Cabarrus county schools all saw significant increases from last year in the number of schools that met AYP. Cabarrus County Schools saw one of the area's highest jumps. Last year, six out of the district's 34 schools passed. This year the number of schools that passed nearly quadrupled. Sonny Pruett, Cabarrus County Schools' Director of Accountability, says that's not necessarily a cause for celebrating. "We certainly do not want to take away from the teacher efforts to improve the students' proficiency, but in terms of the large jump I would say the primary reason was because of the re-test," Pruett says. In Gaston County, 35 out of 53 schools made AYP, compared to nine last year. Bonnie Reidy, a spokeswoman for Gaston County Schools says re-testing was a factor, but notes that nearly all schools in the district performed better this year on the first try. Iredelle-Statesville Schools went from a 49 percent pass rate last year to a 79 percent pass rate this year. And nearly 82 percent of Union County Schools made the grade, which the district says places it at the top of the eight largest school systems in the state. Students at North Carolina's 97 charters schools are also graded for Adequate Yearly Progress. In Mecklenburg County, eight of 11 charter schools met AYP standards. The three that did not meet AYP standards are Charlotte Secondary, Crossroads Charter High School and Kennedy Charter Public School.