Last year's CMS seniors didn't log any math gains on the SAT, but the folks who run the district made a big step forward in demonstrating their own ability to report numbers.
When the College Board released its 2013 SAT report today, I downloaded the school by school report from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction and looked at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools news release.
The numbers for CMS didn't match.
That's not the surprise. As many of you know, there have been instances in years past when CMS numbers didn't add up. And too often, the people who released those numbers weren't prepared to explain.
Today, Chief Accountability Officer Frank Barnes was ready. Before the scores went public his staff had checked the data they got from the College Board against the state report and caught a problem: The state report didn't include Garinger High.
That omission made CMS look better. Without the 142 tests from Garinger, the CMS average was 1480, one point above the state average. With them, CMS fell to 1473 (still a 10-point gain over 2012).
The CMS news release used the lower and more accurate scores. It discussed the possibility that lower participation might have contributed to gains. It mentioned that a school was missing from the state report -- and when I asked Barnes what Garinger's score was he gave it to me, even though the score of 1218 out of a possible 2400 was second-lowest in CMS. He said he's working with state officials to get the Garinger scores added to state calculations.
"We wanted to report what we knew to be true, even if it was lower than the state report," Barnes said.
All of this adds up to a promising sign that Superintendent Heath Morrison is delivering on his promise to make sure numbers are correct before they're released and to be honest about strengths and shortcomings.
Morrison was hired in 2012, as CMS was grappling with the embarrassment of badly botched school progress reports. The first time I talked to him, he said he was going to create systems to avoid such errors and provide honest explanations if mistakes did happen.
The first few weeks brought stumbles. When state exam results were released in August 2012, CMS declined to release results for West Charlotte and Harding high schools, which were not given a state rating because they didn't test enough students. The result: A front-page story when I got the numbers from the state and they turned out to be the two lowest-performing schools in the district.
Since then it's been hard to judge. Changes in state testing have delayed the exam results that usually land in the summer. CMS still hasn't launched its own school ratings, trying to make sure they mesh with a state system that's in flux.
The big test will come in November, when the state releases 2013 exam results. It looks like CMS may be ready.