If CMS sticks with the test-score requirements that are posted on the web site, a whole lot of students could find themselves shut out of IB, math/science and world languages magnets next year.
Those magnets require grade-level scores on end-of-year state exams. In years past, that screened out a relatively small percentage of students who weren't ready to keep up with advanced academic programs.
This year a whole lot more students, in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and across North Carolina, fell below grade level on new tests designed to measure more complex skills. If the 2013 trends hold for 2014, about three-quarters of black and low-income students could find themselves ineligible for some of the most popular and rigorous magnets.
There's no way CMS will let that happen. Some cities have highly competitive academic magnets, but CMS magnets have always been designed as an open system, serving the largest possible number of students who can do the work.
CMS seems to be scrambling to get ready for the Jan. 11 start of the 2014-15 application period. The school board, which normally has its work done by November, gave itself an extra month to approve new programs for the coming school year, and will vote on 12 of them Wednesday.
Magnet director Jeff Linker retired this summer and has been replaced by Akeshia Craven-Howell, executive director of the CMS transformation office. She didn't respond to my request for information about the admission requirements Monday.
Best I can tell, some families in southwest Mecklenburg will get letters in January telling them their kids are assigned to an unnamed elementary school. The board normally names new schools before the application season begins, but there's nothing on the agenda to name the "Winget Park relief school" in the Palisades area. There's an engineering magnet at that school up for a vote, and it's unclear how that will be described on the menu of options.
It's not clear whether CMS will have school data online on time for parents to do their research, and some schools may be glad of that. The lower scores on the 2013 exams pose a marketing hurdle for schools like Cochrane (17.6 percent overall proficiency) and McClintock (23.1 percent) that will be trying to persuade high-performing students to apply for seats. And yes, all of us in the public are still waiting for enrollment numbers, poverty levels and demographic data, which has been delayed by PowerSchool problems.
We'll soon see how some of these issues are handled. CMS has promised to have magnet lottery instruction letters in homes the first week of January.