Local

NC families lack key tool for picking schools this year. The state blames a hurricane.

A little over a year ago, North Carolina officials proudly unveiled revamped school report cards that Superintendent Mark Johnson described as “the kind of information (parents) need, in an accessible format we can understand.”

Data about each school’s academic performance, teacher qualifications and school climate can be especially helpful to families deciding whether to apply for magnet, charter or private schools.

But this year’s data won’t be posted until after most such applications close, state officials said this week.

“Because of (school districts) and charter schools that have been impacted by Hurricane Florence, DPI has delayed the release of the 2017-18 NC School Report Cards until later this winter. The timing remains a little uncertain – looks like late February or March,” Todd Silberman, a spokesman for the Department of Public Instruction, said in an email.

Most opt-in schools are taking applications for 2019-20 now, and many will be finished by the end of January. For instance, Jan. 7 is the deadline for the first round of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools “choice lottery.” Wake County Public Schools’ applications for magnet and year-round schools close on Jan. 30, and Durham’s magnet lottery runs through Jan. 31.

The federal Every Student Succeeds Act set a Dec. 31 deadline for posting school report cards, starting with the current year, but Congress later revoked that deadline.

For school-shopping families, that leaves two options: Rely on 2016-17 data in North Carolina’s school report cards, found at ncreportcards.ondemand.sas.com/src, or scour through state and local sites in search of 2017-18 reports.

For instance, test scores, graduation rates and other academic data can be found by downloading spreadsheets from www.ncpublicschools.org/accountability/reporting. Reports on school crime and violence are at www.ncpublicschools.org/research/discipline/reports, but haven’t been updated for 2017-18.

Using some district websites can be challenging as well.

For instance, CMS created a Performance Dashboard (linked at the top of the CMS web page, www.cms.k12.nc.us) that allows school comparisons on enrollment, demographics, graduation rates, test results, chronic absenteeism and suspensions. However, getting all the data for any one school requires several searches.

And while the School Progress Reports linked from a list of CMS resources on individual school website might sound promising, the link goes to reports CMS discontinued in 2012.

Chief Communications Officer Tracy Russ said the district is revamping its website, which will include removing outdated links and making current information easier to use.

Wake, however, has current and easy-to-read school progress reports at www.wcpss.net/Page/5055.

Wake created those reports due to concerns that the A through F school performance grades on the state’s report card don’t paint a true reflection of how individual schools are doing. Critics complain that the A-F system unfairly punishes high-poverty schools, which on average have lower test scores.

While data can help families make informed decisions and ask good questions, school visits are even more important.

Many Wake County schools, not just magnet schools and year-round schools, are holding open houses in January. Go to https://bit.ly/2VtehXP to view a list of dates for each school.

Wake families can go to https://magnet.wcpss.net/apply/ to submit a magnet school and/or year-round school application.

Information about applying for CMS schools is at www.cms.k12.nc.us/cmsdepartments/StudentPlacement.

Related stories from Raleigh News & Observer

Ann Doss Helms has covered education for the Observer since 2002, long enough to watch a generation of kids go from preK to college. She is a repeat winner of the North Carolina Press Association’s education reporting award.
  Comments