Education

Shamrock Gardens pushes back on school letter grades

The hallway of Shamrock Gardens Elementary is decorated with letters students wrote to Charlotte legislators to encourage them to come to their school. North Carolina legislators visited the school to have a discussion with parents and CMS teachers about how the state-issued letter grade given to each North Carolina school doesn’t reflect progress at their campus.
The hallway of Shamrock Gardens Elementary is decorated with letters students wrote to Charlotte legislators to encourage them to come to their school. North Carolina legislators visited the school to have a discussion with parents and CMS teachers about how the state-issued letter grade given to each North Carolina school doesn’t reflect progress at their campus. ogaines@charlotteobserver.com

After their school received a “D” grade from the state, parents at Shamrock Gardens Elementary are saying the low mark doesn’t represent the progress they’ve made over the past decade.

Leaders of the school’s PTA invited members of the N.C. legislature to tour the school Friday and hear about why they don’t believe the state’s system of rating campuses is fair.

“Letter grades mostly tell us the socio-economics of the school,” said Cindy Pearson, a parent and member of the PTA. “It’s actually veiled what’s happened in our school.”

Every school in North Carolina was assigned a letter grade for the first time in early February, the product of a state law designed to increase accountability for school performance. Schools are graded primarily based on what percentage of their students are proficient in reading and math. A small part of the grade is based on whether student scores are increasing.

Schools with high concentrations of low-income students tend to perform poorly. Schools with more affluent populations score better.

The formula used puts Shamrock Gardens at a disadvantage.

In 1997, the state took over operation of the school amid persistent low performance. As recently as the mid-2000s, parents in the Plaza Midwood area tended to do whatever they could to keep their children from attending, several parents said Friday.

But in the last few years, more affluent parents have been sending their children to school there. Test scores have increased, and this year more than 90 percent of students improved their performance by more than a grade level in a year.

“The walls that house Shamrock Gardens were built a long time ago,” Pearson said. “But this school is a rebuild.”

State Sen. Jeff Jackson and Rep. Tricia Cotham, both Mecklenburg Democrats, attended the meeting – and both have been vocal opponents of the school letter grade formula.

Cotham, a former Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools administrator, said she would introduce legislation during this session of the General Assembly that would change the formula to better represent student growth.

“I know the damaging effect this has on the school culture,” she said.

Dunn: 704-358-5235;

Twitter: @andrew_dunn

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