Why a ‘D’ grade doesn’t represent our school

Cindy Pearson, a Shamrock Garden parent and member of the PTA, spoke Friday at an event pushing back against letter grades assigned to all North Carolina schools.
Cindy Pearson, a Shamrock Garden parent and member of the PTA, spoke Friday at an event pushing back against letter grades assigned to all North Carolina schools.

Cindy Pearson is a parent of a first-grader at Shamrock Gardens Elementary and a member of the schools’ Parent-Teacher Association. She gave these remarks at a meeting at Shamrock Gardens hosting several state legislators. The Observer has condensed them from the original version.

Like many families who face that looming school decision, my husband and I attended open houses, observed in classrooms, pored over school data online, lost a fair amount of sleep turning the decision through our minds, and finally chose a school we believed would provide a great education for our sons.

And, as many other families do for school, we moved.

In our case, instead of moving away from a high-poverty school, we moved to one , to Plaza Midwood, a neighborhood with a thriving school called Shamrock Gardens Elementary.

Well-intentioned friends asked, “Why would you sacrifice your sons’ education like that?”

From spending a lot of time exploring Shamrock Gardens, I knew that my children would receive a wonderful education here.

I saw from the data that children from middle income backgrounds at Shamrock were learning and testing as well as – often better than – their counterparts across the county. And children who entered school already “behind” were growing, often making more than a year of academic growth.

The PTA was a true partner in the work of the school, and the staff, students, and parents felt family-like connections with one another. So I knew – in answer to my friends’ questions – that the only sacrifices being made were by the teachers and staff who arrive early and work late, forfeiting time and better compensation to plan, prepare, and determine how to best teach each student in their classrooms.

But, as I’m sure you know, at a school with a high percentage of children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, the academic, physical, and emotional needs of children can feel overwhelming. It is important that they have families who can invest time and community connections to partner with them in the long journey of education. We wanted to join them in that effort.

These walls that house Shamrock Gardens Elementary were built long ago; but Shamrock School is a re-build – a true labor of love by all in our Shamrock family.

Now our statistics look like this: last year, 90.9 percent of Shamrock students met or exceeded a year’s worth of academic growth. By year-end, we anticipate that every kindergartner at our school will be reading on grade level or above.

Our magnet classrooms – where the majority of students still come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds – are passing end-of-grade proficiency tests at higher rates than peers at many of the other great schools in Charlotte.

Our students are logging these accomplishments even though many face enormous obstacles: poverty, homelessness, unstable families, English as their second language.

For our letter grade, Shamrock received a “D.” Given the current formula, this grade was not a shock to us; only an indication that something in this grading system is amiss.

In a school with one of the highest growth rates in the district, a school where every kindergarten will be reading on grade level, a school where our magnet scores are well above schools with higher letter grades, a school that has had a relatively fast trajectory upward, a “D” grade tells us that indeed, something in this grading system is amiss.

We’re not here today because we’re shocked by a letter grade. We track our data daily because it’s part of our equation for figuring out how we best educate all our students.

We’re not here today because we’re demoralized by a letter grade. Those of us within the school know it hasn't measured our work.

And we are not upset by a grade just because it doesn’t paint us in a pretty light.

What we see currently is a measure that veils the actual performance and trajectory of our schools.

That is not a best practice, and so along with you – for our 466 children and for all students in schools across North Carolina – we seek measures that inform our community, instruct you our representatives in our successes and our shortcomings, and encourage growth not only in our students but in our schools.