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Akron's I Promise School responds to low test scores: 'We're here for the ups and downs'

Ohio's report cards confirm I Promise's proficiency scores are among the lowest in the state, with the school's inaugural class from 2018-19 particularly struggling.

AKRON, Ohio — Officials from Akron's I Promise School have released statements responding to reports of low test scores from the inaugural class of third graders.

Of the initial children accepted into the school who started eighth grade classes on Monday, none has passed the math portion Ohio's proficiency test since they were all in the third grade back during the 2018-19 academic year. This matches official data from Ohio's latest school report cards from 2021-22, showing that inaugural class (in sixth grade at the time) indeed scored a 0% in math proficiency. The 2022-23 report cards will be released in the coming months, although Akron Public Schools administrators have already confirmed the class was at 0% in seventh grade, too.

On Monday morning, 3News was at the school as they welcomed students and staff back for the first day of the new school year. We asked Victoria McGee, senior director for the Lebron James Family Foundation, which helps support and run the school, about those test scores. 

"We believe our students are more than a test score," McGee said. "Yes, our students - yes, they come to us and they are behind, and we do our best. And we have some strategic things that we're putting in place to help our students move along the way. So we're excited."

She also added a new change coming to the school, in the form of new principal Stephanie Davis. 

“One of the major changes that we have is we have new leadership here, and we have a principal that we are so excited about," McGee said. "The experience, the knowledge, and expertise that she brings to I Promise School is just simply amazing.” 

The low test scores were a major topic at last Monday's Akron school board meeting, with some district leaders expressing disappointment given the amount of resources put into the I Promise School. While the facility is a public school and under the control of APS, it is operated with the support of the LeBron James Family Foundation with the goal of assisting at-risk youths who are considered two or more years behind grade levels, providing resources, incentives, academic, and emotional support to students and their families while they attend.

In its most recent report cards, the state gave I Promise just one star out of a possible five, indicating the school "needs significant support to meet state standards in academic achievement." 3News dug into the numbers and discovered the school's overall test scores are among the worst in Ohio:

Third grade

  • 6.6% proficiency in English language arts
  • 11.5% in math

Fourth grade

  • 5.9% in English language arts
  • 9.9% in math

Fifth grade

  • 7.1% in English language arts
  • 1.0% in math
  • 4.0% in science

Sixth grade

  • 3.1% in English language arts
  • 0.0% in math

Seventh grade

  • 8.2% in English language arts
  • 1.0% in math

By contrast, Ohio's lowest statewide figure in these subsets was a 45.6% in seventh-grade math. Akron Public Schools' overall scores were much lower than the state average, but still no worse than a 17.6% in seventh-grade math.

In a release sent to WKYC, the Lebron James Family Foundation, Principal of the I Promise School and Senior Director of the IPS Family Resource Center all spoke on the test scores as well as the challenges the school faced in during the COVID-19 pandemic and the disruption it caused to many students over that time period. It is worth noting that in the year before the pandemic (2018-19), the inaugural class of I Promise third graders scored 15.7% proficiency in English and 17.4% in math. Those numbers began to drop off during and after the pandemic, and that class wasn't even tested in 2020 while in the fourth grade.

The statements can be seen below:

LeBron James Family Foundation

"When we started this work to wraparound students through education, we entered this partnership with Akron Public School for the long haul. Because this work requires a long term commitment, hard work, and a lot of love and care. And that’s what we bring each and every day because the I Promise School is more than a school. We’re here for the ups and downs, and will continue to wraparound our students and their entire families so they can be successful in school and in life, no matter the challenges and obstacles that come their way.

"We’re incredibly excited about the upcoming school year and a return to consistency under the leadership of Principal Stephanie Davis, who is the perfect person to lead the I Promise School and all of our families to the success we know they will achieve. Because we will do it together, as a family."

New I Promise Principal Stephanie Davis

"One of the things I’m most excited about coming into the I Promise School is the optimism and energy around getting our students to a level of achievement we know they’re capable of. At the recent Board meeting, our preliminary OST data was shared, but it’s important to note that proficiency is based on mastering grade-level standards. Our students have not yet met the grade-level mastery mark but they are demonstrating growth based on iReady scores. Of our incoming 8th graders, 32% met their annual typical growth in reading while 11% met their stretch goal for the year. Despite not mastering the grade-level standards, 42% of students demonstrated growth in iReady math across their 7th grade school year. When working with students who are achieving below grade level, growth is as important as a measure of progress as proficiency. And the type of growth that is important to us is not made overnight. It takes time.

"I’m excited to bring my leadership to the I Promise School as we get back to our We Are Family roots. I believe that we are positioned with the right people doing the work to continue to grow our students academically, socially, and emotionally."

Victoria McGee, senior director of the IPS Family Resource Center

"At the I Promise School, we have the opportunity and the privilege of serving the students from across the Akron Public Schools district that need additional supports and resources. We’ve had triumphs and tribulations, including a global pandemic interrupting a critical point in this journey. But we are here, rolling up our sleeves and ready to work every single day. The positive energy and excitement for the upcoming school year is palpable with our teachers on campus this week preparing for our students to arrive on Monday. We can’t wait to continue seeing the growth that we know is happening here for our students and families."

On Monday, 3News reached out to the Akron public school district to request an interview. No one was available for an interview, and we have not yet received a statement. 3News also reached out to the Department of Education, and did not hear back. 

Acknowledgment: WKYC Studios has a partnership with the LeBron James Family Foundation and that we leverage our resources to provide opportunities for I Promise School students. For instance we have worked closely with the rising eighth graders who participate in the school’s news team to produce the 3 Questions segments.

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