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Charter schools suffer setbacks from pandemic

While the numbers on recently issued state report cards are encouraging for the Mahoning Valley’s charter schools, they have not been immune from similar struggles that have plagued area public schools as they try to retain pre-pandemic test scores.

Charter schools in Youngstown, however, as a whole are slightly outperforming the Youngstown City School District in areas of progress and achievement, when averaging the eight Youngstown charter schools’ scores on the Ohio Report Card. They are on par with each other for early literacy and gap closing.

The city schools, however, have close to 5,000 students while the charters have more than 2,000.

There’s also a significant gap in attendance rating with charter students at 84.85 percent attendance, compared with YCSD’s 79.4 percent attendance.

YCSD’s highest rated category, gap closing, received three stars, a bright spot for the district, Deputy Superintendent Jeremy Batchelor said recently.

“Those measures are showing that our kids are growing, and we are doing our jobs in working to close the gap,” he said. But he acknowledged the shortcomings that COVID-19 has brought upon the district.

In comparing the Warren City School District to charters in Trumbull County, the report cards reveal the four charters as a whole outperformed the Warren schools in attendance and gap closing. Warren has close to 5,000 students while the Trumbull charters total about 500.

Warren’s Superintendent Steve Chiaro recently argued the formula used to come up with the rankings doesn’t give an accurate portrayal of the district. For example, Chiaro said the district’s third-grade data shows a continued upward trend in early literacy, except during the pandemic’s beginning. “The report does not accurately measure the fact that our students have continually improved in this area since 2017,” he said.

STAR RATINGS

The report cards released this month by the Ohio Department of Education reflect schools’ test scores from the previous academic year, along with other metrics. No overall grades or ratings were applied to districts or buildings. But this year’s report card features a new ranking system of one through five rated components:

One star means significant help is needed for that school to meet state standards.

Two stars means the school is not meeting state standards in academic achievemenThree stars means schools are meeting state standards.

Four stars means schools are showing significant evidence of exceeding state expectations.

Five stars means a school is significantly exceeding the state standards for academic achievement.

Here’s a look at Mahoning Valley charter school performance:

MAHONING COUNTY

Youngstown Academy of Excellence: The pandemic forced Youngstown Academy of Excellence students out of the classroom in March. They continued their education online for the rest of the year — similar to most schools around the country. This caused what Superintendent Jon Natko described as a ripple effect of students coming back ill-prepared for testing the following year.

“When you think about it, those students spent three quarters of the year online, then the next year you’re getting ready for testing so kids were all over the place in terms of their educational development,” said Natko.

Students at YAE were given three choices once COVID-19 measures allowed for in-class sessions to begin again: They could use a hybrid method, a mix of in-class and out-of-class learning; or stay online for those who didn’t feel comfortable; or return full time to the classroom.

Natko attributes the school’s slight gains in test scoring to these options given to students. Scores increased from 47 percent to 49.8 percent on the latest report card.

Test results show that YAE is performing similarly to statewide expectations. It also has seen small increases in students who are proficient, and 4 percent increases from last year’s students who ranked both accomplished and advanced.

Next year Natko said he expects to see a 5 percent increase in the performance index.

Stambaugh Charter Academy: The academy saw one of the biggest drops in its overall test scores since the pandemic. In 2019 its overall test scores were at 84 percent and have since seen a drop of more than 30 percent. This year’s overall scores have them at 51 percent — taking a nearly 3 percent dip from 2021 numbers.

There were minimal increases in students who improved to proficient, accomplished and advanced on Ohio state tests.

In a statement, a Stambaugh spokesman said: “While we saw growth this past year in English language arts, math proficiency was slightly down. Our students experienced similar challenges during he pandemic as their peers in other districts, so we’re continuing our focus on addressing learning loss due to COVID-19 and improving overall student proficiency.”

Horizon Science Academy of Youngstown: In a statement, the school said it is in the midst of a bounce-back post-COVID. But HSAY still has not crossed over the 71.4 percent threshold of its pre-COVID-19 test scores. The school, however, improved by 7.5 percent on its 2021 numbers, which now are at 60.2 percent.

HSAY scored five stars in progress and gap closing while only notching two stars for achievement and early literacy.

Principal Ferhat Kapki said in a statement: “While we do have areas for improvement in the achievement and early literacy components, this is an encouraging sign as all schools attempt to rebound from COVID-era learning loss. Administration believes that the high ranking is due to the dedication and hard work of the school staff, our families, and the students. We have a strong focus and commitment to learning here. We will continue to strive for success in all four areas so that we may raise student achievement and prepare them all for the future.”

The newspaper last week sought responses from the other Mahoning County charters, but they did not respond.

TRUMBULL COUNTY

STEAM Academy of Warren: After taking over in July 2021, Principal Wendy Thomas has overseen STEAM as it managed to rise above pre pandemic test scores earning an overall 62.9 percent, though still only scoring two stars for achievement. Its scores also indicated an increase in students who are testing as proficient, accomplished and advanced.

Several grade levels in English language arts and math have shown significant progress compared to the level of growth expected on Ohio state tests.

Thomas’ students faced the same COVID-19 slumps as those from other schools which caused a downslide of 15 percent last year. To remedy the effects of those falling behind, the school utilized small groups.

“It goes back to focusing on each student and figuring out what they need help with and teaching them their specific needs,” she said. Teachers focused on four to six students in small groups based on their levels

In January, Thomas said she noticed educators at the school had to do something when results from the Ohio Department of Education Restart Readiness Assessment test showed her that students weren’t where they needed to be, particularly in terms of English language arts.

“When we saw that, we knew we had some teaching to do ahead of taking the assessment again in March,” said Thomas. She said when students took the same assessment again, the numbers were comparable to the ones shown on the report card results.

Thomas said STEAM has a new curriculum to begin the school year, and she’s already been able to see an improvement in the literacy component. Her focus this year will be to see that K-2 students see improvement. Last year, she said, her focus was on literacy or students in grades 3-8.

Summit Academy Community School: Results for SACS rated it at 42.2 percent for overall test scores. The school saw a 0.6 percent increase in students on performance indicators that were accomplished. The school saw a 4.3 percent decrease in proficient students and a drop of 1 percent in advanced students.

In terms of the school’s progress, SACS was given three stars — showing it is meeting the state standard at several grade levels.

The newspaper last week sought responses from the other Trumbull County charters, which did not respond.

cmcbride@tribtoday.com

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