Youngstown students need a higher bar

Critics of the multi-year plan intended to lead Youngstown City School District out of state control are correct when they point out the plan’s goals are absurdly low.

District leaders are not expecting to see huge jumps in the percentage of students able to read and comprehend materials at their grade levels, according to the plan that sets specific goals for improving student literacy, math, science and graduation rates.

Successful implementation of the multi-year plan is key to the district ending more than 20 years of failing state report card grades, so we understand the need for realistic goals. But we also understand the importance of raising the bar on these goals, and we believe that telling these children what they can achieve will lead to them doing just that.

From our vantage point, the plan falls short of that.

Here are some of the goals spelled out in the Youngstown plan:

l During the 2024-2025 academic year, about 70 percent of 4- to 5-year-olds are expected to be able to demonstrate a command of early literacy skills, according to the report. During the current school year, about 53.2 percent of students in this age group have demonstrated age-appropriate literacy skills, according to the improvement plan.

l Older students, sixth through 10th grade, are expected to see their literacy skills improve from 36 percent in the current school year to 64 percent in the 2024-25 school year, according to the plan. In the pre-COVID-19 2018-2019 school year, reading assessments showed that 63 percent of students in these grades were performing at grade level or greater.

l The district’s plans to improve math and science scores through 2024-25 show a similar type of incremental growth in the percentage of students passing grade level tests.

Approximately 7 percent of the students in the third through fifth grades are expected to be proficient in math based on their respective Math Ohio Computer base assessment during the 2020-2021 school year, according to the improvement plan report. The district is targeting 16 percent of the students being proficient or above by the 2024-25 school year.

Mahoning County NAACP President James Brown and Jimma McWilson, director of the African Education Party, argue the benchmark targets for student proficiency in the plan are too low and will leave too many students behind in what they need to comprehend.

We believe they are correct to argue in favor of higher expectations.

“They are saying that 84 percent of the third- through fifth-grade students taking math in the 2024-2025 school year will not be proficient,” McWilson said. “How can you make a plan in which 84 percent of the students are projected to be below grade level in their understanding of a subject?”

Anyone striving to reach a goal should know that if you set your goal low enough, you’ll reach it — but there always remains the possibility that a higher goal could have been achieved, if the bar had been raised.

We believe the majority of students in Youngstown — and in all school districts — truly want to achieve. Now, it’s up to us to encourage them with high expectations.



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