State report cards don’t tell whole story, Youngstown City School leaders say

Beyond the letter grades the Ohio Department of Education gave school districts on Thursday, there is also a treasure trove of data for schools to dig into — including some good news for Youngstown City Schools.

The Youngstown school district got an “F” on the state report cards but administrators say that’s not telling the entire story.

“We are seeing a tremendous amount of growth in our students — across the board in all grades,” said Michelle Payich, principal at Williamson Elementary.

At Williamson, the staff goes beyond just giving lessons and homework.

“We believe academics will come. It’s an indirect impact in a positive way if we are taking care of our kids first,” Payich said.

Across the district, that idea is playing out with results. Students at the bottom are catching up.

Last year, black students scored 53 percent lower in achievement than their white classmates in Language Arts. This year, it’s down to a 4-percent gap.

That story is repeated across all subjects and student ethnicities and it crossed language barriers.

Payich said the district isn’t doing it alone.

“There are so many community partnerships.”

One of those partnerships is with the United Way, which works with students in preschool programs and stays with them through fourth grade and beyond.

On Friday, the organization was doing vision screenings for grades K through 4 at Kirkmere Elementary. Dr. Bege Bowers was helping with exams.

“Some of them have no idea they can’t see,” she said. “You ask if they wear glasses, ‘Can you see?’ They say, ‘No, I don’t wear glasses. Yes, I can see,’ and then they can’t read the top line.”

Thousands of students were screened last year and the United Way gave glasses to 300 kids who needed them.

“We saw with the data, those who got glasses saw improvements and it’s as simple as being able to see the board, or see their textbooks or their worksheets in front of them,” said Roxann Sebest, with the United Way.

Programs like the United Way’s Success After Six help students overcome challenges. Each year, they score a little higher on tests — even if the big bold letter grades from the state don’t show it.

“They are growing, so maybe they aren’t getting to the top of their class or necessarily passing the test but they are getting closer and closer to passing that test, and that’s what they need,” Sebest said. “You can’t go from zero to 100 overnight.”

Given time, school leaders say the students will get there.

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