Group Questions Lack of Improvement in City Schools Test Scores

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The Youngstown City School District’s test scores are not improving, and a community group wants to know why.

The Community Education Oversight Task Force is calling for action as the start of the school year nears.

“Youngstown City Schools has failed these children by the record,” said Jimma McWilson, a member of the state school board’s task force to address the academic achievement gap. “Three billion [spent] in 25 years to be at the bottom. There is a relentless pursuit of the bottom, not of the top.”

According to figures the local education advocacy group culled from the school’s public records, only 32% of the district’s students in grades K-12 received an A, B or C on the 2022 spring Northwest Evaluation Association math tests. The NWEA is a nonprofit organization that creates academic assessments.

The tests – administered in the fall, winter and spring – are designed to show growth. But from fall 2021 through spring 2022, Jackie Adair and others with the local education oversight task force said there has not been any remarkable improvements.

“In my analysis of the math test results, there is a clear indication that the majority of our K-12 students have failed to make measurable growth during the past school year,” Adair said Thursday. “As a result, I expect this year’s report cards to reflect this same unfortunate outcome.”

George Freeman Jr., member of the executive
and former NAACP president.

McWilson, a former vice president of the local NAACP, broke down the reading scores, citing only the numbers for the Black students in the district: 75.4% tested at a D or F level in the fall of 2021, 77.6% in the winter and 73.7% in the spring.

Youngstown City Schools are moving out of the state control they were placed under for the past six years.

The district has written a three-year academic improvement plan with benchmarks it intends to focus on, including math, literacy and science.

Youngstown City Schools Deputy Superintendent Jeremy Batchelor said the district believes if it takes care of growth, proficiencies will follow with the school district meeting at least 13 of the 24 indicators.

Darla Dunlap, chair of the educational
committee of
the NAACP.

“We believe we are on the right track,” Batchelor said, adding it can take five to seven years to realize school district improvement and they are staying the course with Justin Jennings’ guidance and leadership.

Jennings served as the CEO of the district starting in August of 2019 and will now serve as superintendent.

Batchelor spoke of consistency in practices and not making changes based on the new “flavor of the month” in education.

“We believe if we stay the course, we will see the improvements at the Youngstown City Schools,” Batchelor said.

But members of the task force group believe the improvement goals set by the school district are setting the bar too low.

McWilson believes the public school system was designed to fail Black children, created in 1825 with white supremacy in mind. However, he said the Black, White and brown school leaders who have followed adopted the same pattern and have done nothing to change it.

“As long as they do what they’ve always done, they will always get what they’ve gotten,” McWilson said.

Jackie Adair,
educator and former board member.

He, Adair and two other leaders of the local NAACP, George Freeman Jr. and Darla Dunlap, are urging parents to get involved and push education leaders to provide every student with the quality public education promised to every student since 1954 with the Brown v. Board of Education decision of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Adair is urging a return to an emphasis on reading, writing and arithmetic. She believes the schools need to concentrate on academics, spend extra time on core subjects, hire more qualified math teachers and tutors and create more disciplined class environments.

“We all know that nothing positive can be accomplished in chaos,” Adair said.

Both she and McWilson spoke of the recent decision by the superintendent to spend $7.8 million to upgrade athletic facilities when academics are lacking.

Adair, a former math teacher and former member of the Youngstown City Schools board, said the lack of leadership is part of the ongoing, longstanding academic failures of the school district, which is negatively impacting black students.

Dunlap, the chair of the educational justice committee, said she hopes all stakeholders will come together to find a solution to address the needs of Black students in the Youngstown City Schools.

By 2025, McWilson said the school district’s own plan continues to project that only 33% of students in third, fourth and fifth grade will pass the math portion. He claims the district has “normalized failure” and uses many excuses for not improving.

“If families don’t come together, parents don’t come together and fathers don’t come together, the system is always going to do to you and your children what they have always done and then convince you that you are the problem. That’s not the way it works,” McWilson said.

Adair notes there is sometimes a cultural disconnect between students and teachers, with the majority of students in the district being Black while more than 95% of the teachers and administrators are not.

However, in a disciplined classroom and with experience, she believes teachers and students can reach an understanding.

While Youngstown City Schools spends more per pupil than any other school district in Mahoning County, McWilson said Steubenville spends $5,000 less per pupil and has achieved success.

Members of the group said the root of the problem is not poverty or violent crime. McWilson cited a statistic that 98% of the people living in the city of Youngstown are not involved in any violent crime at all.

“Trauma, poverty and homelessness, yes those are issues. But other places are dealing with those issues also,” McWilson said, adding other schools are able to rise above those things.

Pictured above: Jimma McWilson, community activist and former vice president of the local chapter of the NAACP, as well as a member of the state school board’s task force examining the achievement gap for African-American students.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.