It looks like the promise made is one being kept.

Early testing scores from the first classes of at-risk students at the I Promise School in Akron are showing the youngsters are making academic progress.

The school — founded in partnership with Akron Public Schools and the LeBron James Family Foundation — is in its first school year with some 240 third- and fourth-graders. The school's goal is to keep students on a path to not only a high school degree but a college education at the University of Akron.

The students at the school on West Market Street were selected based on second-grade assessments in a variety of subjects from math to reading that found them to be lagging behind their peers.

The first round of assessment testing by Akron Public Schools covering fall to winter indicated these students are already showing "improvement in both student growth and student achievement" at both the third- and fourth-grade levels, according to the district.

In the area of academic growth, the testing showed that 90 percent of I Promise students who started this school year one and two years behind grade level have already met or exceeded expected growth in math and reading.

The school is in the 99th growth percentile of the Northwest Evaluation Association’s school norms, meaning student test scores have increased at a higher rate than 99 out of 100 schools nationally.

In math, third-grade students jumped from the 1st percentile (the lowest possible) to the 18th percentile, and fourth-graders moved from the 2nd percentile to the 30th percentile.

"This shows (I Promise) students are mastering the skills necessary to perform at higher levels than they had been previously," according to the findings from the Akron Public Schools Office of School Improvement.

In reading, the third-grade students moved from the 1st percentile to the 9th percentile, and fourth-grade students went from the 1st percentile to the 16th percentile.

"The current test data show as a whole third- and fourth-grade students at [I Promise] are increasing their reading achievement levels and are moving closer to being on grade level," the district report stated.

 

Support works

At the start of the school year, 112 students were in need of special help to read at grade level and now 78 have already shown significant improvement, leaving just 34 remaining in the intensive tier of support.

When the school year started, every student was reading below grade level. 

"On this latest round of tests, 23 percent of students scored at or above the 25th percentile in reading, putting them in the universal tier," the report concluded. "This means they are near or at grade level."

When news of the academic achievements hit social media over the weekend, Akron-born LeBron James, whose dream was to open the school, was quick to praise the students.

"PROUD!!! is an understatement," James tweeted. "Kids you are smart, amazing, talented, and nothing short of INSPIRATIONAL! Teachers & all the staff (heart emojis) ya’ll are the right ones, the real ones on this journey changing lives & numbers don’t lie..."

The news even caught the attention of former President Barack Obama, who also tweeted his admiration.

"Another good story worth sharing: From one "kid from Akron" to a new generation of Akron kids, some remarkable early achievements at @IPROMISESchool. Great work, @KingJames—and even better work by those students. Proud to be a witness to their success."

New approach

Aside from individualized instruction, the I Promise School has a longer school day and school year, as well as a holistic approach to education that includes working one-on-one with the parents. The plan is to add a class each year, with the school expanding as the initial third- and fourth-graders progress on toward an eventual high school graduation.

“Since we helped open the doors of the I Promise School, we’ve been working day in and day out to make sure our families and students have everything they need to be successful," said Michele Campbell, executive director of the LeBron James Family Foundation. "We want to provide supports that help them along their journey, eliminate some of the external challenges they’re up against, and make real learning possible.

"As a foundation, we’ve infused every ounce of love and care and resources into these kids and families and just let them know we are here for them. That we believe in them. And now with these test scores, we’re seeing that these supports, and this care, are making a difference.”

The scores certainly offer a strong affirmation of the good work of the school's teachers and students, said Keith Liechty of Akron Public Schools' Office of School Improvement.

“When it comes to standardized testing, very rarely do we see the collective improvements we’re seeing across the board at the I Promise School," Liechty said. "It’s very encouraging for us to see this much growth so early on, and we know we still have a long way to go to get these students where we want them to be. These results are a positive indicator that we’re on the right track."

 

Craig Webb can be reached at cwebb@thebeaconjournal.com.