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First test scores are out for LeBron James' I Promise School and they're extraordinary

Cassandra Negley
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LeBron James’ I Promise School in Akron, Ohio, is already experiencing amazing feats of growth before its first year of school ends.

The school was first announced almost exactly two years ago, before James signed with the Los Angeles Lakers. It is in the first year of teaching the most at-risk third and fourth-graders in the city. The students’ first test scores show what a promise can do and how far there is to go.

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I Promise School

The I Promise School opened its doors for the first time in July 2018 with 240 at-risk third and fourth-graders. It will expand every year until it becomes grades 1-8 while still holding at around 20 students per class. It’s a public school run by the Akron Public School District, which gives $2 million of funding that’s approximately the same per pupil as in its other schools.

The LeBron James Family Foundation provides additional support for the “extras”: additional teachers to lower class sizes, bicycles for students, more after-hour programs, help given to families in the resource center for them to graduate and receive services.

The school is special to James for what it’s doing for students in his hometown, many of whom are like him. James was considered “at-risk” at that age and announced the day before the school’s opening he missed 83 days of school in fourth grade. That accounted for nearly half the year.

The I Promise Program continues to add classes, including 120 second-graders last month, and at full capacity helps at-risk students from first through 12th grade.

Nearly every student hit goals

The first marker of education success for the school comes from the Measures of Academic Progress assessment, which evaluates the reading and math levels of students.

The sample size is small and the gap between the Promise School students and others is still quite large with students still performing under grade levels.

The goal was to improve where the students graded in percentiles and according to the school, 90 percent of its students (216 of 240) have reached or exceeded their expected growth.

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According to a feature by Erica Green for the New York Times, students in both grades came to the school with a reading level in the first percentile, the lowest. The third graders improved to the ninth and the fourth graders to the 16th, per the Times.

In math, third graders also came in at the first percentile and improved to the 18th. The fourth graders improved from second to 30th.

“These kids are doing an unbelievable job, better than we all expected,” James told The New York Times. “When we first started, people knew I was opening a school for kids. Now people are going to really understand the lack of education they had before they came to our school. People are going to finally understand what goes on behind our doors.”

The marks are mid-year assessments, with the school year running from July 30 to mid-May this school year. Keith Liechty, a 20-year employee of the district and coordinator with the Office of School improvement, told the Times the growth is not expected in an entire school year, so it’s a happy surprise it happened in half of one.

“For the average student, your percentile doesn’t move much unless something extraordinary is happening,” he said.

The next hurdle for James’ kids

As James and other sources in the Times feature noted, there is a long way to go for these students who were essentially written-off. They outpaced their peers in the district, only 70 percent of which reached or outpaced their goals per the Times. The district told the Times that the Promise students’ test scores increased at a higher rate than 99 of 100 schools in the entire nation.

“It’s encouraging to see growth, but by no means are we out of the woods,” Liechty said. “The goal is for these students to be at grade level, and we’re not there yet. This just tells us we’re going in the right direction.”

Their improved scores how hard these students are working to do better and live up to the promises listed on the James’ foundation’s website. They said them together the first day of the year.

It also proves just how important this school is to students who weren’t getting the kind of one-on-one, personalized attention they needed. They have farther to go than any of their peers in the district; the higher level one reaches, the less room there is to move upward.

The next report of their progress will come from the standardized tests given at the end of the year, around this time in Ohio. They and will receive those grades in late June, according to the Ohio Department of Education.

The long-term goal is graduation and every student who meets certain requirements in doing so receives a scholarship to the University of Akron that covers tuition and fees.

LeBron James speaks at the opening ceremony for the I Promise School in Akron, Ohio, Monday, July 30, 2018. The I Promise School is supported by the The LeBron James Family Foundation and is run by the Akron Public Schools. (AP Photo/Phil Long)
The first set of students in LeBron James' school are doing better than expected, but it shows how far there is to go still. (AP Photo/Phil Long)

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