Story by Lyndsey Schley
The Summit Education Initiative is an organization that brings together a broad coalition of community partners with the goal of improving education in Summit County. The group uses data to track the progress of current programs and helps schools predict early in a child’s education whether they are likely to achieve later on. This helps educators help children who are falling behind. This group not only works with public schools, but also private, parochial and charter schools, along with community organizations.
The organization was originally established in 1994 by a group of businesses and philanthropy organizations that wanted to improve educational outcomes in Summit County. The project has gone through a couple iterations to become the group that exists today.
In 2010, the group went back to its original mission, which was creating systemic improvement in education in Summit County. The board of the group now includes educators. Educators also form groups that develop strategies to help students be successful. SEI uses the increasing accessibility of data to understand how the county is doing and to try to help the groups that work with children help them succeed. The group’s efforts revolve around a concept called the Cradle to Career pipeline which shows how student success carries on throughout different phases on a child’s life.
The challenges facing students in Summit County are common to students across the country. Poverty is a major factor and affects not only the inner city, but also rural and suburban populations. When a family lives in poverty, they may not have the transportation to take a child to a good school. They may not have enough high-quality food for the child. Children in poverty often hear 3 million fewer words by the time they are five than their better-off counterparts. This effects literacy. Poverty and educational difficulties intertwine and interact in many ways.
While Akron has a long history in manufacturing, employment in that sector is unlikely ever to return to past levels. Many current job opportunities require college degrees, or at least a high school diploma. Some adults from older generations may not realize how important a degree is to a comfortable lifestyle because of changes to the workforce in the past few decades.
Akron is also seeing a booming immigrant and refugee population. This could mean some teachers see more children whose native language is not English. This can slow down the education process. Since many of these children are also refugees, they also may be experiencing poverty.
A challenge in measuring student success is the rapidly changing nature of state testing. State-testing standards have been changed regularly in the last few years and each time the tests change, the organization has to determine how this affects its goals and standards.
The program has both goals for individual students and the county as a whole.
When students achieve certain benchmarks, data shows they are on-track for having a successful career. However, when they waver from these, they have a higher chance of negative outcomes, such as dropping out of school. Here are some of the benchmarks at each level of a child’s development.
• Kindergarten: 19 or higher on Kindergarten Readiness Test (90 percent of these students pass the 3rd Grade Reading Test, 77 percent score as Advanced or Accelerated)
• 3rd Grade: Advanced or Accelerated on a 3rd grade reading test (85 to 90 percent of these students will score as Advanced or Accelerated on 8th Grade math tests)
• 8th Grade: Advanced or Accelerated on 8th Grade math test (80 to 90 percent of these students will graduate from high school “career and college ready”)
• 9th Grade: B+ GPA and eight or fewer absences per year during high school (About 90 percent will graduate high school “career and college ready”)
• Graduation: 21+ ACT Composite Score (These students are four times more likely to graduate and have increased college enrollment and persistence)
The Big Picture
SEI aims for Summit county residents to earn 48,000 more college degrees or high value career credentials by 2025. Summit County is currently in roughly the 50th percentile for the rate of degree attainment. If it achieves its goal, the county will be in the top ten percent. This would likely lead to positive outcomes, such as higher household incomes, decreased crime and decreased unemployment.
Currently, 39 percent of residents 25 or older have an associate’s degree or higher. SEI hopes to raise this number to 50 percent by 2025.
From 2012 to 2014, 6 percent more kids are scoring 21+ on the ACT. This increase has come despite the fact more kids are taking the test. SEI has seen increased test scores in all areas except 8th grade math, where scores have stayed flat. They are just now forming a team of teachers to strategize in this area, so SEI hopes this will lead to a rise in this area also in the coming years.
SEI partners with organizations and provides a network so groups can continue to be successful and gauge the effect they have on the community. For organizations that do not run their own programs, SEI can always benefit from volunteer help and financial donations.
The organization is currently fundraising for a system to manage volunteer opportunities and help individuals fill needs in the community. The app will allow volunteers to input their availability, skills and preferences and find volunteer positions that match. These needs include tutoring, ACT math facilitators and reading aids, among other positions.
For more information: www.seisummit.org/