By Kim Kinzie
The latest standardized testing results are out, and they don’t paint a pretty picture for Rhode Island’s education system. While East Greenwich does better than most of the state, its results fell short of those of similar demographics in Massachusetts, as well as in Barrington.
Prior to 2018, the R.I. Dept. of Education utilized the PARCC test (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers). PARCC fell out of favor for reasons of politics and cost almost immediately after it was introduced and Rhode Island joined the majority of states in dumping PARCC in favor of another testing model. For Rhode Island, it was RICAS, adopted from the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS).
MCAS was developed in 1993 and since that time, Massachusetts students in grades 3 through 8 have been assessed in the areas of math and ELA (English Language Arts) on a scale ranging from 440 to 560, with 500 being the benchmark for whether the student has “met expectations.”
Overall, Rhode Island students tested poorly compared to students in Massachusetts, with only 34 percent of students considered proficient in ELA and 27 percent proficient in math. Massachusetts students had 51 percent of students proficient in ELA and 48 percent in math.
East Greenwich fared better than the state overall, with 56 percent of its students meeting or exceeding expectations in ELA, and 53 percent doing so in math. Here’s the breakdown per school (the test was only implemented at three schools last year; EGHS uses the PSAT):
Cole Middle School 53.88% 51.71%
Hanaford Elementary 60.08% 49.4%
Eldredge Elementary 58.84% 60.77%
EG’s results, however, are are significantly lower than those in Massachusetts communities with similar demographics. In addition, all four Barrington schools that took the test did better than East Greenwich schools. Barrington schools scored 70 percent or higher in ELA; 57 percent and higher in math.
In an interview, Supt. Victor Mercurio said there were a variety of issues to take into consideration with regard to the RICAS. For one thing, this is the fifth standardized test change in the state since 2003.
As for comparing Rhode Island students to those in Massachusetts, Mercurio said that’s “like comparing apples to oranges.” He said the MCAS is more than a test – it’s part of a comprehensive educational reform plan that the Massachusetts Department of Education committed to both philosophically and financially 25 years ago.
“The Massachusetts system has been built for over a quarter of a century . . . from numerous conversations about instruction, curriculum development, high level policy-making and a commitment to fund those endeavors.”
Rhode Island just isn’t there yet, he said.
Also, because this is Rhode Island’s first year using the MCAS model, there’s no baseline against which to compare the R.I. results, Mercurio said. He cautioned against getting too attached to the numbers.
“The public conversation about the test results is macro in nature in that it focuses on the raw data. When we get to the micro level, we focus on the individual students’ progress and needs,” he said.
With regard to Barrington’s higher scores, Mercurio attributed that to EG’s lack of a curriculum director for the past several years. The district finally added that position back this fiscal year and hired former Cole principal Alexis Meyer to fill that role in August.
“We’re already seeing benefits,” said Mercurio.
Her appointment has filled a critical piece of the whole learning puzzle, he said. Meyer is able to meet with her colleagues around the state and bring back some innovative and successful ideas to the district.
“Without someone in this role formally, we struggled to maintain a seat at those tables,” Mercurio said. And Meyer is in the process of revamping curricular work, something that had lapsed at the district level for years, he said.
For her part, Meyer said she was focusing on utilizing the results as an assessment tool to help determine how students are performing on specific skills.
“So many students are on the cusp, meaning they scored 499 instead of 500 – one question away from meeting expectations.”
This, says Meyer, provides guidance for developing a curriculum that responds to the current deficiencies.
Supt. Mercurio said he thought professional development was key.
“Our professionals need the time and support on a variety of levels so they can be their best,” he said.
Mercurio will be going into more depth on the report in a public debriefing at the Dec. 18 School Committee meeting.
Help us keep reporting school news: make a donation. Click on the Donate button below.