PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Student test scores on the Rhode Island Comprehensive Assessment System (RICAS) increased statewide in the second year the test was administered, according to results released Tuesday.
But Rhode Island students still lag behind students in Massachusetts, who take the comparable MCAS test.
The scores released Tuesday show that 38.5% of Rhode Island elementary and middle school students are proficient in English language arts (ELA), by either “meeting” or “exceeding” expectations on the standardized test. Last year, the first year the test was administered, 33% of students were proficient in ELA.
Fewer students were proficient in math than ELA, with almost 30% of students meeting or exceeding expectations on the test this year. Last year only 27% were proficient in math.
English learners (ELs) statewide improved their ELA scores by two percentage points, but remained basically flat in math, improving by just half a percentage point.
The R.I. Department of Education had expected the results to improve in the second year of the test, as students get more comfortable with the format.
“These results are moving in the right direction, but it is too early to determine a consistent trend,” Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green said. “What is clear is that much more needs to be done to bring Rhode Island performance where it needs to be.”
Only students in third through eighth grade in Rhode Island take the RICAS; high school students use the PSAT and SAT tests for their official assessment. Scores were released for those tests earlier this month.
The improvements on the RICAS varied widely in different school districts, with Central Falls once again home to the lowest proficiency rate in the state. Only 12.6% of Central Falls students were proficient in ELA, and 8% in math (up from 9.7% and 7%, respectively, last year).
Woonsocket and Providence were essentially tied for second-lowest proficiency rate in math, with fewer than 12% of students meeting expectations on the test. But Providence rose to 17% proficiency in ELA, compared to 13.7% last year, and Woonsocket made a smaller improvement in ELA, going from 12.5% last year to 14% this year.
Providence’s poor performance on standardized tests was among the reasons for the impending state takeover of the school district, which is expected to include changes to curriculum and other overhauls.
Interim Providence Superintendent Fran Gallo said she was “pleased” to see improvements, but said the “work is far from over.”
“Our schools have been working incredibly hard to offer high quality curriculum and student-centered teaching, and that effort is reflected in the number of students who showed growth and proficiency in our RICAS scores,” Gallo said in a statement. “While we know we have a long way to go, these scores are promising.”
Speaking to reporters Tuesday morning, Infante-Green said there would be “Central Falls strategy” announced in the coming months, but stopped short of calling for a state intervention similar to Providence. The state currently controls Central Falls schools finances, but not its curriculum or programs.
“We pay the bills in Central Falls,” Infante-Green said. “Because we pay the bills, we have a better opportunity to do some of the things we’re doing in Providence.”
Asked if she would invoke the Crowley Act, which is being used to take control of Providence, she said: “We’ll see, we’ll see.”
Infante-Green later elaborated on Twitter, writing that there are no immediate plans to intervene in Central Falls, but “nothing is off the table.”
Central Falls Superintendent Stephanie Downey Toledo declined to comment on Infante-Green’s remarks, but did issue a statement on the RICAS scores.
“While we still have a lot of work to do, just as the commissioner has a 5 year plan for Providence, we too expect that it will take time,” Toledo said in an email. She pointed out new programs including the Dual Language School and Newcomer Academies for English learners, and said this year so far she is seeing “growth in ways beyond what is measured by RICAS.”
The individual school with the worst proficiency rate in ELA was DelSesto Middle School in Providence, where only 7% of its 849 students met expectations on the test. The results are still an improvement from last year, when results from DelSesto were not even made public because so few students were proficient. RIDE doesn’t release data if fewer than 5% of students are proficient, in order to protect confidentiality. DelSesto’s math proficiency rate was just above that this year, at 5.26%.
On the high end of the scale, Rockwell Elementary in Bristol-Warren saw 81% of students meeting or exceeding expectations in ELA, an improvement of three percentage points from last year.
In math, the Nayatt School in Barrington had the highest proficiency rate at 79% compared to 68% last year.
The school district with the highest proficiency in ELA is actually a charter school: the RISE Prep Mayoral Academy in Woonsocket had 76% of students meeting expectations, with Barrington following at 73%. (The data considers charters to be their own districts.)
In math, charters also top the list: Kingston Hill Academy in South Kingstown saw 72% proficiency, while RISE Prep followed with 66% and Barrington public schools came in third with 64.5%.
But the results aren’t all good news for charter schools. Several saw their proficiency rates decrease in one or both subjects from last year, including the Hope Academy in Providence, Beacon Charter School in Woonsocket, Segue Institute for Learning in Central Falls, International Charter in Pawtucket, and Achievement First, which has schools in Providence and Cranston.
Yet despite dropping in math from last year, Achievement First’s scores still far exceed the results at the traditional public schools in both cities where its schools are located.
The new test scores also show a troubling trend of declining proficiency as students get older; in math, 36% of students in third grade met expectations on their grade-level RICAS test, while only 24.5% of eighth graders did the same.
In ELA, 3rd-graders also scored the best with 47% proficiency, while 36% of 8th-graders were proficient and only 31% of 7th-graders were.
Rhode Island lags behind Massachusetts
Rhode Island’s switch to the RICAS allows for an apples-to-apples comparison to the MCAS, the longtime test in Massachusetts.
According to RIDE, Rhode Island is 14 percentage points behind Massachusetts in ELA proficiency and 19 points behind in math.
For example, nearly half of Massachusetts seventh graders are proficient in math, with 48% meeting or exceeding expectations. But only 31% of Rhode Island seventh graders hit the same milestone.
Editor’s note: The original data from RIDE suppressed the math scores at DelSesto Middle School because they were below 5%, but updated data shows 5.26% of DelSesto students were proficient in math. This story has been updated to reflect the new numbers.