PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — For the first time since before the pandemic, the R.I. Department of Education released “report cards” for more than 300 public schools in Rhode Island, a measure of accountability and improvement.

Each school is ranked from one to five stars, detailing school performance data requires under a federal law called the Every Student Succeeds Act.

The star rankings, released late Friday, hadn’t been tabulated since 2019. The federal government didn’t require state testing in 2020, and RIDE got a waiver from the accountability rankings in 2021 even though state testing did occur.

Fourteen schools earned five stars this year, according to the newly-released data, compared to 22 five-star schools before the pandemic.

Barrington had the most five-star schools, with all six of its schools achieving the top score. There are also five-star schools located in Coventry, Cumberland, East Greenwich, Glocester, Lincoln, North Kingstown, Scituate and South Kingstown.

Out of more than 300 traditional public and charter schools in the rankings, 29 improved their star rating. Four schools increased by two stars, while 25 increased by one star.

83 schools dropped by one star, while 13 schools dropped by two stars. The majority of schools received the same ranking as they did in 2019.

Schools that don’t have rankings either opened recently, or are early elementary schools that were not rated this year. RIDE received permission from the federal government to only use this year’s test scores for the rankings, rather than the average of the past two years. Because the first year of testing is third grade, RIDE said some early elementary schools could not be rated with just one year of data.

R.I. Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green said the snapshot released on Friday underscores the “significant” impact the pandemic had on the state’s education system, on top of the continued need for targeted academic, social, and emotional supports in schools.

“To stem the broader impact of the pandemic, we are committed to working closely with school leaders to continue to build and expand programs to help our schools accelerate learning and guide our students forward,” Infante-Green said in a news release.

“This data will help our schools evaluate their progress, shift and expand supports as necessary and deliver the education our students deserve,” added Patti DiCenso, the chair of the Council on Elementary and Secondary Education.

The star rating is calculated using a variety of factors including test scores, student absenteeism, graduation rates, English language proficiency, suspension rates and more.

Test scores are one of the closest indicators of a school’s star rating. RIDE tracks both
“achievement” on the math and English language arts tests and also the “growth” in scores at a school, both of which earn points towards the star ranking.

Students in grades 3-8 take the RICAS exam, while 11th-graders take the SAT. An alternate test is used for students with cognitive impairments.

Statewide, the results showed 14 five-star schools, 28 four-star schools, 116 three-star schools, 94 two-star schools, and 38 one-star schools.

“We may see these gains, we may see a shift. So right now we’re really focused in on making sure that the students recover what they’ve lost, and move forward,” Infante-Green told 12 News.

Within the one-star category, RIDE reported 21 schools identified for Comprehensive Support and Improvement (CSI), a federal designation for a state’s lowest-performing schools, which are eligible for additional funding.

This year, two schools with CSI designations improved. Bernon Heights Elementary School in Woonsocket went from one to three stars, while the Rhode Island School for the Deaf went from one to two stars.

Fogarty Memorial School in Glocester went from three to five stars, as did the Matunuck Elementary School in South Kingstown.

The Robert L. Bailey Elementary School, within the state-controlled school district in Providence, climbed from a one-star rating up to three stars.

“The staff never gave up,” said Rob Desrosiers, the principal at Bernon Heights. We worked hard at it, we tried to craft our instruction differently.” Desrosiers said the past few years were a roller coaster, but families and teachers pushed themselves.

Nancy Maguire Heath, Director of the Rhode Island School for the Deaf, said students and staff were also excited to break out of CSI status. Heath says most students use American Sign Language as their language of true communication, and it is the primary language of instruction.

Heath says all students have Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), and many are also multilingual learners. That means students are taking state assessments in their second or third language of English.

“Our overall rigor and assessments have improved steadily, as we took time to research and implement a cohesive curriculum appropriate to students who have different hearing levels, but this year’s rating improvement was predominantly propelled by math growth,” Heath told 12 News. She said “skilled teachers” contributed to the success in increasing the school’s rating.

Matunuck Elementary Principal Liz McGuire said that school implemented “protected time for classroom teachers, interventionists” and the principal to meet weekly.

“At these meetings, we collaborated, looked at data to inform instruction, and developed personalized plans for students,” McGuire said. “Teachers truly accelerated equitable learning across all classrooms and empowered their students daily.”

Bailey Elementary School Principal Alicia Jones told 12 News the K-5 school focused on professional development.

“We know that all students can learn, it’s just finding how they learn and matching our teaching styles with the learning styles of the students to make that growth happen for them,” Jones said.

“Rhode Island has a lot to be proud of. I think that there’s a lot of work to be done,” Infante-Green told 12 News in an interview.

Overall in Providence, the state’s largest district, six schools increased their star ratings while twelve schools went down in ratings.

“Pre-pandemic, Providence was already behind the eight ball. So really looking at instruction, what it looks like in the tier one and the education system. We talk about tier one being what happens in the classroom is the most important part of what happens in schools,” Infante-Green told 12 News.

In addition to Bailey, the other Providence schools that increased their ratings were George J. West Elementary (from 2 to 3 stars), Vartan Gregorian Elementary (from 2 to 3 stars), Nathan Bishop Middle School (from 1 to 2 stars), Hope High School (from 1 to 2 stars) and Providence Career and Technical Academy (from 1 to 2 stars).

The highest-rated school in Providence Public Schools was Classical High School, with four stars, a decrease from five stars in 2019. No other Providence schools received a four-star rating.

Outgoing Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza was asked about the results in Providence at an unrelated event Monday morning.

“I have been very vocal on this over the past four, six, eight years,” Elorza said. “The state of our schools both in the city and frankly in the state is not great, and we have some structural challenges.”

“Unless those structural challenges are addressed, then our disappointment and our frustration with the traditional public schools here in the city and the state is just going to continue,” the mayor continued.

RELATED: Providence Public School District to close 2 schools

Just last week, the state-run school district confirmed its plans to close two elementary schools, Alan Shawn Feinstein at Broad Street and Carl G. Lauro Elementary Schools.

Ratings at both schools remained unchanged, at two stars. Infante-Green told 12 News the closures of the schools were largely due to the safety of the actual buildings.

“We’ve done an assessment of the building conditions and it really matters to us that the kids and teachers are in a building that is more than just warm, safe, and dry, and right now, some of those buildings are not even that,” she added.

Eli Sherman contributed to this report.