PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Students in Rhode Island will not be tested on their proficiency in math and English language arts this spring, as school buildings remain closed through the end of April because of the coronavirus pandemic.
R.I. Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green said the state has applied for a federal waiver to get out of the state assessment requirements. The U.S. Department of Education has indicated it will grant the waivers.
This would have been the third year of the RICAS exam, the identical-to-Massachusetts test that was adopted by Rhode Island in 2018 after a short stint using the PARCC exam.
Test results in the second year of the exam were better than the year before, but students were still far behind their counterparts in Massachusetts.
With all Rhode Island students learning from home through at least the end of April because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Infante-Green said the test results would likely not be an accurate measure of performance if students took the test this year.
“We can’t measure how they’re doing either way, whether we administer it or not,” Infante-Green said in an interview. “It won’t be a fair assessment. What makes sense is that we don’t have that pressure and we don’t get information that’s not accurate as we move forward.”
The SAT, which is used as the mandatory assessment for high school juniors in the spring, is also canceled. Infante-Green said the state is working with the College Board to allow juniors who want to take the test for their college applications to do so at a later date, likely in the fall.
One week after distance learning started at Rhode Island public K-12 schools, Gov. Gina Raimondo announced Monday that school buildings would be closed until the end of April, and distance learning would continue for that time.
Raimondo said she was “thrilled” by how distance learning is going so far, highlighting some innovative practices by local teachers and saying it could continue into May. She also specifically praised Providence’s new state-appointed superintendent Harrison Peters, who was hired to turn around the district just weeks before the coronavirus pandemic.
But she also said she wouldn’t sugarcoat the challenges.
“There’s nothing easy about this,” Raimondo said. “It’s difficult, it’s disruptive. … Some learning is better than no learning. I am not throwing in the towel and giving up on 140,000 kids.”
Some of the growing pains so far have had to do with technology, including brief WiFi service interruptions or families who still don’t have internet access at all.
Cox Communications has provided WiFi for some families who live within its service area. But to try and fill the gap, state leaders announced Monday that wireless phone providers — Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint — would offer free hotspot service.
The service allows a smartphone to be turned into a WiFi hotspot, which can then connect to a computer or tablet that students are using for remote learning.
Raimondo and Infante-Green both urged people who do have home WiFi not to tap into the free hotspot deal, in order to save cellular bandwidth for families who don’t have another internet option.
RIDE is also launching an April reading challenge, asking every student to read something every single day. And Raimondo will take questions from students at Thursday’s daily briefing.
Some of the concerns about the prolonged closure of in-person classes come from the special needs community, where students with disabilities often receive services such as speech, occupational and physical therapies at school.
Asked about compensatory services for those students, Infante-Green said plans were still in progress.
“There’s some services that are taking place, but not all of them,” Infante-Green acknowledged. “We’re working on what that will look like.”
She said RIDE will continue evaluating and revising plans throughout the remote learning period.
Asked if she was concerned about students falling behind, she gave a clear answer.
“I’m worried about everyone right now. … Yes,” Infante-Green said. “I think this is something that nobody could’ve planned for. But here we are, and we’re making the best of a difficult situation.”
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