PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Gov. Dan McKee defended his administration Monday amid mounting controversy over when he plans to release the RICAS standardized test scores, after Target 12 revealed Friday that the data had already been delivered to the state.
The scores, which were originally scheduled to be released publicly in October, are now expected in mid-November, after the election. Students took the test last spring.
“I have confidence in RIDE to get the information out when it’s ready,” McKee told reporters Monday morning. “Not before it’s ready, not after it’s ready. But when it’s ready.”
He said the election is not a factor in the timing of the release.
The status of the RICAS scores has drawn new scrutiny since last Tuesday’s WPRI 12 debate, when McKee responded to calls from Republican challenger Ashley Kalus to release the scores by saying, “I do not have the scores.”
But after Target 12 reported that the private vendor Cognia had already delivered the scores to Rhode Island, McKee’s office said Friday night the governor meant that he “personally” hadn’t seen the scores.
“The people who are doing the study have said that MCAS is in first place — that’s Massachusetts — and then Rhode Island will follow,” McKee said during the debate when asked if voters should see the scores before the election. “My understanding is now that we’re second in line to get that information.”
He did not mention during the debate that his Education Department already had the scores. But he stood by his remarks Monday, telling reporters “my comments were right on target.”
Victor Morente, a spokesperson for the department, said the scores are still being validated, a detailed process that will not be completed until November. He noted that the vendor, Cognia, provides scores to Massachusetts for its version of the test — MCAS — before Rhode Island gets its numbers. (Massachusetts released MCAS scores publicly on Sept. 29.)
In response to further questions from Target 12 over the weekend and Monday, Morente said Cognia provided the scores to RIDE on Sept. 12 this year, compared to Aug. 25 last year.
“Last year it was received on Aug. 25 and final results were released Oct. 28,” Morente said Monday morning. “This year it was received Sept. 12. That is a shift of about two weeks which is factored in the timeline.”
It was not immediately clear why the two-week difference was not disclosed when Target 12 previously asked about the later release of the scores compared to last year, and this year’s published schedule.
“There is no delay,” Morente told Target 12 on Oct. 5. “This year’s results will include additional informational resources for families and students to better understand what these results mean and how they can inform their decision-making regarding education.”
RICAS was not administered in 2020 due to the pandemic, and Morente said Cognia sent the data on Aug. 23 in 2019, when the scores were released publicly on Oct. 22. RICAS had been administered for the first time the prior year — 2018, also an election year — and in that instance the scores were not released until late November.
Senate Oversight Committee Chairman Lou DiPalma, who has held numerous hearings about Rhode Island education issues, questioned why it would take two months to get the scores from the Sept. 12 raw data file to an aggregated version for public release.
“I appreciate the need for data verification and validation,” DiPalma said. “It should be accelerated. About 25% of the school year will be over before teachers can use the information.”
The Providence Teachers Union is among the groups calling on the scores to be released, arguing they could make instructional changes based on the results.
The last set of scores to be made public were from tests taken in spring of 2021, when just 33% of Rhode Island students in grades 3-8 were proficient in English language arts, and 20% were proficient in math. The scores dropped from before the pandemic.
High school students are also assessed annually, using the PSAT for 10th-graders and SAT for 11th-graders. Those test results were also slated for a public release in October, but Morente said Saturday those scores are still being worked on and that RIDE would “share more information on release timeline when we can.”
Robert Littlefield, who leads the R.I. Association of School Principals, confirmed Monday that the state’s principals have had their schools’ RICAS scores for weeks.
“Individual school scores have been in principal hands for a couple of weeks but are typically embargoed pending a review of the data for accuracy,” Littlefield wrote in an email. He said principals help verify the names of the students to ensure the scores are being attributed to the correct schools when they are released.
“You would be surprised at the number of errors that get uncovered,” Littlefield added. “Of course principals would like to get the results earlier in the school year in order to set up plans for individual students, but it is equally important that the results are accurate.”
Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green declined an interview request from Target 12 on Monday, but said in a radio interview that her department only has one data specialist working on the scores.
Morente said Monday afternoon that RIDE has “one psychometrician working on assessments currently.”
He said it was the same in 2021. He had not previously mentioned a staffing problem when explaining why RIDE would miss the original October release target.
“They’re digging themselves a bigger hole,” DiPalma said.
McKee said Monday he has not received a request from RIDE for more data analysts.
“If RIDE needs additional help and they can’t do it internally, then if they called us then we would certainly try and help them out,” McKee said.
Kalus has jumped on the issue on the campaign trail, holding a news conference Monday morning slamming McKee for his remarks at the debate, and questioning why there wasn’t more urgency to finish analyzing the scores considering they arrived over a month ago.
“As governor, if my education commissioner is saying that they need more help to get the scores out on time, I would move heaven and earth to ensure that it got done,” Kalus said.
She said she would release RICAS scores by Sept. 30 each year if elected, or else find a new vendor to administer the test.
Ted Nesi (email@example.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook