PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The private vendor that administers the Rhode Island Comprehensive Assessment System (RICAS) standardized test says this year’s scores have already been provided to the R.I. Department of Education, amid ongoing controversy over the timing of their release.
Target 12 asked the vendor — Cognia — for clarity on the timeline after Gov. Dan McKee suggested in a WPRI 12 debate on Tuesday night that the state was still waiting on the numbers from the vendor, which administers both the Massachusetts version of the test (MCAS) and the RICAS.
“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.
“My understanding is now that we’re second in line to get that information,” he said. “So when the information is ready, it will be provided.”
The MCAS scores were released publicly on Sept. 29.
Rhode Island public school students in grades 3-8 took the RICAS exam back in the spring. The state had originally set a tentative October release date for the scores, according to the state’s published assessment schedule. Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green also said “probably October” when asked over the summer when the results would be out.
But Victor Morente, a spokesperson for RIDE, said earlier this month the scores were now expected to be released in mid-November, putting the release of the data after the election. That announcement has drawn strong criticism from McKee’s Republican challenger, Ashley Kalus, who argued the governor was withholding the scores for political reasons.
Debate moderator Tim White asked McKee on Tuesday whether voters should have the chance to see the scores before casting their ballots, which prompted the governor’s response about the MCAS scores being first in line.
“I do not have the scores,” he said.
On Friday, Target 12 asked Cognia whether the company had been delayed in getting the RICAS results ready in order to meet the original October release timeframe. Mariama Tyler, a spokesperson for Cognia, said the company has already delivered the scores to the state.
“The delay is not on our end,” Tyler said in an email. “I don’t have any other information though. You’d have to ask the RIDE.”
Matt Sheaff, a spokesperson for McKee, defended the governor’s remarks Friday night and deferred to RIDE for more specifics on the timeline.
“The governor has been very clear, he does not yet personally have and has not personally seen the RICAS scores in any form,” Sheaff said. “The governor expects the RICAS scores to be released as soon as RIDE determines the data is ready. RIDE can provide further details on where they are in the process of preparing the data for release.”
RIDE originally said it would comment Friday afternoon, but did not respond until late Friday night. Morente sent a lengthy statement detailing the “quality control” process currently under way to validate the final data before release.
Morente did not say when RIDE received the scores from Cognia, nor did he explain why the process wouldn’t be completed until November this year when it was done by October last year.
“When the initial data is received – it is not final, validated data,” Morente said in part. “Until this thorough process is complete, these draft materials are confidential and have not been shared — including with the governor.”
He did say “personalized student videos” were going to be part of this year’s results, to “help families understand RICAS results.” Hard copies of results are expected to be delivered to districts on Nov. 10, two days after the election.
Morente did not provide a date for public release of the RICAS results.
Alana O’Hare, McKee’s campaign spokesperson, also sent a comment late Friday clarifying McKee’s remarks on Tuesday night, saying: “The governor’s comments at the debate reflected the fact that MCAS leads RICAS in the timetable for release of final, perfected data.”
Cognia was paid $3.2 million in the 2021-22 fiscal year to administer the test, according to the state’s transparency portal.
Earlier this month, Morente had denied any delay in releasing the results.
“There is no delay,” Morente said 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.”
Morente also pointed out that in 2018, the first year the exam was administered, the RICAS scores were not released until late November. That year was also an election year.
The scores were released in late October in both 2021 and 2019, the two most recent years the exam was administered. The MCAS scores were released in late September both years, similar to this year’s release. (Both the MCAS and the RICAS were cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic.)
Emails obtained by Target 12 through a records request show Morente ran RIDE’s response by the governor’s office before sending it to reporters. McKee’s communications director, Andrea Palagi, suggested Morente move his denial of a delay to the first sentence of the statement.
Parents receive individual RICAS results for their child in the mail, but the public release of the aggregated scores are of high interest to the wider community including parents, teachers and policymakers, who often use the scores to make decisions.
Infante-Green, for example, repeatedly cited Providence’s dismal proficiency rates on the RICAS when arguing in 2019 that the state should take control of the Providence school district.
The Providence Teachers Union is among those who have called for the 2022 scores to be released.
Kalus accused McKee of “holding the RICAS scores hostage for an election.” She said parents and teachers “deserve to know and to judge what you said you’ve done for education, by the scores, before the election.”
During the debate, McKee said, “I know what the numbers are going to show without seeing them. We’re at a floor right now. We’ve been in a pandemic the last two school years, our scores are at an all-time low.”
“We’re going to make tremendous improvements off that floor,” McKee added.
Steph Machado (email@example.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter covering Providence, politics and more for 12 News. Connect with her on Twitter and on Facebook.
Tolly Taylor (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for 12 News. Connect with him on Twitter and on Facebook
Ted Nesi contributed to this report.