2016-09-01 / Front Page

Student Test Scores Alarming

By Olga Enger

At the state level, approximately 38 percent of students met or exceeded expectations in language arts, representing a 2-percentage point increase over last year. In mathematics, 30 percent of all students tested proficient for their grade level, an improvement of five percentage points over last year. At the state level, approximately 38 percent of students met or exceeded expectations in language arts, representing a 2-percentage point increase over last year. In mathematics, 30 percent of all students tested proficient for their grade level, an improvement of five percentage points over last year. Aquidneck Island students, along with their peers across the state, are still not making the grade in a statewide assessment that measures against Common Core Standards in math and English language arts.

This is the second year Rhode Island students have taken the computerized Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test. On Aquidneck Island, results varied widely across grade level, districts and subject area, with Portsmouth faring the best and Newport the lowest of the three districts.

“The district realizes we have a lot of work to do in aligning our curriculum and standards at all grade levels, especially in the area of math,” said Newport Superintendent Colleen Jermain.

Grades three through 10 participated in PARCC testing, which ran from April through the end of May last school year. PARCC categorizes performance in five levels: exceeded expectations, met expectations, approached expectations, partially met expectations, or did not yet meet expectations.

Locally, as well as across the state, students performed higher in English language arts over math. Almost the entire high school class in Newport struggled with the math test, with only 5 percent testing proficient (met or exceeded expectations). Likewise, the majority of Middletown and Portsmouth high school students tested below proficient levels in math, with only 22 and 25 meeting or exceeding expectations, respectively.

But math scores were higher for younger grades (see accompanying chart) and the largest area of improvement was in Newport and Middletown elementary students’ math scores — jumping 10 and 11 percentage points, respectively.

“Introducing more STEAM at Pell [has] helped in these efforts and this is only with a one-year program underway. The district with its new strategic plan has listed literacy and math a priority throughout the district – and especially at the elementary level – so our students will rise through the system with a strong foundation,” said Jermain.

Newport has eight reading specialists across the three schools. For the first time this year, a STEM/ STEAM position was added to integrate technology into the fifth-grade curriculum and provide additional math support outside the classroom and school day.

“We noticed that students who are proficient and do well in math are those that are already in advanced math programming in algebra and geometry, sooner than their peers,” said Jermain.

At the state level, approximately 38 percent of students met or exceeded expectations in language arts, representing a 2-percentage point increase over last year. In mathematics, 30 percent of all students tested proficient for their grade level, an improvement of 5 percentage points over last year.

“The thing that concerns me the most is the math results,” said Newport School Committee member Rebecca Bolan. “It’s time for us to take a step back and refocus our efforts.”

School Committee member David Carlin believes school resources should be reallocated to provide more STEM resources at the elementary school.

“Math needs to be sexy to our youngsters,” he said.

“We've got a $40 million business and look at our results,” said Newport School Committee member Robert Leary.

The Rhode Island Board of Regents adopted the Common Core State Standards in July 2010, which began a statewide curriculum transition across districts. During that same period, Rhode Island joined a 20-state consortium to develop assessments that measure learning against the standards. Since that time, all but six states have moved away from the PARCC test, amid concerns about test validity and reliability.

One Newport teacher asserts economics puts the district at a disadvantage on assessments.

“Well-to-do communities come out the best on standardized tests. Urban districts came out the lowest,” said Barbara Walton-Faria, chair of the Rhode Island Teacher Advisory Council and longtime science teacher at Thompson Middle School. She said the test is “hard and convoluted” and was designed without input from educators.

Middletown Superintendent Rosemarie Kraeger said the PARCC results represent a “snapshot in time” and are only one metric of many used to assess students.

“[We have] inconsistent results; we need to dig deeper to see where the gaps are and assess curriculum,” said Kraeger. She added one positive highlight was the participation rate on the test, which increased from 92 to 97 percent. Districts that don’t garner a 95 percent participation rate are required by the state Department of Education to submit a corrective action plan.

In last year’s debut, Rhode Island PARCC participation rates fell below federal requirements, with 88 percent of students participating in English language arts (ELA) and 90 percent participating in the math assessment. Participation rates increased locally and statewide in the test’s second year, most notably in the Portsmouth, which experienced a jump of 45 percent.

Portsmouth resident and former teacher assistant Suzanne Rider said her hearing-impaired daughter opted out of the test because the results are “demoralizing.” She said the district held a pizza party to encourage higher participation rates, which further added to the stress of declining to take the test.

A Facebook group, “Stop Common Core in Rhode Island,” which has about 1,600 followers, share their concerns over Common Core, PARCC and their experiences with opting out of the test.

Although students were anticipating the state assessment would be a graduation requirement in 2014, the General Assembly overturned then-Commissioner Deborah Gist’s graduation policy in the third quarter, amid concerns that students had not received enough preparation for a high-stakes exam. In April of this year, State Education Commissioner Ken Wagner proposed moving further away from the graduation requirement as a state mandate, leaving the decision to the individual school districts as early as the graduating class of 2017.

“Our goal is for every student to earn a high school diploma, certification in a trade/art, and have a plan to enter the work force, career, or college,” said Jermain.

Return to top