2017-09-07 / Front Page

Students' PARCC Test Scores Still Low

By Brooke Constance White

Newport public schools this year again fell short of the mark for acceptable standardized testing scores.

The scores for the 2017 Newport School District’s PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) test don’t differ dramatically from last year but are still lower than administrators had hoped, according to Newport Superintendent Colleen Jermain.

Overall, only 32.2 percent of students district-wide met or exceeded expectations on the English Language Arts (ELA) portion and only 24.2 percent on the mathematics portion. The high school scores are particularly dismal with only 12.2 percent of students meeting or exceeding expectations in the ELA portion and 9.7 on the math portion. The statewide average is 39 percent on the ELA segment and 31.6 on the math segment.

Although Jermain said the administration is concerned and recognizes the work that must be done to ensure students are excelling, she believes the results are not a true reflection of the district’s capabilities.

“Our high schoolers have been a challenge with PARCC testing because many aren’t taking the test seriously as it doesn’t matter for their grades, college or graduation,” Jermain said in an Aug. 29 phone interview. “I think a much better indicator is their PSAT and SAT scores, which … high school students will be taking statewide … starting next year.”

Jermain said even the ninth-graders’ PARCC scores indicated that students were not putting forth their best effort.

“Only about 13 percent of our grade nine students met or exceeded criteria for ELA,” she said. “Even as freshmen, we can already start to see their apathy toward testing growing. This is no excuse though. They should be taking this test very seriously.”

According to Jermain, the results imply that the district’s administration and staff must set higher standards for students and make sure they address trouble areas, specifically math. One adjustment the district is implementing is to pilot a new mathematics curriculum in the middle school and adjust schedules so that students in grades 6-8 have more time to study math.

“We’re going to monitor skills and growth and share that [information] with the parents because we want to get them more involved and communicate with them as to their student’s ability level and strengths and weaknesses,” she said.

Jermain said, "Ultimately, it all comes back to emphasizing rigor and high standards for all students. To help in that effort, and that the administration and staff will be participating in professional development throughout the year to better address students’ learning needs.

Kimberly Behan, assistant superintendent for Newport schools, analyzed the PARCC test results and said that when you break the students’ scores into subgroups based on poverty, disability, race and native language, among other characteristics, there is a big gap in results. In that respect, Newport reflects other similar urban districts in the state.

“Looking at these subgroups, it’s clear that we need to continue to work to make sure all of our students are making good gains,” Behan said. “We must remember that PARCC data is one measure. It’s a test that is pretty artificial for our kids because, generally speaking, students learn new content and then are tested on what they just learned. In those sorts of tests, we see our students making decent gains. They might not be on grade level but they are showing growth that doesn’t get reported here [in the PARCC data].”

This past school year, the district’s high school students performed significantly better on the PSAT and SAT than on PARCC. Jermain said the students take the PSAT and SAT more seriously because they understand that the results are important for getting into college.

“There’s some skin in the game with the PSAT and SAT for our students. It has more meaning to them,” she said, adding that few students knew why they were taking the PARCC. “But regardless, we still need to hold them accountable and make sure they’re doing their best. The PSAT and SAT results show that our kids are very, very capable.”

School Committee Chairman David Hanos expressed disappointment in the district’s scores and is hopeful that some of the changes Jermain outlined will help in the efforts for next year’s testing.

“I’ve never been a good test-taker but I realize that this is the only gauge the state uses to measure us against other schools in the state, so we have no choice but to figure out how to test better on these assessments,” Hanos said. “I know it’s not a measure of the brightness of our students but we must do better.”

Starting next year, the Rhode Island Department of Education will switch to the Rhode Island Comprehensive Assessment System (RICAS) for elementary and middle school students in order to cut overall testing time, increase continuity in the classroom, and provide a more consistent measure of student progress. The PSAT and SAT will count as the state assessment for high school students.

“We have a lot of work to do and are hoping this will be the year of change,” Jermain said.

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