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Chariho not resting on its laurels in improved math results

WOOD RIVER JUNCTION — While the latest scores from the New England Common Assessment Program show that more than half of Chariho High School students were proficient in math, improving student math performance continues to a topic of discussion in the school district.

“It has improved, but we would like to be doing better,” said Superintendent Barry Ricci, noting that the 51 percent proficiency rate among the 11th grade students tested this year was an improvement over previous years, with far fewer Level 1 students, or those who score substantially below proficient.

Members of the School Committee, along with Ricci and Principal Laurie Weber, discussed how to continue this progress at a meeting July 15.

Weber said that the high school has been conducting its own formative assessments, meeting with math teachers on a biweekly basis to analyze performance data on a classroom level.

“We are targeting students who are struggling early on, drilling right down to the individual skills they are struggling with,” Weber said. “That seems to be working. The data tells us that it’s having a positive effect on students.”

Weber emphasized that unlike standardized testing, which may not accurately reflect the students’ true knowledge, the school’s data has focused on skill development. Several School Committee members echoed her sentiment that the tests may not be the best indicator of student ability levels.

“These are just little snapshots of a broad-based curriculum,” said Ron Areglado. “Math is a very complex curriculum area. You’re looking at both analytic and literacy skills that come together.”

School Committee Chairman William Day said he hoped educators nationwide would focus less on test results and more on student needs and learning.

“We need to take back our education system,” he said. “I firmly believe that we are doing a disservice to our kids by worrying so much with PARCC and NECAP and whatever else may be down the road.” (Rhode Island is one of about a dozen states that make up the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, a set of assessments aligned with the Common Core State Standards.)

On a more local level, Barbara Capalbo, a member of the Hopkinton Town Council, suggested addressing concern with math performance by budgeting for more certified math specialists in the high school, instead of general teaching assistants, in the next budget cycle. She noted that the recently approved budget provided for a large number of teaching assistants relative to math and reading specialists, who may be more valuable in helping the district achieve its goals.

Committee member Robert Cardozo, who works as a math teacher in another district, reminded the others that while issues still remain, the high school faculty and staff have been working hard to provide quality math education.

“If you go into a math classroom here, you’re going to see damn good teaching,” he said.

Catherine Giusti, the appointed parent liaison to the School Committee, agreed.

“Who’s saying we’re failing?” she asked. “I’m not getting that sense that we’re failing these kids with math.”

Chariho High School, as well as the middle school, has been recognized by the Rhode Island Department of Education for the significant progress it has shown in both math and reading scores on NECAP in the last five years. The high school was also recognized as a commended school — the highest possible classification — in the department’s statewide accountability system this year, which classifies schools in a points system that includes test scores, attendance and dropout rates.

Nationally, the high school was one of 14 in Rhode Island recognized by U.S. News and World Reports in its 2014 listing of the best high schools in the country.

“Relatively, we’re doing well,” Ricci said. “Most of the benchmarks are very positive.”

Student performance data related to NECAP testing will also be disappearing, he said, as the state switches to a new standardized PARCC test beginning in this academic year. The initial transition may be a bit rocky, but in the long run the new assessments are expected to be beneficial because the test more closely correlates to curriculum, according to Ricci,

Weber described the switch to PARCC as a “new ballgame.”

“We may be starting from scratch a little bit again,” she said, adding that comparing the scores from NECAP and PARCC would not be fair, since the tests are very different.

“You will be comparing apples and oranges,” she said.

The computer-based PARCC assessments will measure mathematics and English language arts and literacy learning in grades K-12 and are supposed to help “ensure that every child is on a path to college and career readiness,” according to the PARCC website.

Based on a bill passed by the General Assembly and signed into law earlier this month, NECAP or any other standardized testing cannot be considered as a graduation requirement for high school students across the state until 2017.

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