RICHMOND — Standardized testing is serious stuff, and at Richmond Elementary School, every effort is made to ensure that students go into the tests well prepared emotionally as well as academically.

Teachers and students lined the halls of the school this week to cheer and wave pompoms at the 145 students in Grades 3 and 4 who are taking the Rhode Island Comprehensive Assessment System standard assessment this spring.

Principal Sharon Martin said that the testing would begin with English language arts.

“We begin with fourth grade on April 23 and 24 taking the ELA portion of the testing; third grade will be taking it on the 25th and 26th,” she said. “We have a little break, then they take the math test. May 8th and 9th is fourth grade and May 14th and 15th is third grade.”

This is the second year that the RICAS is being administered. The new standardized test replaces the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. RICAS is the Rhode Island version of the comprehensive assessment used in Massachusetts, and is now administered along with the SAT and PSAT tests, which are given to students in Grades 10 and 11. Together, the two sets of tests constitute Rhode Island's standardized testing protocol.

Teachers and administrators at all four Chariho elementary schools try to make test days special — in a good way.

“Before the testing for each grade on the day that they test, the district provides a healthy, nourishing breakfast,” Martin said. “They feel really special. They’re the first ones that are let off the bus and they go into the cafeteria and they have their special breakfast and shortly after morning announcements, they begin.”

Last year, the Rhode Island scores, which were not released until November, were significantly lower than those in Massachusetts: 17 percent lower on average in English and 20 percent lower in math. 

In the Chariho Regional School District, 54% of students met or exceeded expectations in English Language Arts, and 6.5 % did not meet expectations. In mathematics, 44.8% of students met expectations and 6.7 % did not. (In between those categories, there is another one: partially meeting expectations.)

Superintendent of Schools Barry Ricci said the results in the first year were about what he had expected, and he said he was confident that students would perform well this year.

“State assessments are but one measure that we use to measure the effectiveness of our programs and schools. Because we received results so late after the last round of testing, there was not sufficient time to make major curricula or instructional adjustments,” he said. “Nonetheless, we know that our students receive expert instruction and timely interventions when they struggle. We expect our students to perform at a high level on the RICAS.”

The tests are taken entirely on computers, an additional hurdle for some children. Martin said she felt that students in the Chariho district had an advantage because of the 1:1 initiative that has allocated Chromebooks to all but the youngest students, but she noted that the intensive nature of the tests was still challenging.

“Having the stamina to type, to share their thoughts in detail, typing versus in writing, that’s a skill they don’t quite have, and that’s still a concern for us, being able to communicate your thinking on the computer," she said. And the other concern is the tools involved, especially on the math portion of the test. The tools are different than what they would be used to, certainly in our math program … So being able to transfer their thinking using equation symbols, we’ve given them lots of practice using the practice test.”

Martin went to each classroom, asking students to come into the hall and cheer the third and fourth graders, who marched past the younger students and their teachers. They were encouraged to make as much noise as possible.

Reading specialist Franca Bartkiewicz, who was waving a purple pompom, said the rally helped generate positive enthusiasm for a potentially daunting event.

“It’s a test, so they’re not going to be excited about taking a test,” she said. “To see the enthusiasm from us, the excitement, it might just pump them up.”

Fourth-grader Kaelyn Comerford, who is also the Student Council president, took the RICAS last year. She said she was ready for this year’s test and noted that the pep parade made her feel supported by both teachers and other students.

“It lets me know that they’re cheering for us and they know we can do good on the testing,” she said.

The goal, Martin said, was to have the students develop a positive association with the testing.

“We really see it as a celebration of their learning,” Martin said. “It’s just documenting all the great instruction that their teachers have provided and all of the great work that went into achieving the standards."

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