PROVIDENCE — Students in the Westerly and Chariho school districts had slightly improved scores in the Rhode Island Comprehensive Assessment System standardized tests. The results, released Tuesday by the Rhode Island Department of Education, also showed that students in Westerly and Chariho scored higher than the statewide averages.
RICAS is the Rhode Island version of the comprehensive assessment tests in Massachusetts. This was the second year that the test was administered in Rhode Island. It has replaced the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test.
Last year’s results were the cause of considerable angst in the Rhode Island education community because the scores were considerably lower than those of students in Massachusetts. The new results are based on tests that were given this spring for the 2018-19 school year.
Angélica Infante-Green, commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education, said that while this year’s statewide results had improved by 4% in English and 3% percent in mathematics, it was clear that Rhode Island still lags far behind Massachusetts.
“These results are moving in the right direction, but it is too early to determine a consistent trend,” she said. “What is clear is that much more needs to be done to bring Rhode Island performance where it needs to be.”
Rhode Island is still 14 percentage points behind Massachusetts in English and 19 points behind in mathematics.
"We have high standards, a strong assessment, and a lot of great work happening in our schools. Now it’s time to stay the course and double down on the things that will move us forward, faster, in order to improve outcomes for students,” Infante-Green said.
The results are presented in five categories: the percentages of students not meeting expectations; partially meeting expectations; meeting expectations; exceeding expectations; and a final percentage combining the percentages of students meeting and exceeding expectations.
In English, 52% of Westerly students met or exceeded expectations, up from 40% last year, and 8.35% did not meet expectations. In mathematics, 38% of Westerly students met or exceeded expectations, up from 33% last year, and 13% did not meet expectations.
At Chariho, 58% of students met or exceeded expectations in English, up from 54%. The state average is 38%. Forty-seven percent of Chariho students met or exceeded expectations in mathematics, up from 44.8%. The state average is 30%.
Westerly Superintendent of Schools Mark Garceau said district administrators started discussing the new RICAS scores recently. "There are definitely some bright spots but we're always going to have more work to do until 100% are meeting proficiency expectations," he said.
At the school level, State Street Elementary School students posted "truly significant improvements" in both English, up 11.43% to 63.25%, and mathematics, up 13.85% to 66.67%, Garceau said, going on to praise the school's "building leadership and teachers."
Other highlights in Westerly included a 12% increase in math at Dunn's Corners Elementary School, to 58.8%, and an 11% increase in English at Westerly Middle School. Springbrook Elementary School showed small increases in math and was flat in English.
Garceau said he hoped the test results provided another opportunity for "engaging teachers to think about the impact instruction has on kids and how to plan thoughtfully and intentionally."
He said the district must remain focused on all students, but should pay particular attention to English language learners, students from low income families, and students who receive special education services.
With similar gains in student performance on the PSAT and SAT tests and increases in the number of students taking advanced placement classes and performing well in them at Westerly High School, Garceau said the district is headed in the right direction. "Our principals and teachers should feel good about themselves today but we have more work to do," he said.
District principals will present test results to the School Committee in November, Garceau said.
Diane Chiaradio Bowdy, chairwoman of the Westerly School Committee, said, "The overall RICAS results are very encouraging. We have a long way to go to get to where we need to and should be but, as expected, the needle is moving in the right direction."
Chariho Superintendent of Schools Barry Ricci said he was generally pleased with the improvements, although he did question the middle school test results, which showed a lower percentage of students, 54.5 percent, meeting or exceeding expectations, a result that was lower than those at the district’s other schools.
“Generally, we saw modest gains in RICAS scores at most schools, including growth, with all results well above the state level,” he said. “We do, however, question the reliability of middle school results as there were significant technology issues during testing. Now, the hard work of analysis and instructional adjustment begins. We will, without a doubt, stay the course and keep the emphasis on high and rigorous expectations, where the emphasis should be.”
Barbara S. Cottam, who chairs the Rhode Island Board of Education, said that setting Massachusetts standards as achievement goals for Rhode Island students would continue.
“We adopted the RICAS because Massachusetts is a trusted partner, and if we want to be a national leader in education, it’s the right comparison to make,” she said. “As we complete a second year of testing, we are reminded of how much work we have to do, but incredible possibilities lie ahead if we all follow through on this long-term vision for education. Our students and families deserve nothing less.”