PROVIDENCE — Administrators in the Westerly and Chariho school districts are analyzing the results of the first School Report Card rankings, which were released Wednesday by the Rhode Island Department of Education.
Collected in 2018, the data are meant to provide a comprehensive picture of school performance. Ratings of one to five stars are given to every public school in the state.
This ranking system, a component of the 2015 federal Every Student Succeeds Act, follows the Nov. 29 release of the Rhode Island Comprehensive Assessment System standardized test results, in which Rhode Island students scored considerably lower than their Massachusetts counterparts. After mandating frequent changes to standardized testing protocols, state education officials are now pledging to follow a long-term education and assessment plan.
“The release of our RICAS results underscored that we have work to do,” said Barbara Cottam, who chairs the Rhode Island Board of Education. “Our students are not performing where we need them to be, particularly our students of color, English learners, and students with disabilities. In order to make considerable gains, we need to stay the course on a comprehensive, long-term strategy."
Education Commissioner Ken Wagner described the new report card system as another means of ensuring accountability. “We have a collective responsibility, from my office to local governments, superintendents to classroom teachers, to serve all students and hold ourselves accountable for outcomes,” he said. “That shared responsibility is central to our ability to stay the course on a long-term strategy for improvement.”
In addition to measuring student performance in standardized tests (RICAS for Grades 3 to 8 and the PSAT and SAT for high school) the star system measures school culture, safety, chronic absenteeism among students and teachers, suspension rates and student study pathways.
A five-star ranking school must have no low-performing student groups in academic achievement, growth or graduation rate. This top ranking was given to 21 schools. Twenty-four schools in the state were designated as one-star schools, the lowest ranking.
Westerly High school and Dunn’s Corners Elementary School received four-star ratings. Springbrook Elementary and the middle school received three stars and State Street elementary school received two.
Superintendent Mark Garceau said he was pleased that two schools in the district were identified as four-star but added, “the work continues, there’s always room for growth.”
“My charge today to the principals, regardless of what school we’re talking about, is where is your next star coming from? The high school needs to look and determine where they can pick up those points that will get them that next star,” he said. “Some of it may be instructional, some of it may be about improving attendance, some of it may be about suspension rates.”
Adding a star requires looking the matrix of what went into each school’s score and figuring out what areas need to improve, he said. “A truly successful, comprehensive school is going to hit on all cylinders and that’s what we need to do,” he said.
Two Chariho elementary schools, Ashaway and Hope Valley, received five-star ratings. Charlestown elementary received four stars and Richmond elementary school received three. The high school and middle schools also received three stars.
The RIDE press release congratulated the four Chariho elementary schools for their progress in mathematics, noting that they all "made the top 10 for average growth in math scores.”
Chariho Superintendent Barry Ricci said he was pleased with both the new star rankings and the RICAS scores.
“I think our results on the RICAS are respectable, as are our rankings,” he said. “Every time the school ranking system changes, the ranking of schools will change. That said, we are taking a look at our common assessments to make sure there is alignment with RICAS and we are in the process of identifying demographically similar, but higher performing, schools in Massachusetts. This will form the basis for comparisons in the future; it will stretch us to continue to improve.”
The recently upgraded Chariho Alternative Learning Academy, which serves special needs students, earned the lowest one-star rating, identifying it as needing “Comprehensive Support and Improvement,” a federal designation for low-performing schools which will receive additional support and oversight from the state.
Ricci said it was good to see the academy included in the new rankings. “I'm glad that CALA is being held to the same standard as all other schools. But yes, there is a degree of concern given the unique student population enrolled in CALA. I'm motivated by a challenge, so no worries on my end,” he said.
The new school rankings are available on the RIDE website: https://reportcard.ride.ri.gov/
Sun staff writer Catherine Hewitt contributed to this article.