Following Tuesday’s announcement of the Rhode Island Department of Education’s (RIDE) 2013 School Classification, Warwick’s Director of Secondary Schools Dennis Mullen said he was “satisfied” but always looking for ways to improve.
Of the 22 Warwick schools, Randall Holden was classified as Leading, the second highest distinction, yet Aldrich Junior High School and Oakland Beach Elementary School were classified as Warning.
The remaining 19 were Typical, including the three high schools.
“We were pleased all of the high schools maintained their status [from last year],” said Mullen, adding that they are looking toward higher classifications down the road.
There are a total of six potential classifications a school can be placed in: Commended, Leading, Typical, Warning, Focus and Priority.
Randall Holden’s ranking of Leading is defined on RIDE’s website as “strong achievement in reading and mathematics, small or no gaps in student performance and/or are improving student achievement, and increasing graduation rates.”
Typical classification is defined as “performance at or near the state average, sometimes with pockets of strength and/or challenges in one or more areas.”
Warning classification is defined as “a combination of low achievement in reading and math, unacceptable achievement gaps, and/or little or no progress in improving achievement or graduation rates.”
To evaluate the schools, RIDE uses the Rhode Island Accountability System. According to RIDE’s press release on the 2013 classifications, the system “is designed to recognize outstanding performance and to provide support to low-achieving schools.”
A school’s score and corresponding classification is based on proficiency, distinction, participation, gap closing, progress and growth. If a school is a high school, annual improvement and graduation rate goals are also included.
“Our concern with all of our schools is student growth,” said Mullen.
Mullen also expressed his happiness with Winman Junior High School’s improved rating from Warning to Typical over the past year.
Elliot Krieger, director of communications for RIDE, explained that the new system, which started in 2012, provides more information to RIDE about the school. The old system, which was used through 2011, only looked at student proficiency.
“[The new system] is a much more specific look [at schools], but still a snapshot of a point in time,” said Krieger.
There is also a reason behind naming the levels as opposed to assigning grades.
“We intentionally do not use a letter-grade system,” explained Krieger. “It’s in much more descriptive terms.”
Krieger expressed that no school with a lower classification is seen as “failing”; they are seen by RIDE as a school that is a priority to work with.
In fact, school districts that have schools classified as Focus or Priority are required to meet with RIDE on a regular basis to come up with a three- to five-year-plan to eventually improve their standings.
Krieger said the meetings allow representatives from the district to see a “diagnostic screen,” which breaks down the score and will help them see the potential reasons for those low numbers.
“There may be lots of reasons, but they can’t do everything at once,” said Krieger, explaining that schools can pick a number of areas to focus on and submit a plan for approval to Education Commissioner Deborah Gist.
Schools with a Warning classification, such as Aldrich and Oakland Beach, are also required to create plans but they would not require regular meetings with Gist and RIDE.
The majority of Warwick schools are classified as Typical; they are not at the top, but they also will not require the attention of RIDE at this time. So what should these schools do to improve?
Krieger encourages all schools, regardless of classification, to find ways to improve.
“Look at the data, make a decision on what to improve on regardless of classification level and take action,” said Krieger.
More often than not, he believes focusing on student achievement can make a difference.
“If you improve student achievement, the ranking should follow,” said Krieger.
There are two areas Mullen says Warwick schools will focus on.
The first is supporting students in Warwick schools with Individualized Education Plans (IEP) or in other special programs.
“Expectations are the same, but all students learn in different ways,” said Mullen. “One size does not fit all.”
Mullen said this would be looked at not only to make sure all students are achieving, but that IEPs are being followed.
Also, because of Winman and Aldrich’s status as Warning last year, the two schools received a $50,000 grant from RIDE and the school department purchased Google Chrome carts, which hold a number of laptops to be used in the classroom setting.
“Winman and Aldrich will be utilizing that technology to prepare for PARCC,” said Mullen. PARCC, or Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, will be replacing NECAPs in the future.
“Once it was decided Gorton would remain open, we also purchased a Google Chrome cart for them,” added Mullen.
Krieger encouraged parents and community members to look at the results of this process and ask questions of principals, superintendents and the School Committee about why the ranking is the way it is and what is being done about it.
Despite each score being incredibly individualized by school, when asked what factors he believed a Commended school would have, Krieger said high student achievement across the board, little to no achievement gaps and, in the case of a high school, a strong graduation rate.
Moving toward Commended classification is what Mullen aims for.
“You can’t stay complacent with what you have; you have to keep trying to move forward,” said Mullen.
The 2013 School Classifications can be found under News on RIDE’s website.