Results of the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) released by the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) earlier this month show Warwick continues to outperform the state, with the exception of one area.
“Warwick is above the state average, with the exception of math grade 11,” said Dr. Anne Siesel, the school department’s assistant director of curriculum. “We had three schools that made significant gains in math and reading; Aldrich, Gorton and Pilgrim.”
Regarding elementary school performance, Siesel said the elementary schools consistently do well on the NECAP, adding that reading is improving.
“Reading scores are very high, in the upper 70s and 80s depending on the individual school,” she said. This means that 70 to 80 percent of students are scoring proficient or better in the reading test.
Students in grades 3 through 11 take the NECAP in October and are tested in reading, math and writing. There are four levels of proficiency a student can attain: Level 4 is proficient with distinction; Level 3 is proficient; Level 2 is partially proficient; and Level 1 is substantially below proficient.
According to the results, which can be found on the RIDE website at www.ride.ri.gov/Assessment/Results.aspx, 79 percent of Warwick students were proficient or better in reading, 57 percent were proficient or better in math and 58 percent were proficient or better in reading; as compared to the state average, with 73 percent in reading (up 2 points from 2010), 56 percent in math (up 1 point) and 55 percent in writing. In grade 11 math, Warwick was five percentage points below the state average (30, down 3 points), with approximately 25 percent of students proficient or better.
According to a statement released by RIDE, scores slightly increased across the board, with middle schools showing the most improvement. While the five-year graduation rate also rose slightly, achievement gaps still exist and the state only met or nearly met 7 of the 31 goals set for NECAP performance and graduation rates.
“I am pleased that Rhode Island students continue to improve on state assessments, even though the rate of improvement is not as great as we would like to see,” said Governor Lincoln D. Chafee in the statement.
George D. Caruolo, chairman of the Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education, while pleased with the results said he had concerns regarding low math scores.
“I want to commend our teachers and students, particularly in our middle schools, for the improvements on the NECAP exams,” he said in the statement. “I am, however, concerned about the continued low achievement level in high school mathematics, where we need to see significant improvement so that all students are ready to graduate and to succeed in college and careers.”
Warwick has been addressing the area of mathematics over the last few years, as teachers worked with consultants from the DANA Center in Texas to align the math curriculum to the Common Core Standards, which is a change from the traditionally used Grade Level Expectations (GLEs) and Grade Span Expectations (GSEs). The new curriculum was implemented this year, and Siesel hopes it leads to improved scores next year.
“We’re hoping [with] the new math curriculum in place, with additional supports worked on over the last two to three years such as consultant work and purchasing new materials, we’ll see a more substantial gain in math [scores] next year,” she said, adding the new curriculum puts more focus on math practices and the thinking process.
Siesel said while the district continues to show improvement, gaps still exist among different student groups.
“We look at the gaps between different groups of students – ethnicity, economically advantaged versus economically disadvantaged, IEP [Individualized Education Plan] versus non-IEP – and the goal is to reduce the gap by half over a five-year period, starting last year,” she said. “We find that where we may not reduce the gap significantly in a given year, the same students show growth from year to year.”
Siesel said one thing that should help is constructing a unified curriculum across the district aligned to the Common Core Standards, as has been done with math and is being worked on currently in the English language arts (ELA) curriculum.
While NECAP doesn’t test the Common Core Standards, the district is getting a head-start on learning and implementing them because in 2014, in place of NECAP, Rhode Island will adopt the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test, which will test Common Core Standards.
One of the major differences between PARCC and NECAP is the PARCC test is administered twice each year; students complete the written portion three-quarters of the way through the school year and take the multiple-choice portion at the 90 percent year-mark.
“With PARCC, we will see students taking it at the right time of year,” Siesel said.
Superintendent Peter Horoschak said one of the disadvantages to the NECAP test, which is administered in October, is its timing. Not only might students have forgotten some of what they learned over summer vacation, but because it’s taken so early in the year, they may be tested on things they haven’t yet learned.
“The data should be used to help you; you shouldn’t get clubbed over the head by it,” he said.
Horoschak said the data could be valuable if used properly.
“Test data can be valuable if used to inform instruction and look at ways to align curriculum, but it tends to narrow the focus in the classroom to the test,” he said, adding it can limit other areas of focus. “You can’t approach the learning environment in a way that you know would be helpful and useful.”
Horoschak said the constant flow of new mandates coming down from RIDE can make it difficult for teachers.
“This is part of what’s putting pressure and resistance on educational staff and instructional leadership, all this change coming down at the same time,” he said. “There’s a lot of intensity to fit in the training for all of this.”
Horoschak said there are additional ways to support and teach students that aren’t measuring up, and they need to be learned and dealt with.
“We’re working very intently on these things,” he said. “There’s a lot of change with the curriculum, but it has great meaning and that’s important. How do you use technology in the classroom and put it all together? It takes time and money,” he said, adding there needs to be an understanding and appreciation for the capacity to implement these changes.
Siesel said the district should be proud to say, “we make consistent, steady growth.”
Looking at data from 2005, the baseline year, Siesel said percentages have only gone up. In 2005, 67 percent of Warwick students were proficient at reading, now it’s 79 percent; and math has improved from 46 percent in 2005 to 57 percent now.
“When you look at all schools as a district, there are no schools that would fall into the category of no progress,” she said.
Siesel will be giving a detailed presentation on NECAP 2011 results, comparing schools within the district as well as comparing the district with the state, at the School Committee’s next scheduled meeting on Tuesday, March 6.