On Wednesday the Rhode Island Department of Education released a comprehensive analysis of every school in every district in the state, assigning a star rank to every school in order to provide an easy to understand breakdown of where our educational facilities are and where they need to get to in order to improve.
The “School Report Card” is a targeted part of what RIDE commissioner Ken Wagner calls a “long-term strategy for improvement” which hopes to lead to more accountability and better outcomes. It comes shortly after the results of the state’s first year of RICAS testing – a standardized test comparable to the MCAS in Massachusetts – were released and caused widespread disappointment and frustration regarding the low proficiency levels statewide.
This platform is a powerful tool that, apart from the efficacy of its intended goal, will certainly help policymakers and journalistic entities make better sense of data that is often difficult to pin down, and hard to grapple with. It enables the user to directly compare data from district to district, school to school, and compare individual districts against the state averages. Everything from the number of students and educators, to the amount spent per pupil, to the Survey Works questionnaire results from the past two years are easily accessible all in one place – a beautiful sight for those who love data.
Star ratings are generated by measuring student achievement and growth, which will be further analyzed as the RICAS continues to assess districts. However, the rating encompasses more than just test scores, as it factors in school culture, perceived climate, teacher and student absentee rates, suspensions and the availability of student pathways. In order to achieve a five-star ranking, a school must have no areas of low performance, and one area of high performance will not skew the rating higher if there are multiple areas of low performance.
As it stands now, only 21 schools statewide achieved a five-star ranking – and eight of those are located in Barrington and East Greenwich alone. There are 40 schools with a four-star ranking, including Brown Avenue Elementary in Johnston, Waterman, Garden City, Orchard Farms and Stadium Elementary Schools and Cranston High School West in Cranston. There are no four- or five-star schools in Warwick.
Johnston Senior High School in Johnston, Pilgrim High School and Warwick Veterans Middle School in Warwick and Arlington, Eden Park, George Peters and Dutemple Elementary Schools in Cranston – plus Cranston High School East – all received two stars. Nicholas Ferri Middle School in Johnston and Bain Middle School in Cranston both received one-star ratings.
The majority of schools in Rhode Island – 132 – received three stars, which is the ceiling rating if there is any one metric that grades under an acceptable threshold by the report card system. In total, 24 schools are identified as being in need of “comprehensive support and improvement,” a federal designation for low-performing schools which opens access to methods of aid such as federal grants. Across the state, 131 schools were identified as in need of “additional targeted support and improvement.”
Most importantly, the grading system will allow educators themselves to look at the data of other districts and see what is working and what isn’t elsewhere in the state. There are successes and failures in each district, regardless of economical differences or other challenges. At its best, the Report Card system should be a means to objectively assess teaching methods that work, and enable districts to emulate those.
RIDE is faced with a tremendous challenge to improve the state’s educational standing, especially being just a short drive away from the nation’s indisputable academic heavyweight. That challenge will require more than data points and star rankings to get there – including hard decisions about how we raise money for schools and what our fiscal priorities are from the state level and down to the municipal level – but steps like these indicate that RIDE is serious about strapping on its gloves and fighting for our students.