Low SAT scores put curriculum in focus

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Standardized test scores that measure college readiness in mathematics and English Language Arts (ELA) in Warwick have once again sparked a conversation about how student proficiency is gauged in the city and whether or not students are on the right track for their educational futures.

At the school committee meeting held last week at Warwick Veterans Middle School, Curriculum Director Wendy Amelotte presented findings from the past two years of SAT and PSAT test scores in Warwick and drew comparisons to the state average and the school districts of Barrington and Exeter/West Greenwich, both of which score significantly higher than other districts in Rhode Island.

“We are starting to have a culture of benchmarking and are really thinking not to shame anybody as to where we are as a collective district, but to look at where we are to make plans to move forward…While this is secondary data, this is representational of our district and where we are in order to move forward to support all students for learning,” Amelotte said. “It should not be used to shame any individual teacher or our district, but to help us think and plan about how to spend our funds.”

The results showed that Warwick students are not testing well, particularly in the area of mathematics. Of 622 11th-grade students assessed on the mathematics portion of the SAT last spring, nearly 75 percent of them (465 students) failed to meet or exceed expectations, meaning only 157 students assessed in Warwick last year were graded as being prepared for higher level mathematics as they prepare to graduate this year.

Broken down further, a higher percentage of students in Warwick met or exceeded expectations on the math PSAT in the 2018/19 school year than in 2017/18, but both years still lagged behind the state average in 2019. For comparison, Barrington students tested about 70 percent proficient in math, and Exeter/West Greenwich scored a little over 60 percent proficient, compared to about 28 percent in Warwick for the math portion of the PSAT.

Additionally, about half the students in Warwick are not meeting expectations according to Common Core standards in ELA, with 308 of 623 total students assessed failing to meet or exceed expectations on the SAT, compared to nearly 90 percent of students in Barrington meeting expectations on the ELA SAT and about 75 percent being proficient in Exeter/West Greenwich. Warwick scored about on par with the state on the ELA SAT, but had fewer students exceed expectations than the state average.

Comparisons to Massachusetts were also made during the presentation, which showed average test scores in Rhode Island were a little over 500 out of a possible 800 in ELA and hovered around 490 out of 800 in math. In Massachusetts, the average was around 560 for both portions. However, this may not be a fair comparison, as Amelotte pointed out, because since 2017 Rhode Island has mandated every student to take the SAT, whether they intend to pursue higher education or not. Massachusetts has no such requirement.

“We know that these are proxies with a lot of inference and shouldn’t be over-used or weaponized against anybody, but should be used as benchmarking and to understand what are we doing well, what do we need to continue to do and how we need to change our practices,” Amelotte clarified, but also added that, “This is a concern for all of us.”

AP testing also examined

As part of the testing discussion, Warwick’s past two years of advanced placement (AP) testing was examined by Director of Secondary Education Bob Littlefield.

The data showed that the total number of students taking AP tests at Toll Gate and Pilgrim High Schools increased from 2018 to 2019, from 258 total exams at Toll Gate in 2018 to 302 in 2019 – and 277 tests at Pilgrim in 2018 to 288 in 2019. The success rate increased from 48.8 percent at Toll Gate in 2018 to 52 percent in 2019, whereas the success rate dropped from 44 percent at Pilgrim in 2018 to 36.1 percent in 2019. Overall, the district administered 590 AP tests in 2019 with a success rate of 44.2 percent.

There were highlights though, such as Toll Gate English AP students, where 43 students experienced a 65 percent success rate – an average score of 3.16 (out of a maximum of 5) that exceeded both the Rhode Island and global test averages. Similarly, 18 students taking biology AP exams at Pilgrim experienced an 83.3 success rate and an average score of 3.27 that exceeded both state and global averages. Seventeen students in AP European History at Toll Gate also saw a 76.5 percent success rate, with a 3.35 average score that exceeded all averages.

The district also increased its AP offerings from 2018/19 to 2019/20, with 17 total course offerings including new classes such as psychology, computer science principles and studio art at Pilgrim and American Government and Politics at Toll Gate.

Addressing the results

Superintendent Philip Thornton has been adamant that implementing new curricula based in Common Core – so that students are learning material each day that aligns with the material they will be assessed on in standardized tests, which are also based on the Common Core – is a step in the right direction to addressing the concerning standardized test scores in Warwick.

“The work for us now in Warwick is to take an honest assessment of where we are and make plans to move forward, and that’s exactly what we are doing,” he said on Monday morning.

The district has already put in place a new curriculum for K-9 students in mathematics, which began implementation this year, and aligns with Common Core. The district has also revamped its science curriculum, moving away from what they deemed to be an antiquated model where elementary level science was only taught sporadically throughout the week to one where science is taught every day, and partners with the University of Rhode Island to administer and train teachers on the curriculum through their GEMSNET program.

Thornton said the next step is to update the math curriculum at the full high school level, which will become a topic of conversation during the next budget. After that, he wants to dig into the ELA curriculum and then “go from there.”

“Historically in Warwick, we were instructing students in the Common Core using curriculum that were not aligned to the same standards, and that was problematic, but we are now moving in the right direction,” he said. Historically, Warwick has utilized curriculum that has been assessed as being “in the red,” or not aligned with national standards, until these recent changes.

Warwick Teachers’ Union President Darlene Netcoh is cautious about using SAT data to establish benchmarks for students. She believes the test itself is problematic and intent on trying to “catch kids and trick them,” and that kids will only do particularly well on the test if they are specifically instructed on taking that particular test.

“Those tests were not designed to be proficiency tests,” Netcoh said. “They were designed to measure whether or not a student was ready to take on college level work and to predict the way a student would do in college. They're not designed to measure proficiency.”

Even more dubious to Netcoh was using districts such as Barrington and Exeter/West Greenwich for a comparison to Warwick, which she said have vastly different socioeconomic situations than Warwick. She felt that if the district wants to improve SAT scores, having an SAT preparatory class – as has been offered in the past – would be a good place to start.

Another point of view came from Nathan Cornell, school committee treasurer, who as a recent graduate from Toll Gate High School in 2016 feels as though standardized tests aren’t a great means to assess every student.

“Some students are just bad test takers. They could be brilliant, they just don’t take tests properly, and that’s true of many students,” he said.

This point was challenged by school committee member at-large David Testa, who shared a story of two of his children who went through advanced placement (AP) testing – one of whom had a teacher who didn’t teach a specific part of the curriculum “because they didn’t believe in that part of the curriculum,” so when his daughter took the test, “they had no clue what they were looking at.” His other daughter made the effort to study on her own accord for the test and fared much better.

“So, yes, some kids are not test takers, but that is a very convenient excuse that we use here as if our drinking water is somehow different from the rest of the state,” Testa said. “I’m sorry to sound a little agitated about that, but that’s a craw for me. Our kids are not bad test takers. Overall, they’re not bad test takers – I can’t buy into that.”

In a larger picture, Warwick will now have three means to assess student proficiency going forward – the SAT/PSAT exam and the RICAS (which went to full, statewide implementation last year, and is comparable to Massachusetts’ MCAS exam for math and ELA proficiency, and the NexGen Science Assessment, which is taken by 5th, 8th and 11th grade students and assesses science proficiency.

As to the discussion regarding the value of standardized testing, Thornton was steadfast about using them as a tracker of progress and a means to assess areas of need going forward.

“I think test scores can and should be used as an indicator to track student improvement,” Thornton said. “Test scores should never be dismissed and pushed aside because we don’t like the scores that we see. Rather, they are a starting point for improvement.”

The next results of RICAS testing, which was taken last spring by students, will be available for analysis tomorrow, which should continue the conversation going forward.

Comments

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dumbfucks

we are

Tuesday, October 22
John Stark

Let me get this straight. Measurable academic outcomes "...should not be used to shame any individual teacher or our district...and shouldn’t be over-used or weaponized against anybody..." says the person who supervises this ongoing disaster. Maybe it's time some people WERE shamed! Naturally, the union head weighs in by blaming the test which, curiously, seems to do a pretty good job of measuring proficiency throughout Massachusetts and most parts of RI, but not Warwick. Like it or not, the test is both valid and reliable. Then the school committee apologist tells us that "...some students are just bad test takers", while overlooking the glaring fact that a disproportionate number of these "bad test takers" seem to magically reside in Warwick. Somehow, the very same test seems to sit rather well with folks a couple of miles to the south in East Greenwich, where the new 2018-19 results reflect a proficiency (i.e. Employability) rate of 75.9% in Math vs. Warwick at 25.4%. That discrepancy is simply staggering! Mr. Testa (whom I do not know) doesn't appear to buy this rampant and ingrained lack of accountability, nor should Warwick taxpayers.

Tuesday, October 22
Thecaptain

Yet the school committee led by Sam Kineson's twin sister Karen Bachus, overwhelmingly signed a 3 year contract giving the teachers $13.46 million in raises, although there is a daily 10% absenteeism of teachers and the product that they produce is substandard. What I haven't heard is the outrage that these overpaid under qualified teachers are setting our kids up for hardship and unnecessary challenges in their post secondary education attempts. But then again, the progressive Dems will increase the welfare rolls to accommodate.

Thank God for Brother Loftus, Brother Wright, Mr. Brown, Mr. Lombardi, Mr. Hickey, Brother Moss, Brother "Mad Dog" Murphy, Brother Crogan, Brother Sheehan, and so many other educators who insured that you were going to get educated. Contrasting in this time line the education level coming from institutions such as Hendricken and Prout, compared with, well, all of Warwick, the "STARK" reality is that sending your children to Warwick schools is a major dis-service to your children.

GO HAWKS !!

Tuesday, October 22
Robert

Common Core is communist indoctrination where the individual is negated for the collective and where facts and truths are negated for the group consensus. If the group agrees 2+2=5 then that becomes their new thesis. The end result of Common Core education are a collective of politically correct stooges.

Tuesday, October 22
Warwick_Resident1998

Hey Captain,

Did the fine folks at Hendricken sell you an insurance policy? That is the only was they would have "Insured" you. Otherwise they would have ensured that you were going to get educated.

To ensure is to make certain, and to insure is to protect financially.

But this is classic hubris from you. Bragging about the great education you got from Hendricken, but a lowly public school educated poster has to correct your improper grammar.

Thanks for all the entertainment you provide.

Wednesday, October 23
John Stark

A couple of follow up points here. First, when the MCAS was introduced in Massachusetts, the teachers' unions were up in arms about "accuracy", "racism", "teaching to the test", and all the usual resistance to any change in public education that is so accurately captured in this article. Curiously, those 'concerns' seem to have gone away in Mass.

Second, the argument against comparing local SAT scores with those in Massachusetts is valid given that not all Mass. kids take the SAT. However, the fact that ALL Warwick kids must take the SAT reflects a broader and more accurate sample size, because you're testing everyone. And given the law of large numbers, the results in Warwick are that much more disturbing because they reflect the entire population.

Finally, 29.3% of PSAT takers in the 2017-18 school year were deemed to be meeting expectations in Math and 61.3% in English Language Arts. That same group of kids went on to the next grade, but dropped to 25.2% meeting expectations in Math and 50.7% in ELA on the 2018-19 SAT. When coupled with elementary and middle school data, there is now strong evidence that the longer a student remains in the Warwick public schools, the less proficient that student becomes. And if school committee member Cornell is right in his contention that "Some students are just bad test takers", it appears that this mysterious test-taking problem that plagues Warwick's students (clearly an issue for the Water Dept.) only becomes worse, again, the longer the student is in the Warwick public schools.

The good Brothers at Hendricken certainly did ensure that we had a great education which has, indeed, served as life-long insurance.

Wednesday, October 23
bill123

Follow the money. It was stated : “Thornton said the next step is to update the math curriculum at the full high school level”. So here we see the Eternally Evolving “curriculum”, for something (math) that is actually very constant. This means you always need to be buying new books, new teaching materials, and updated training. A never ending cycle, and essentially a sham designed less to benefit the students, and more to benefit those at the receiving end of the revenue stream. I recall student experiences from the Warwick public schools, from when I attended. This was pre- “common core”, and at a time when computers were slightly more novel, though we were introduced to computer programming also, which came with certain math courses. If student performance is now going down the drain, then what’s really wrong with the curriculum, such that it continually needs an “update” ? Is “common core” just a forever-moving target, providing a more sophisticated cover for this sham ?

Wednesday, October 23
warwick10

We can talk about test scores and what they tell, do, or don't tell us about the worth of a teacher , but as a parent, and most other parents --know the good and bad teachers at school. The union will support, no matter what and avoid talking about truly awful teachers--including the teachers who just don't care.

Wednesday, October 23
Robert

Bill123, Common Core’s goals involve constant change. Common Core will change the student’s paradigm which means they want to change HOW they think. They want them to be transformed ((brainwashed) from obedience to authority(God, parents, teachers, the law) to being able to always compromise authority for group goals. The weapon Common Core utilizes is peer pressure or the fear of man.

Wednesday, October 23
Robert

In Common Core indoctrination a student is forced by peer pressure to agree with the consensus no matter how wrong it may be or else suffer social alienation. When the student through this fear agrees to the consensus then his or her conscience will be seated making them less able to stand for truth or to resist change.

Wednesday, October 23
Apollo

The Captain believes civil servants should work for free.

I'm far more intelligent than The Captain. Tougher also, bigger and handsome !!!!!

The Captain should be serving donuts out of the drive thru at Dunkin.

Wednesday, October 23
Apollo

Common core is a joke. obama really messed up this country. Trump is fixing it.

Wednesday, October 23
Hepdog

Charter schools. but the Dems love the Union money and votes too much

Thursday, October 24
John Stark

No argument from me, or virtually any parent who has looked objectively at Common Core. It truly is government education's Next Big Thing, in which everyone gets a jacket and trophy. Which explains the following quote:

"Superintendent Philip Thornton has been adamant that implementing new curricula based in Common Core."

The bottom line is this: Those that support quality education for kids endorse vouchers. Those that embrace fads in order to 'make adjustments' (never "fix") a failing system insist that more, and more, and more money is the cure. It never is, of course, so they simply ask for more money.

Thursday, October 24
phillipdrummond

"trump is fixing it" lol He can barely string together two coherent sentences, if he's the authority on education in this country god help us all.

The article shows what a lot of us parents who have left the district already knew and that is that the Warwick schools do not provide an adequate education and leave our children unprepared. More frightening, which has been pointed out, that the longer a child stays in the Warwick system the more unprepared the kids become. Warwick's answer is always the same though and that's to throw more money at the problem instead of looking at the teachers and holding them to a standard and holding them accountable but it isn't just the teachers. We as parents need to make sure we hold our kids accountable to their education. I can't say it enough. Any parent who is serious about their child's education needs to get out of Warwick. Thornton is trying to close the loopholes that will allow for a parent who wants to seek a good education for their child to get one knowing full well that Warwick is incapable of providing one. With someone like Cornell on the council , a recent graduate of the Warwick school system, who excuse the test scores away by saying that many kids are not good at taking tests suggest to me that he and this council are not equipped to handle this issue.

Thursday, October 24
VoWarwick2017

Common Core is part of the problem, add in the Providence students sneaking into Pilgrim (all you need is a utility bill with a warwick address and a bus pass) is part of the problem, the union is part of the problem, the school board is part of the problem and the fact too many parents don't encourage education is also part of the problem.

You want to fix Warwick Public Schools? The Warwick public schools need to start learning from the Warwick Private Schools because they appear to be the only ones capable of educating our children to a standard that will lead to success.

** I had a recent conversation with an Admissions officer at North Eastern and the poor test scores in Rhode Island are starting to impact the opinions of Admissions Offices so a high scoring Pilgrim graduate is not considered as closely as a High-Average scoring graduate from Massachusetts. In years to come the Rhode Island children being educated by public education will find it more difficult to earn their spots in college due to the dumpster fire the so-called experts in Rhode Island have created.

Thursday, October 24
Ben Dover

Bill Parcells always said, "You are what your record says you are." So here we are...Putting Band Aids on shotgun wounds. You need to come to the realization the whole system from top to bottom is broken. It needs to be blown up and start over...Want proof? We are still using a 180 day agrarian school calendar from 180 years ago. Compete in a global economy? You are whistling past the graveyard. If you don't know what your strategic competitors are doing, or what they have adopted as "schooling" you've already lost. The rampant parochialism and turf wars in this State is destroying the mission you are charged with...Educating children and young adults. 50 years of failure. So go ahead, keep the status quo we are slipping to third world..But you will always be able to say you're beating Bangledesh with your "test scores"...Start by electing leaders and not poltroons and stooges. Good luck.

Thursday, October 24
Thecaptain

Warwick_Resident1998 states this

Hey Captain,

Did the fine folks at Hendricken sell you an insurance policy? That is the "only was" they would have "Insured" you. Otherwise they would have ensured that you were going to get educated.

THIS IS THE ONLY "WAS" THEY WOULD HAVE "INSURED" YOU?

I guess when I make a typo it is because i am a moron, but when you make a typo it is because you are so much smhatta than me.

Thursday, October 24
Norm88

The SAT/ACT is becoming an outdated test more than 850 accredited, bachelor-degree granting schools (out of about 3,000 in the United States). The likes of PC, Bryant

Saturday, October 26
VoWarwick2017

Norm88...

Our children cannot due well on these tests therefore they are irrelevant? Look closer at why Universities are not relying heavily on SATs. It is because they no longer provide enough differentiation between high performing students. Key phrase is high performing. Warwick students are not high performing students, and the regular grade transcripts are not helping Warwick public school students either because of the reputation Rhode Island is developing on a national level. A 3.8 gpa student at Pilgrim is not Like Most Other 3.8 gpa students nation wide. Admission offices are taking 3.8 gpa students from Rhode Island public schools and comparing them to 2.5 gpa students from other states (like Mass).

The SATs are part of the equation, and they will still hurt a students chances of getting into college. Even URI is become harder for Rhode Island students to get into - not sure if it is because the developed higher standards or if they are just making more off the out of staters.

Monday, October 28