Data matter. How we use those data — for individual students, teachers and schools, and for districts across the state — matter even more. Last week’s PARCC score release proves why. Release of these data added valuable insight into students’ strengths and areas for growth, validated best-practice teaching and will help schools better target supports and professional development for their educators in the future. But these data are not just valuable in the classroom, they also help inform how we write and think about public policy.
Many have already begun analyzing PARCC scores in the state: Statewide, our increased PARCC scores show that we’re on the right track across the board in math and in five grades for ELA. And because of increased participation rates among students and schools, we now have a more holistic understanding of how our state is doing collectively and where schools with higher opt-out rates last year are individually.
The continued low levels of proficiency, however, remind us that we can’t “take our feet off the gas,” as Governor Raimondo (loosely) put it. Our persistent and dramatic achievement gaps illustrate where we must target our energies and resources.
Certainly, these are all important takeaways. But let me add one more: This year’s PARCC scores also indicate that it’s time to rethink how we do high school. Here are two reasons why.
First, too few of the gains made in elementary school translate into success in the older grades: Seven schools in Rhode Island reached a 70-percent proficiency rate on PARCC. None of them were high schools. Only one high school (East Greenwich) tacked scores above 60 percent. And it’s not just urban schools. This slide in proficiency rates occurs just as much as in suburban districts. Central Falls elementary students score nine percentage points higher than their high school counterparts in ELA and 12 percentage points in math. In Tiverton, it’s a dramatic 41 percentage points in ELA and 44 percentage points in math. And this isn’t to call out two town. Of the 35 districts with elementary and high school ELA data, only nine see their high school(s) outperform their elementary schools.
Second, while we see large score increases at the elementary level between 2015 and 2016 – seven to eight percentage points in math; two to three in ELA – those laudable gains aren’t mirrored at the high school level, where ELA scores stagnated and math scores increased only slightly. Though we just have two years of PARCC data (and it’s true that high school haven’t been taught via the Common Core their whole education careers the way our elementary students have been), these stats echo what we have seen on the Nation’s Report Card (or NAEP) for decades: The progress we have made in fourth grade is often lost by twelfth.
We have to continue to test in high school; it’s where we’re often weakest and thus where data are most needed. RIDE’s recent decision to drop tenth grade assessments will surely hurt our ability to track student progress throughout high school—and track high schools’ progress more broadly. We also need to be willing to try new things to better support our twenty-first century high school learners. Districts as diverse as Blackstone Valley Prep and Barrington are experimenting with blended and personalized learning, adding technology into their schools to support more student-centered learning. It’s starting to pay off. Barrington High’s students are 75.7 percent proficient in ELA; at BVP High, they’re 56 percent proficient.
We need to ensure all our students, from preschoolers to graduating seniors, are being prepared for college and career. To get there means focusing on our youngest learners as well as our older. And it means being innovative about how we reach these older students. Let’s take a lesson from our local schools that are innovating to make all Rhode Island students perform as we know they can.