This article, written by Kate Nagle, originally appeared on Go Local Providence.

The numbers are in, and two-thirds of Rhode Island students in grades 3 through 10 who took the PARCC assessment last year did not meet expectations in English Language Arts/Literacy (ELA) and math.

Meanwhile in Massachusetts, over 50% of students met expectations in both categories on the recent PARCC test — 60% of students in grades 3 though 8 met or exceeded expectations for English, and 52% did so for math.

Rhode Island reported Tuesday that 36% of students who took the PARCC assessment met or exceeded expectations in ELA, and 25% for math, for grades 3-10. For grades 3-8, the percentage was similar for math at 25%, and just slightly higher for ELA (37%).

See RI’s Results by School and District

The “cut scores” vary state by state, but states are ultimately responsible for determining who is meeting expectations — and who is not.

Christine Lopes Metcalf with the education policy and advocacy group RI-CAN pointed out that “twenty years ago, Massachusetts set their standards much higher than Rhode Island and most other states.”

“They committed to funding their plan to meet those higher expectations, tweaked things along the way and were steadfast in their promise to keeping high standards. Now that we have an assessment that is much more closely aligned to higher expectations, it’s not surprising that Massachusetts has an advantage,” said Metcalf-Lopes.

“But, they also have improvements to make. Rhode Island has taken the first steps in its path by adopting higher standards and creating a funding formula that is centered-around the student,” continued Metcalf-Lopes. “Now more than ever, we need to be steadfast in our commitment to making sure every student in our state is supported and reaches the highest of expectations.”

Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo issued the following statement on Tuesday following the “disappointing” state scores.

“The PARCC results released today are disappointing, but not surprising. The results confirm what we already know from Rhode Island’s NAEP scores, our high school and college graduation rates, and our remediation rate: too many of our children do not have the skills they need to succeed in today’s economy. Our kids deserve better. Improving our schools is essential to turning our economy around. The only way young people will be able to succeed in today’s economy is if they have the skills necessary for high-quality, family-supporting jobs,” said Raimondo.

State — and Urban Core — in Perspective
RIDE pointed out in its release how the state’s urban core — Providence, Pawtucket, Central Falls, and Woonsockett— struggled in comparison to the rest of the state

In Rhode Island’s core urban communities, 18 percent of students met expectations in English and 11 percent met expectations in mathematics; in all other communities, 43 percent of students met expectations in English and 31 percent met expectations in mathematics – leading to gaps of 25 percentage points and 20 percentage points, respectively.

Meanwhile in Worcester, Massachusetts, 41 percent met the state expectation in English and 29 percent for math — still higher than Rhode Island’s scores as a whole.

“My initial reaction is that it’s a baseline year, and as we transition, every district struggles with new assessment,” said Providence School Board President Keith Oliveira. “There was an expectation that scores wouldn’t be overwhelming.”

Oliveira said he anticipates that Providene — and statewide – scores would improve as the state continues to implement the common core curriculum.

“We’ll use the assessment for what it’s intended to do — look at the data as an important tool for teaching and learning strategies,” said Oliveira. “We need to make sure our curriculum is aligned to the common core, and our teachers our trained. It’s still being rolled out, I think we’ve done well so far, but more training needs to be done so they understand the grade level expectations, and make sure they’re comfortable with the delivery of the content. It’s a baseline, I expect we’ll see improvement.”

Contesting the Test
“Just as suspected…the results were dismal. One of the goals of these tests was to close the “achievement gap” do you see any of that happening here? I do not,” said parent and anti-PARCC activist Jean Lehane. “Thus, are we further setting back the very students this test was meant to serve?

“The buzzwords we keep hearing are “lets get back to the job of “teaching and learning” Well, that would be fine if we had excellent, developmentally appropriate standards – which we do not; and if teachers weren’t being asked to basically teach to this PARCC test – which they are…it is beyond frustrating,” continued Lehand. “Then think about an art or music teacher who must get evaluated on an ela or math test score – how does that even make any sense?”

RIDE said Tuesday it was committed leading efforts to “invest in our teachers through high-quality preparation programs and continuous professional development; empower our principals to lead strong school communities; ensure that every student has access to rigorous coursework that builds upon their strengths and interests and prepares them for their futures; and partner with parents and families.

The Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity, however, said following the release of the results that “one-size-fits-all Government schools [are] not adequately preparing many students for college and life.”

“The disappointing results among RI students in the recently released PARCC test scores re-enforce the need to empower families with additional educational choice options,” according to a statement Tuesday from the Center.

“Education is the civil rights issue of our time. Every parent wants an effective education for their children that prepares them for college, career, and life. When government schools fail to inspire students, it is our moral obligation to provide each and every child with an immediate and better option,” commented Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Center. “Our proposed ESA legislation empowers parents to choose a public or private educational path for their children that will motivate and challenge them.”

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