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Rhode Island’s Best & Worst Public Schools

Rhode Island public schools no longer simply send home report cards on their students. Thanks to RI-CAN, they are now the subjects, too.

The state education policy advocacy group is rolling out a new report card tool today on its website, ri-can.org, along with rankings of Rhode Island elementary, middle and high schools based on New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) test scores and broken down into low-income and ethnic subgroups.

While much of the NECAP data used on the report cards has been previously released, Maryellen Butke, RI-CAN executive director, said the report cards put the information in a more effective and easy-to-understand package for parents and community members to follow their schools’ progress.

She said schools are ranked in four different categories: average performance, subgroup performance, performance gains, and achievement gap between white/non-low-income students and minority/low-income students.

“Information is power, and if we can provide information to parents and community members in a way they can understand and make students and their parents more accountable, then we’ve accomplished something valuable,” Butke said.

“Every Students Needs to Achieve at a High Level”

School improvement is measured in both terms of the student body’s overall performance from the previous year’s NECAP testing and how an individual class progresses from grade to grade in its percentage of students who reach proficiency in math, reading and science testing.

Butke was encouraged by the progress she saw throughout the state, even in schools where she and her staff have not been active.

“The thing I’m thrilled about is seeing some schools on Top 10 lists that I’ve never walked into,” she said.

Plenty of room for improvement remains, said Butke, but it will take plenty of effort and willpower from school administrators, teachers and parents.

“One of the things we need to do is bring a mindset that says every student needs to achieve at a high level. We have to have a relentless focus on student achievement,” she said.

Butke is encouraged by seeing a mix of rural and suburban schools reporting increases of 10 percent or more in proficiency among low-income students, but wants to see improvement on math scores, which can be crucial to the job prospects of students currently enrolled in the state’s public schools.

“We’re pretty stagnant in math, and we have to find a way to make sure we’re delivering it to students. Business owners have told me they have jobs available but can’t find enough students with the necessary math skills,” she said, emphasizing job opportunities that involve technical skills or in the sciences.

Critic Questions RI-CAN

The emphasis on business, and its role in the formulation of RI-CAN’s methodology and goals, concerns Pat Crowley, assistant executive director of National Education Association – Rhode Island. A critic of RI-CAN’s efforts, he feels the methodology should include much more input from teachers.

“It’s obvious their agenda is not the agenda of the teachers of Rhode Island, but their Wall Street funders. It’s a shame that organizations like RI-CAN and RIDE don’t do a better job of working with students instead of on corporate education reform,” he said.

“Anything that comes out of RI-CAN should be regarded suspiciously,” said Crowley, adding that he wanted to see the figures before commenting on particulars.

Methodology

The RI-CAN report cards are built in large part around the NECAP tests given each October in reading and math (grades 3 through 8 and 11), writing (grades 5, 8 and 11) and science (grades 4, 8 and 11). This year’s report cards do not incorporate writing or science results.

Proficiency is based on a student’s ability to perform work at his or her grade level. They are rated on four levels, substantially below proficient (1), partially proficient (2), proficient (3) and proficient with distinction (4).

Each school’s report card score is based on the highest grade level at the school, using an average of math and reading totals. Letter grades are awarded as follows: A, 90-100; A-, 84-89; B+, 78-83; B, 72-77; B-, 66-71; C+, 60-65; C, 54-59; C-, 48-53; D+, 42-47; D, 36-41; D-, 30-35; and F, below 30.

Subgroups are broken down by low-income, Hispanic and African-American students, using the same grade scale.

Performance gains are measured using the same class, as October 2010’s third-graders become October 2011’s fourth-graders. The measure is not applicable for schools where the class scores 85 or above proficiency for 2011, due to its proximity to 100.

The grade scale for performance gains: A, 10.5 increase and above; A-, 9-10.4; B+, 7-8.99; B, 5.6-6.99; B-, 4.6-5.59; C+, 3-4.59; C, 1.6-2.99; C-, 0.6-1.59; D+, -0.5-0.59; D, -1.4 to -0.51; D-, -3.6 to -1.41; and F, below -3.6.

Achievement gap is also measured on the report cards, using the difference between the average of white and non-low-income students’ proficiency scores and the average of African-American, Hispanic and low-income students’ scores.The grade scale for achievement gap: A, 0-4.9; A-, 5-7.9; B+, 8-10.9; B, 11-13.9; B-, 14-16.9; C+, 17-19.9; C, 20-22.9; C-, 23-25.9; D+, 26-28.9; D, 29-29.9; D-,30-30.9; F, below 31.