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Rhode Island Fully Transitioned to New Student Assessments

RICAS Gives Direct Comparison to Massachusetts; Positions R.I. for Long-Term Strategy

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – The Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) today released performance results for students in grades 3 through 8 on the Rhode Island Comprehensive Assessment System, or RICAS.

The RICAS is the Rhode Island administration of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS), the assessment tool of the nation’s highest-performing state for public education. The 2017-2018 school year was the first year of implementation for the RICAS, a move that was met with significant support from educators for its high standards, sustainability, aligned instructional resources, and shorter testing time. This release, coupled with the PSAT and SAT, completes Rhode Island’s transition away from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC).

“Through RICAS, we now have a true apples-to-apples comparison of how we perform compared to Massachusetts, the gold standard for education in America and beyond,” said Ken Wagner, Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education. “This partnership provides meaningful information for families, educators, and the public, giving us a clear and common sense path forward to improve teaching and learning in Rhode Island schools.”

On the RICAS, proficiency in ELA for the 2017-2018 school year was 40 percent for grade 3, 38 percent for grade 4, 37 percent for grade 5, 34 percent for grade 6, 24 percent for grade 7, and 28 percent for grade 8. Proficiency in mathematics was 35 percent for grade 3, 27 percent for grade 4, 27 percent for grade 5, 25 percent for grade 6, 27 percent for grade 7 and 23 percent for grade 8. Achievement gaps also persist, particularly for students with disabilities, low-income students, and English Learners. Explore additional comparisons and details on the assessment transition through this presentation.

Notably, more than 98 percent of students statewide participated, a 10-percentage point increase over participation when the state adopted the PARCC assessment in 2015.

On average, Rhode Island scored 17 percentage points lower than Massachusetts in ELA and 20 percentage points lower in mathematics. No Rhode Island districts scored within the top 10 percent of Massachusetts communities, underscoring that we have work to do across the board, from our urban to our suburban communities. Massachusetts launched its long-term strategy for education improvement roughly 20 years ago, and has seen significant growth since then. In 1998, for example, 34 percent of Massachusetts fourth graders were proficient in mathematics. In 2018, that number increased by 14 percentage points to 48 percent proficient.

“Rhode Island will not get where we need to be until we raise expectations and engage in the sustained, consistent work that made Massachusetts a leader. We have hard work ahead of us, and we cannot back down,” said Daniel P. McConaghy, Chair of the Council on Elementary and Secondary Education. “The transition to RICAS, PSAT, and SAT was a necessary shift to bring consistency, stability, and accountability to the system, so we can focus on the work in the classroom that will drive our performance forward over the next 20 years.”

Progress and Success for Rhode Island Students

Over the past three years, Rhode Island made considerable investments and gains in high-impact educational programs and initiatives, including:

  • Expanded to full-day kindergarten statewide and tripled enrollment in state-funded pre-K classrooms since 2015
  • Implementation of the high quality “Focus on K2” Boston Public Schools Kindergarten Curriculum in 70 classrooms, serving approximately 1,400 children, with plans for further expansion
  • Launch of the LeadRI Partnership, a leadership development program, in coordination with the Partnership for Rhode Island, a group of Rhode Island’s largest businesses, that has invested in the professional development of more than 75 administrators and principals to date
  • Computer Science for Rhode Island integrated into every school in the state
  • Increased number of career education programs by 56 percent
  • Increased participation in free dual and concurrent enrollment programs by 162 percent
  • A $250 million bond to improve school facilities, an effort borne out of a comprehensive statewide assessment of school buildings led by RIDE

Investing in a Long-Term Strategy

“This is an important year for education in our state. At the same time that we are investing in educator leadership, early childhood programs, and advanced coursework, we transitioned to a new system of assessments because we want to anchor ourselves and our students to the highest possible expectations,” said Barbara S. Cottam, Chair of the Board of Education. “Massachusetts has achieved impressive results because they focused for over 20 years on common sense approaches like high expectations, quality curriculum, and ongoing professional learning. We are now firmly on that same path. The bar is set high, and we have a tremendous amount of work ahead of us, but with consistency, leadership, and strong support from our partners in the field, we will stay the course, move the needle, and meet the goals set before us.”

Although Rhode Island maintained the same learning standards during this assessment transition, the MCAS has a more rigorous performance standard than did the PARCC, so it is not possible to compare proficiency on the RICAS to proficiency on the PARCC.

To help families understand their child’s progress, separate from the change in test, growth scores were calculated and will be included in parent reports. The growth score shows how a child performed on this year’s test in comparison to other Rhode Island students who had a similar score on the PARCC test in previous years.

Staying the Course to Improve Outcomes

“These data are an important guidepost for us, and we need to pay close attention to them in order to improve teaching and learning, close achievement gaps, and hold ourselves accountable for results. There is no reason why, just over the state border, students should be performing at a higher level than our students in Rhode Island,” Wagner said. “The transition to RICAS is one piece of a long-term strategy to improve education in our state. If we want to see the kind of growth our students and families deserve, that vision needs to be anchored in the policies and investments that we know make a difference for teaching and learning - high-quality curriculum, advanced coursework for students, and a coherent approach to meaningful, ongoing professional learning for our educators.”

Part of the 20-year focus in Massachusetts education has been not only on the kinds of student opportunities Rhode Island has expanded since 2015, but also on high quality, aligned curriculum statewide, and on professional learning for educators that supports the implementation of such curriculum.

The Council on Elementary and Secondary Education is considering a set of teacher certification regulations that would revamp teacher preparation to be focused on more practical experience and require ongoing professional learning for educators, similar to Massachusetts. Rhode Island is currently helping school communities make well-informed decisions when investing in high-quality curriculum, as well, and is collaborating with Rhode Island College to transform its teacher preparation program, which educates the majority of new Rhode Island teachers.

Transparency and Accountability in Education

Later in December, RICAS results and other measures of student and school performance will be incorporated into the state’s School and District Report Cards, which are being redesigned under the federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The Report Card platform will display traditional measures of accountability, like student test scores and graduation rates, as well as new measures, like student and teacher chronic absence, suspension rates, the percent of students performing at the highest levels, and school-by-school per-student expenditures. In future years, a Diploma Plus measure will be added to capture the number of students earning the kinds of college credits and industry credentials that will make them more competitive in the workforce.

To view interactive assessment results from 2018 at the statewide, district, and school levels, visit the RIDE website.