School absences, test scores stand out in child data report
Ward 5 Councilman Ed Ladouceur has earned a reputation as a numbers man.
On Wednesday he employed that same attention he applies to city claims and the award of contracts and bids to data he was provided by Rhode Island Kids Count. But unlike numbers, the answers he sought were not quantifiable.
Ladouceur called increases in school absences, bullying and violence alarming. The number of third graders who can’t read also troubles him.
“How do you make parents become parents?” he asked.
Recalling how his parents followed his progress as a child and took measures when he stepped out of line or performed poorly in school, Ladouceur said, a culture is being developed where teachers are expected to step into the role of parents.
Ladouceur’s questions and observation came at the conclusion of a 45-minute presentation, “Warwick Data in Your Backyard,” by Stephanie Geller of Rhode Island Kids Count, sponsored by the Warwick Coalition to Prevent Child Abuse. The presentation was held at the Tides Restaurant at the Warwick Area Career and Technical Center.
Apart from Ladouceur and Ward 6 Councilwoman Donna Travis, Mayor Joseph Solomon, Representative Camille Vella-Wilkinson, Police Chief Stephen McCartney as well as representatives from Volunteers of Warwick Schools (VOWS), the J. Arthur Trudeau Memorial Center, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Warwick, CCAP, Kent County YMCA, Mentor Rhode Island, Tides Family Services, the RI Community Food Bank and Child Inc. were in attendance.
In response to Ladouceur, Geller suggested giving parents the resources such as high quality learning summer programs for their children, thereby empowering them. She also made a connection between low test scores and absences, suggesting that some parents don’t see the importance of attendance in early elementary grades. Those trends not only impact test scores but also set a modality that is carried forward into middle and high school, possibly leading to school dropouts.
Geller feels it is important that parents see schools as partners and that they aren’t being looked down upon. She called on schools to empower parents.
Asked what she felt was a noteworthy Warwick achievement, Geller pointed to the city’s improved graduation rate of 86 percent, up from 79 percent five years ago. As for what Warwick could do to improve, Geller called for universal breakfast where all children are provided breakfast at no cost “an easy fix.”
This is not the first year universal breakfast has been singled out as a means of improving test scores and attendance. At this time, Oakland Beach School is the only school offering universal breakfast. As of October 2017, 17 percent of the city’s low-income children eligible for a free breakfast were participating in the program. A universal breakfast program would remove the stigma attached to free breakfasts for low-income students.
Karen Ostrowsky, vice chair of the Warwick Coalition to Prevent Child Abuse, called the data invaluable in the coalition’s efforts and thanked Rhode Island Kids Count for their work.
Some of the facts:
- Warwick child population fell 16 percent between 2000 and 2010 from 18,780 to 15,825
- Warwick, like the rest of the state, saw an increase in population diversity between 2000 and 2010, with a decline in whites from 17,220 to 13,365, a drop of 22 percent, and the greatest growth in Hispanic/Latinos from 516 to 1,048, an increase of 103 percent.
- There were 900 Warwick children classified as in poverty from 2012 to 2016, 6.2 percent, that is a smaller percentage by more than half of Cranston and three time of West Warwick and the state’s four core cities (Providence, Central Falls, Pawtucket and Woonsocket) at 36.7 percent.
- The average cost of a 2-bedroom apartment in Warwick last year was $1,558 as compared to the state average of $1,385
- In 2017 Warwick schools identified 109 children as being homeless, children as staying in a shelter or living out of a car or bouncing between homes.
- In October of last year 17 percent of Warwick low-income children participated in the free school breakfast program as compared to 36 percent in Cranston.
- Warwick infant mortality between 2012-2016 was 2.9 per 1,000 births as compared to a state average of 5.6. Geller said the Warwick data reflects the fact that pregnant women and new mothers “are pretty well connected to services and opportunities.”
- While the number of children with high levels of lead poisoning has declined dramatically since 2000, 21 children, or 2.9 percent of the 712 children due to enter kindergarten in the fall of 2019 had high levels of lead reported. “There is still work to be done,” said Geller.
- Teen birth rate in the state and Warwick is on the decline. There were 10.6 teen births per 1,000 girls between the ages of 15 and 19 in Warwick from 2012 to 2016, which is down from 20.1 teen births from 2007 to 2011. Geller said the numbers reflect “really remarkable progress.”
- Geller called it an “increasing concern” that in 2014, 10 percent of Warwick students were involved in a physical fight and 14 percent saw another student bring a weapon to school.
- Geller was complimentary of data showing a decline in youths being sent to the training school, which she said is reflective of dealing with youths committing minor infractions through programs and other means.
- Geller said 7.7 out 1,000 Warwick children are abused or neglected. That compares to a state average of 14.6 children. She said that 80 percent of those children are neglected.
- Forty-seven percent of Warwick third graders met English language art expectations in 2017 as compared to the state average of 40 percent.
- Geller said neither Warwick nor the state are doing as well when it comes to math. In 2017, 22 percent of Warwick seventh graders met expectations as compared to a state average of 27 percent.
- Nine percent of K-3 students missed 18 or more days of school, which constitutes chronic absence during the 2016-17 school year. At middle school the rate was 15 percent and in high school 24 percent for the same period.
- The rate of Warwick high school graduations in four years improved from 79 to 86 percent from 2012 to 2017.