Last spring, the students in grades 3-8 took the newest standardized test, the Rhode Island Comprehensive Assessment System (RICAS), re-branded from the Massachusetts state test, MCAS.
The assessment replaced the PARCC assessments and before that, the NECAP assessments and tests student proficiency in the areas of English Language Arts (ELA) and mathematics. The state of Rhode Island did not, however, implement a statewide curriculum frameworks, as has also been in place in Massachusetts along with the MCAS test. The Massachusetts curriculum frameworks were most recently updated in 2010 with the state’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and provide consistency across the state.
According to the Massachusetts Parent Information and Resource Center (fcsn.org/newsline/v31n3/nccs.php), the curriculum frameworks incorporate but also strengthen the Common Core State Standards and are titled “Massachusetts Curriculum Framework for English Language Arts and Literacy, Incorporating the Common Core State Standards,” and “Massachusetts Curriculum Framework for Mathematics, Incorporating the Common Core State Standards.”
The RICAS test is more rigorous than the PARCC test, but both assess the (CCSS), also adopted by Rhode Island in 2010. The first year of a new standardized test traditionally shows a dip in scores as students adjust to a new assessment and a new set of performance expectations. The youngest students who have had consistent instruction coordinated with CCSS fared better overall, statewide.
In regards to the statewide results, a presentation housed on the RI Department of Education website states, “Fewer students scored Meeting or Exceeding Expectations this year than in previous years. This does not mean that students learned less; it reflects the fact that the RICAS has more rigorous performance expectations than did the PARCC test. In grades three through eight, 34% of students are Meeting and Exceeding Expectations in ELA and 27% in mathematics. Performance at the elementary grades is higher than performance at the middle grades in ELA.”
When examining the score reports, it is important to understand that the RICAS assessment is scored using four benchmarks: not meeting expectations; partially meeting expectations; meeting expectations; and exceeding expectations. Statewide, performance gaps also exist for subgroups such as gender, special education, ethnicity and socioeconomics, and are detailed in RIDE’s online presentation, and it is stated that mathematics continues to be an area of comparative weakness.
“In ELA, females are more likely by half to be meeting expectations than males. Fewer than 1 out of 20 students receiving special education support are meeting expectations in ELA and Mathematics. Students who have been exited from English Language (EL) support services are more likely to meet expectations than students currently in programs. Students who are not in a low-income household are two times more likely in ELA and three times more likely in mathematics to meet expectations than students who are in a low-income household. White students are more than twice as likely to meet expectations than Hispanic, Black, or American Indian students.”
In Cranston, comparing schools’ performances to each other may not be entirely fair. Several schools meet the criteria for Title I services, while others do not. (School districts are eligible to receive Title I funds based on federal poverty census information.) For the 2018-2019 school year, those schools are Arlington, Chester W. Barrows School, Eden Park, Edgewood Highland, George J. Peters, Gladstone Street, Hugh B. Bain, Stadium, and William R. Dutemple. Additionally, Hugh B. Bain Middle School houses all of the district's Level One and Two students in English Language Learner (ELL) self-contained classes.
Superintendent Jeannine Nota-Masse weighed in on the district’s results earlier this week.
“While we have just started to deeply analyze the scores, I am disappointed with the overall performance results,” she said. “As with any standardized assessment, RICAS has identified the strengths and areas of need in our district. We will use this data as a baseline for future planning and review of our curricula.”
She noted that the long-term consistency that Massachusetts has seen over the past two decades versus the use of several different testing mechanisms by Rhode Island over the past decade alone, has made an impact.
“Massachusetts has been using this assessment since the mid-1990s, so they have had many years of experience with this test,” she said. “We have been following the standards in the Common Core for several years, but this is our first year with this test and the third standardized test RI has used in the past few years. That said, our scores should better reflect our curricula alignment to the CCSS. We hope to continue using the RICAS for the next several years so that we have years of data and so that our students will have experience with this test, like Massachusetts has had over the past two decades.”
Despite the low scores, which have been much of the focus statewide since the scores were released, Nota-Masse was happy to point out some of the positives that shine through in Cranston’s scores, especially in the area of English Language Arts at the elementary level and especially in areas where there are generally performance gaps for specific groups of students.
“I am pleased with some performance indicators in ELA. In Cranston, 45.10 percent of third graders met or exceeded expectations on the ELA section. Garden City Elementary had the highest percentage of students in the ‘exceeding’ category with 10.22 percent, followed by Rhodes’ 8.89 percent and Edgewood Highland [at] 8.91 percent. In the ‘meeting’ category, Stadium Elementary had the highest percentage of students with 52.03 percent,” she said. “These successes are significant when one considers that Edgewood and Stadium are Title 1 schools, which have a high percentage of students receiving free or reduced priced lunch, an indication of poverty.”
In the area of mathematics, Nota-Masse and her staff know that they have their work cut out for them and they are continuing to focus on mathematics instruction across the district.
“Our math scores are a concern for me and for our administrators,” she said. “We have recently begun using a consistent, research-based math curriculum, which impacts elementary and middle schools. It is based on CCSS, and has demonstrated positive results. But, quite honestly, overall our scores are proof that we need to focus resources on our math instruction. Although we are on par with the state averages, we know that our state and our city can perform on a higher level that these scores reflect. Students in RI are just as bright and skilled as their Massachusetts counterparts on all levels. We have every confidence that these talents, skills and successes will manifest themselves in our scores in the future.”
Going forward, the message from the Department of Education’s presentation is clear and Cranston’s message is in line with it. Consistency over long stretches of time will help to overcome gaps and to raise achievement rates. As changes continue to be made across the state in the areas of curriculum, with the implementation of full-day kindergarten for more students, and with the implementation of computer science instruction in classrooms K-12, a consistent assessment model should also be adhered to.
Those wishing to view released sample test items from the spring 2018 RICAS test can visit ricas.pearsonsupport.com/released-items.