December 18, 2014
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‘Interesting dilemma’: Schools‘ high proficiency and low classifcations

The 2012 School Classifications released by the Rhode Island Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (RIDE) on Friday the 13th left many wondering why Warwick schools received the scores they did.

Dr. Anne Siesel, assistant director of curriculum for Warwick Schools, explains that the new scoring rubric could classify an otherwise proficient school as “typical” or “warning.”

“Schools can be placed one way but have very high proficiency,” she said.

She referenced the John Wickes Elementary School, which she said “met all of its targets” but earned less than 50 points, putting it into the “warning” category. Also, Randall Holden Elementary School scored 71 points, and six out of six targets passed out of evaluation. Still, a low student growth rating earned the school a “warning” rating.

Siesel called this phenomenon an “interesting dilemma.”

The classification system was approved in late May, when the U.S. Department of Education approved the waivers that made the Rhode Island Accountability System and the subsequent “report cards” possible. Siesel said the lack of advance notice, in part, contributed to some of the low scores.

Siesel said in prior years, the classifications were based solely on NECAP scores and proficiency. This year, the rubric was broken into seven fields, some of which schools didn’t hone in on simply because they didn’t realize they would be weighted so heavily.

Fifteen of Warwick’s 22 schools rated by RIDE scored the “typical” rating, while the remainder fell into the “warning” category. The possible classifications ranged from the highest scoring “commended,” to the lowest of “focus” and “priority”; no Warwick schools fell into any of the three categories.

Siesel said she doesn’t plan to jump to any conclusions about the new rating system just yet.

“It’s hard to tell if it paints an accurate or inaccurate picture,” she said. “I don’t want to make any judgments the first time out.”

Siesel is also unsure if NECAP scores are the best way to determine proficiency.

“The jury’s out on that for me,” she said.

Still, she thinks that incorporating more factors into the school’s score is a positive thing.

The schools were examined in the following areas: proficiency, distinction, participation, gap-closing, progress, improvement, graduation (for high schools) and the controversial growth category.

Siesel said the growth category, which accounted for 25 percent of the school’s score, is the most worrisome to teachers.

In the growth category, the same pool of students is examined yearly. What this means is that high achieving students are compared with other high achieving students, and the same group’s progress is studied year after year.

But Siesel said a high-achieving student in grade four might not do as well in grade five, causing unnecessary negative data. She said changes in the student’s lifestyle or different teaching styles could account for decreases in achievement; factors she believes shouldn’t reflect negatively on the school per se.

“Student growth [is a] grave concern to teachers,” she said.

The same data on student growth is used in teacher evaluations as well.

A positive addition to the rubric in Siesel’s opinion is the factoring in of students who received high scores of 4 on their NECAP exams, a statistic that was previously excluded from school report cards.

This year’s school classifications also lumped together subgroups for the gap-closing category, which scores how schools serve students with disabilities or minorities. This year, students with disabilities and English language learners were combined, as well as minorities and low-income students.

Siesel said the combination of these groups actually reflected positively on the schools.

“It’s encouraging,” said Siesel, noting that Warwick’s scores on gap-closing were high.

From here, she and Superintendent Peter Horoschak, who did not return calls for comment, will study the data and determine the best course of action for schools. Those schools that earned “warning” ratings must develop plans for improvement but are not required to have RIDE oversight.

“It gives us a signal of which schools are doing well or more than well, and which schools need more attention,” she said.


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