Warwick schools aren’t scoring lots of stars, and that has some people upset.
Last week, the Rhode Island Department of Education released its 2019 school accountability results. The report card was a disappointment for Warwick, with all four secondary schools and Oakland Beach Elementary School ranked as two-star schools out of a possible five stars. The remaining elementary schools were all rated at three stars.
Comparatively, Cranston had four four-star schools, along with 15 three-star schools, three two-star schools and a single one-star, the NFL/CPS Construction & Career Academy.
West Warwick had two three-star and three two-star schools. East Greenwich had two five-star and four four-star schools, and North Kingstown had two five-star, four four-star, one three-star and one two-star.
Statewide, the picture is likewise disappointing, with Providence schools showing the greatest need for improvement.
The report finds Rhode Island has 22 five-star schools, 49 four-star schools, 134 three-star schools, 59 two-star schools and 35 one-star schools. Within the one-star category are 22 schools identified for Comprehensive Support and Improvement, or CSI, a federal designation for a state’s lowest performing schools. Half of those schools are located in Providence, according to the report.
Diving into the details of each school, Wendy Amelotte, Warwick’s director of curriculum, instruction, assessment, and MTSS, not only sees many on the cusp of gaining another star, but lessons regarding where and how Warwick schools can improve.
While schools may have the same rating – three stars, for instance – what is holding them back from being a four-star school differs. As an example, she notes that Holliman School earned a high score for student and teacher attendance, whereas teacher absenteeism held back Wyman School. Chronic teacher absenteeism at Holliman was 2.4 percent, whereas it was 24 percent at Wyman, she said.
System-wide, she said, “We have an absenteeism problem” among both students and teachers.
Looking at Toll Gate and Pilgrim high schools, which both are two-star schools, Amelotte said she talked to assistant principal John Livsey at Toll Gate, who was concerned by the performance. Digging into the data, she said, “We have a number of good things happening.” She points to the high graduation rates and student proficiency as reflected on tests. Dragging those numbers down, she said, was only a two-star rating on English language proficiency.
On the other hand, Pilgrim doesn’t have a student cohort large enough to score on English language proficiency, but it scored two stars on diploma plus and college level proficiency.
“We have these variations,” she said, urging that they be viewed as ways to move forward rather than negatively. “It’s seeing good things and getting them to grow.”
In a follow up email, Amelotte wrote: “Going forward, we are making investments to support the areas that need improvements. We have expanded our EL Staff and continue to provide professional development in how to support students that are learning English to all staff. Additionally, we recognized that math was a major concern for the district, and have invested to work to change our instructional practices as well. As a positive, we are continuing to grow our practices through learning walks. We are focused on sharing and growing our successful practices.”
Superintendent Philip Thornton didn’t offer an explanation for the ratings. He said there’s room for improvement.
School Committee Chairwoman Karen Bachus said Sunday she expects the school administration to give the committee a briefing of the report and provide details on why schools performed as they did. She said she is “concerned” that Warwick didn’t perform better. She believes the two-star performance of middle and senior high schools may be affected by the current responsibilities of assistant principals at the four schools. Currently, one assistant principal is focused on academics and teachers while the other concentrates on the school’s “culture and climate,” addressing such issues as school spirit and bullying, Bachus said.
“Every administrator should be an academic leader. The primary reason they’re there is to educate students,” she said.
Informed of the issue of absenteeism, Bachus pointed out that illnesses travel quickly in elementary schools and you don’t want either students or teachers reporting to school if they are sick. Yet, she pointed out, teacher absences can interrupt learning and substitutes face a tough time of filling in.
Reaction from elected officials was mixed.
Ward 2 Councilman Jeremy Rix said he hadn’t reviewed the report but he thought “low morale” – resulting from a prolonged teacher contract dispute and this year’s dispute over the budget in which the School Committee cut a number of programs, including sports – could be a factor. Sports and a limited number of the programs were restored when the mayor and council came up with an additional $4 million primarily by cutting road repaving funding.
Ward 1 Councilman Rick Corley was less forgiving.
“I’m really disappointed,” he said.
In releasing this year’s results, RIDE also sent resources to principals to help them communicate results with families, including a fact sheet, a tutorial video on how to navigate the Report Card platform and a video that explains the measures included in school accountability. Both videos are available in English and in Spanish on RIDE’s YouTube channel.
“It’s not enough to make data transparent. We need to consistently look for new ways to communicate and share the data so that it’s accessible and actionable for families and communities,” Infante-Green said in the release. “I encourage and expect districts to talk about these results with students, families and school teams and work together to identify how the data will inform our collective work moving forward.”
New this year are two measures at the high school level:
l Commissioner’s Seal, which measures the percentage of high school graduates demonstrating high school proficiency in both ELA and mathematics on the SAT, PSAT, ACT or approved Advanced Placement test. This measure is designed, in part, to call attention to the “honesty gap” in the number of students graduating high school without meeting expectations in ELA and math assessments.
l Post-secondary Success, which measures the percentage of high school graduates earning college credits, Advanced Placement credits, or industry-recognized credentials.
Another additional measure, science proficiency, will be added to accountability starting in 2021. Rhode Island first did a field test of the Next Generation Science Assessment in 2018, and expanded to all students in grades 5, 8, and 11 in 2019. This year’s results were also published in the Report Card platform today, with 31 percent of students statewide meeting or exceeding expectations.
The primary drivers of the accountability system, and of Star Ratings, are student achievement and student growth, measured through performance on state assessments. These measures are rounded out by a more expansive view of school climate and culture.
In addition to the Commissioner’s Seal and Postsecondary Success measures, the measures currently included in school accountability are:
l Achievement: Student performance in English Language Arts (ELA) and mathematics on the Rhode Island Comprehensive Assessment System (RICAS) for grades 3-8, the SAT for grade 11, or the Dynamic Learning Maps (DLM) Alternate Assessment for students with significant cognitive impairments in grades 3-8 and 11.
l Growth: Measures student improvement, year-over-year, on state assessments. Including a growth measure allows the state to recognize schools whose investments and approaches are moving the needle.
l English Language Proficiency: Measures year-over-year improvement among English Learners, an important and growing population of students.
l Student Absenteeism: The percentage of students who miss 10 percent or more of the school year, which is the benchmark for chronic absence.
l Teacher Absenteeism: The percentage of teachers who miss 10 percent or more of the school year, with the exclusion of professional development or pre-approved absences of greater than five days.
l Suspension Rate: Much like chronic absence, the suspension rate is a proxy measure for school climate and culture. Suspension should be a last resort, and if a school has a high rate of suspension, it tells us something about the school culture.
l Exceeding Expectations: Measures the percentage of students earning top scores on state assessments.
l Graduation Rate: Measures the four-, five-, and six-year graduation rates to emphasize that no student should fall through the cracks and to credit schools for getting all students to graduation.
Student sub-group performance is also a central component of the system. In order to earn five stars, a school must have no low-performing sub-groups in achievement, growth, or graduation rate. If a school has two or more sub-groups classified as low performing, even if they perform very well in other measures, they cannot earn more than three stars.