On RICAS, districts highlight staffing, call for proper funding

On RICAS, districts highlight staffing, call for proper funding

Though schools across northern Rhode Island showed vastly different results on the 2019 Rhode Island Comprehensive Assessment System test scores released two week ago, administrators had a common message for those who hold the purse strings: fund support staff, stick to a plan and you’ll see results.

In North Smithfield, where scores placed the district among the top 10 in the state, Assistant Supt. Clare Arnold said many of the gains can be traced to specific topics addressed in previous years. In English Language Arts, students showed growth in text-based essay writing, which was part of the action plan developed from last year’s scores. In math, students showed growth she attributed to the hiring of a math interventionist to work with grades 3-6.

“We saw a 6 percent gain in math, and I think that it really is a direct result of the intervention that we’re able to provide students that we weren’t able to provide in the past,” she said.

In 2019, 50.3 percent of North Smithfield students were considered proficient in math, compared with 44.5 percent in 2018, and 61.7 percent were considered proficient in ELA, compared with 60 percent in 2018. Students scored 500 in math and 507 in ELA, compared with 497 in math and 505 in ELA last year.

This year, the district hired another math interventionist to work with grades 7-8, a position Arnold hopes might help increase scores in the future. Historically, she said, the district has hired reading specialists to work with students struggling in reading but has not always provided math specialists, leading to slightly stronger scores in ELA.

“By building this support and system and structure, we will be able to provide the interventions as needed ongoing and really be able to build a system that will increase student achievement in a sustainable way,” she said. “We’ve seen increases every year since we’ve been building this system of support, and we hope to continue to see improvements.”

In Woonsocket, a city that continues to struggle with standardized test scores, administrators drew similar connections between support staff and academic improvement. With the district currently facing the possibility of a new K–8 public charter school opening next year, Supt. Patrick McGee warned School Committee members that the resulting $1.5 million funding loss could lead to staff cuts for the district, most likely among social workers and reading specialists.

“You look at these RICAS scores here, and you say OK, we’re in the teens. We need support,” he said during a meeting last Wednesday, Oct. 30.

In 2019, Woonsocket students scored an average of 479 on the ELA assessment and 476 on the math assessment, compared with 478 and 476 in 2018. Though the proficiency rates represented a very small increase from last year’s results, they remain among the lowest in the state, with 14.1 percent of city students proficient in ELA and just 11.9 percent proficient in math.

Prior to the scores coming out, he said, the district had already scheduled a meeting with Education Commissioner Angelica Infante-Green for Nov. 21. It will be the first time that district leadership will sit down with Infante-Green for a comprehensive discussion of education issues facing the city. Among the topics of discussion, said McGee, are an improvement plan based on the RICAS results and the current charter school situation.

School Committee members last week continued to slam the state over its handling of charter schools, even as RISE Prep Mayoral Academy posted some of the top RICAS scores in the state. In response to claims the scores demonstrated a stronger educational model, Chairman Paul Bourget argued the two types of schools weren’t comparable due to differing student populations.

“They have very low class sizes. They do not have the ELL (English language learner) challenges that we have. They certainly do not address the special education needs of their students,” he said.

McGee also highlighted some of the positive notes to come out of this year’s RICAS scores. Harris Elementary School, which last year ranked among the lowest 5 percent of schools statewide, showed an 8 percent improvement in math and a 6 percent improvement in ELA, the most of any city school. Other schools, including Hamlet Middle School and Kevin K. Coleman Elementary School, also showed growth from last year.

McGee said he plans to reach out to school officials in Pawtucket, which had the highest scores of any of the state’s urban core communities, and has also reached out to Cumberland for input as the city develops its improvement plan.