I. Student achievement
Measuring how well the student/teacher relationship is fulfilling its task
Profile of Rhode
Island Public Schools
|Area Career & Technical
|* Includes 4 regionalized
districts and the state-operated district of Central Falls
RI's student achievement is average in the nation, lagging in New
According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), and other national
measures, Rhode Island students' academic achievement scores are right around the national
average. RI students' achievement scores are similar to those in states like Texas,
California and Virginia, which are as socially and ethnically diverse as RI. We are not
woefully behind, but neither are we performing well. However, in a regional comparison, RI
consistently performs below the other states in New England.
Poverty depresses achievement scores
According to Kids Count a national organization
devoted to tracking children's well-being using 10 common indicators across the states
(see aecf.org ) in 1999, New Hampshire ranked first in the nation in children's
well-being. All New England states ranked within the first quartile (1-12), except RI. At
17th, RI is five places behind the next lowest New England state (CT). Perhaps not
surprisingly then, RI student achievement on the NAEPs lags behind the rest of New
England. RI's child well-being rank suggests that student performance should rank at the
top of the second quartile (the states in 13th to 25th place), but often it is closer to
the lower end of this quartile, which is to say right about the national average.
Child well-being indicators for New England and the US Average
|% in Poverty
||1996 Poverty Rank
||1996 Overall Rank
||1999 Overall Rank
|Data Source: Anne E. Casey Foundation, Kids Count
makes a difference
RI's relatively lackluster academic performance is not well understood, but it is worth
observing that the state's economy also lags behind the rest of New England, which limits
RI's ability or willingness to increase education investment. Both Connecticut and
Massachusetts have been able to set aside impressive sums of money for the purpose of
re-tooling their education systems. In most cases RI's financial investments are already
earmarked to meet current obligations, leaving little left over to support reforming or
re-deploying the basic investment. Shifting to standards-based instruction, as merely one
example, requires professional development for all teachers who were otherwise trained and
requires extra meeting and planning time to make the standards coherent throughout the
school or district. Our wealthier neighbors have been able to fund sustained expert
attention dedicated to the process of re-tooling.
The Children's Cabinet
However, according to the Kids Count data, RI is clearly improving the general well-being
for its children. The state's overall rank changed from 22nd in 1996 to 17th in 1999.
Certainly many factors contribute to this change, but the cross-agency collaboration of
the Children's Cabinet deserves commendation for its focus on children's issues.
Partnering on this Cabinet are representatives from the executive and legislative branches
of the government, as well as the directors of all agencies that deal directly with
children or children's issues. The nationally recognized RIte Care initiative, which
provides health insurance for children whose families' incomes are up to 250% of poverty,
has already made a marked improvement in the quality of health of RI's children.
In 1994 the Children's Cabinet reshaped their goals to recognize schools as the primary
interface between children and state agencies. Their guiding goals now are:
- All children enter school ready to learn;
- All youth leave school ready to lead productive lives; and
- All children and youth are safe in their homes,
neighborhoods and schools.
The very nature of the Children's Cabinet's work can not
help but support both teachers and students in the course of their teaching and learning.
The Cabinet's collective efforts, which include improving the physical and mental health
of children, reducing crime in the neighborhoods, supporting the work of the schools,
among other things, all serve to reduce the strain and struggle of RI's challenged
families. Inevitably, as the children arrive at school more ready to learn, less apt to
"act-out" and less pre-occupied, the strain and struggle on the teachers' part
will ease as well.
RI's State Assessment Program
Assessment Chart - Percent of students at each performance level on the assessments
Information Works! is only in its 3rd year which does not provide enough longitudinal data
to make definitive statements about the trend of RI achievement. While all schools should
be studying their own data, RIDE strongly discourages drawing any firm conclusions about a
school's overall progress or the lack of it until more years of data are available for
analysis. That said, however, the assessments do seem to suggest that progress is being
made slowly at the elementary level. The state has paid more attention to
early childhood, and those initiatives appear to be paying off. We have not invested as
much attention on a statewide basis to our secondary schools, and the assessments confirm
this lack. Our experience with younger children and the elementary grades does teach us,
however, that when our minds, hearts and money are there, we can make a difference.
Sensitive performance assessments
Widespread use of standardized performance assessments is a relatively recent phenomenon
dating from the surge in the standards movement in the early 1990s. These new tests
examine performance through project-like performance tasks which ask students to apply a
limited number of skills out of a large number of possibilities to solve a
problem. Different forms of the tests examine different content and skills, all of which
the student needs to know to be successful on any one of the possible forms. But, for
example, if one year's test has an emphasis on statistics and a school's curriculum has
not emphasized statistics, the resulting depressed scores might falsely signal a lack of
progress of the school's improvement as a whole. This is only to say that
performance-based tests are somewhat more sensitive to the changes from one form to
another than the older norm-referenced or criterion-referenced tests. Furthermore, RI's
teachers and students are not yet fully acclimated to assessments emphasizing in-depth
thinking or requiring writing across content areas.
sizable gaps between students with different characteristics
View Disaggregated Chart - Percent of students meeting and not
meeting the standard
What is most painful about the chart showing the achievement scores by students of certain
characteristics is that the majority of the scores, in all sub-groups, appear below the
line indicating the proficiency standard.
This year for the first time, a poverty indicator is published at the elementary level
only. The information comes from the student cover sheets for the New Standards English
Language Arts assessment, which are completed by the test administrator (usually the
classroom teacher). This indicator illustrates for us, with our own data, the extent to
which poverty depresses achievement scores. While schools need to find ways to help more
of these children meet standards, poverty is very much a community issue and
responsibility. The educational effects of poverty can be mitigated by a number of
supports that begin before the child enters school. Programs such as Head Start, Parents
as Teachers and other early literacy initiatives can help prepare the children of families
for whom the choice between food, shelter or other basic needs and books or other learning
materials is no choice at all.
RI mirrors the national pattern of girls out-performing boys in verbal skills.
Conventional wisdom would have the boys outperforming girls in math, but in RI this is not
especially true. Girls lag somewhat in math problem-solving at the 8th and 10th grades,
but are slightly more proficient in skills at the 10th grade. Teachers need to pay careful
attention to the gaps between students of different characteristics to make sure the
assumptions of their own cultural backgrounds do not inadvertently hamper any child's
Maintaining high expectations for
To some extent, the children of minority status are often children in poverty as well. All
children need to be held to high expectations no matter what their status. In the SALT
survey (chart D.1 at each level), students report on their own academic expectations, that
of their parents and that of their teachers. The common pattern is to see students
perceiving that their parents have higher expectations than themselves and their teachers
having expectations considerably lower than themselves and the parents. Schools and
teachers need to consult their own data to see if they should re-think the expectations
they communicate to the children. Daily life in a classroom often includes small failures
or frustrations to which children are sensitive. Without adults expressing strong faith in
their ability to meet standards, children can easily become disaffected and give up.
All students need the opportunity to understand fully the standards by which their work is
being assessed and then, if necessary, to revise their work until they have met the
standard. Especially children who struggle with academics must be given the opportunity to
experience the confidence of mastery and the pleasure of having met high expectations.
There is a fine line between necessary, rigorous assessments for accountability and merely
expressing criticism or disappointment to the children and teachers who have not arrived
at the goal. We all hope for high-yield student/teacher relationships. Particularly during
these years while we are gathering data and learning to work with standards, rubrics and
performance assessments, we need to resist undercutting the teacher/student relationship
with blame and disappointment.
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