Letter from the Commissioner
Information Works! 2004
Dear Fellow Rhode Islanders:
Welcome to Information Works! 2004, Rhode
Islands official state report card on public education.
Information remains a cornerstone of our public-accountability
system. In cooperation with our partners at the National
Center on Public Education and Social Policy, at the University
of Rhode Island, we have been publishing Information Works!
for seven years. The state report is published in booklet
form and is distributed throughout Rhode Island. It is also posted
on this website, along with the reports
for each public school and each school district.
As you look through these reports you will be
able to see how well our students are performing on the state assessments
in English language arts, mathematics, writing, and health education.
You will see which schools are improving and which are not. You
can measure and compare the performance levels of various groups
of students within each school. Using our value-added
charts, you can determine how well each school is doing when its
students are compared with similar students statewide. And you will
find several charts on school spending and municipal finances.
Remember, though we gather information at the
student level (from test scores and surveys, for example), all of
the information that we report at the school, district, or statewide
level. Though we have rigorous standards and challenging assessments
in place to measure student proficiency, we do not have so-called
high-stakes tests for students in Rhode Island. We do not administer
exams that all students must pass in order to graduate or be promoted.
We have high stakes for adults, however: We hold the adults in the
system the professional staff and the administrators
accountable for student achievement. Our tests are used to measure
the effectiveness of our programs, as one of the many measures of
school and district improvement.
New information is included in this years
This years Information Works! reflects
the changes we have made in our statewide accountability system.
For the past three years, we have classified schools
based on student performance on the state assessments. This year,
our classification system has been revised so as to bring Rhode
Island into full compliance with the federal No Child Left Behind
Act. As required by federal law, our schools and districts are classified
based on the performance of all students and on the performance
of various groups of students within the school: Asian, Black, Latino,
Native American, White, students learning English, students living
in poverty, and students with disabilities. We also use three additional
indicators to determine the classifications: attendance rate, graduation
rate, and participation rate on the state tests. Ultimately, schools
and districts must meet 21 targets each year, and those that miss
targets are classified as in need of improvement.
The Information Works! reports show you
how well our schools and districts measure up against each of the
We are continuing to make progress
As I look over the reports, I am struck by how
well most of our schools and districts are doing, despite formidable
In the first year under the tough standards of
the No Child Left Behind Act, 189 schools thats nearly
2/3rds of our schools met all 21 of their academic targets.
Our elementary-school pupils continue the progress
they have been making for several years, particularly in the English
language arts. Their scores in 2003 improved once again on the statewide
tests, with nearly 2/3rds of all 4th graders achieving full proficiency
on this difficult set of exams.
The mathematics scores, though somewhat lower
than the states reading scores, continue to make us proud
because of dramatic improvements. On the set of tests called the
National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), known informally
as The Nations Report Card, our 4th graders and
8th graders reached a 10-year high in mathematics. And on our state
tests, our 10th graders improved in mathematics by more than 3 percentage
points, and our high-school seniors attained an all-time high on
the SAT mathematics scores.
Last year there were 16 schools that had improved
in both English language arts and mathematics for two years in a
row. These have been designated as Regents Commended
Schools. In addition, the U.S. Department of Education has
awarded three public schools in our state with its highest honor:
the Barrington Middle
School and the Arlington
School and Norwood Avenue
School, both in Cranston, have been designated as Blue Ribbon
We still have work to do
Despite these accomplishments and positive trends,
we still have work to do. Nearly 100 schools about 30 percent
were classified as in need of improvement, insufficient
progress. Some of these schools missed only one or two targets,
and they may well move to a higher classification next year. Other
schools missed several targets. These schools in particular will
have to improve if we are to bring all children to the level of
proficiency by the year 2014 the goal of the No Child Left
In addition, 11 of our 36 school districts were
found to be in need of improvement. Six of those districts
have been in that status for three or more years. All six are urban
districts, further evidence that there are in fact two Rhode Islands:
one suburban or rural, where schools receive adequate community
support and where students perform reasonably well; the other an
urban Rhode Island where the local tax capacity is already strained
and where many students come to school with economic disadvantages,
learning disabilities, limited proficiency in English, or other
The R.I. Department
of Elementary and Secondary Education (RIDE) has concentrated
its efforts on helping these urban districts, through the process
known as Progressive Support and Intervention. Our much-publicized
intervention effort at Hope
High School, in Providence, has shown early signs of success,
thanks to the hard work of leaders and teachers in the school. Attendance,
for example, has soared this year from 65 percent to 85 percent.
We will continue to work with the Providence School Department and
the Providence Teachers Union and with the other urban districts
to help bring about better school climates, better instructional
practices, and better student achievement.
Many statewide initiatives are under way
Though we have focused on the districts that are
most in need, we have many ongoing statewide initiatives that will
affect all schools and all students.
For more than a year, we have been working with
our colleagues in New Hampshire and Vermont to develop a uniform
set of standards called Grade-Level Expectations-
that will guide curriculum and instruction in all three states.
We have adopted the standards for English language arts and mathematics,
for grades 3 through 8, and are now in the process of writing the
high-school standards. You can review the standards already in place
on our Web site, www.ridoe.net.
In addition, in collaboration with the Office
of Higher Education, we have begun to align our standards, curriculum,
and graduation requirements with the post-secondary expectations
to ensure that our high-school graduates are well prepared to enter
The Board of Regents High School Reform
Regulations are being implemented across the state. Over the next
few years, all high schools will be reorganized into small learning
communities, and all the high schools will adopt new graduation
requirements under which students will demonstrate proficiency through
such means as senior projects or portfolios. To help us guide schools
as they develop these new graduation requirements, we have received
the support of a $1 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates
Building on the success of the high-school reform
initiative, we are convening the first Middle School Summit later
this year. We hope the summit will lead to a middle-school initiative
that will lead to statewide reforms at that school level.
We were fortunate this year to receive a $2.7-million
federal grant for the Reading First Program, which will train teams
of teachers to work on reading skills with children in the early
grades. Reading skills form the basis for all learning. Under new
state regulations, school districts must establish personal
literacy plans for all students who are reading significantly
below their grade level. As more students benefit from these teaching
strategies and from personal literacy plans, we expect student achievement
to continue to improve across the state.
Ultimately, good learning comes down to good teaching.
We have long been proud in Rhode Island of the excellent professional
qualifications of our teaching force. We took several steps this
year to ensure that all of our teachers and our teaching assistants
are designated as highly qualified under the provisions
of the federal law. In addition, we have established procedures
to enable highly qualified professionals from fields outside of
education to become certified teachers in areas of highest need,
such as science instruction. These new teachers will still undergo
rigorous training and ongoing mentoring once they are in the classroom.
Improving public education is a challenge to
all of us
As you read through Information Works! and
learn more about public education in Rhode Island, you will see
that we have made much progress but we have much work to do. We
must raise student achievement across the board, but especially
in our middle schools and high schools. We must ensure adequate
and equitable funding for all of our school districts. We must hold
adults responsible for aggressively responding to student needs.
We must guarantee that all schools have sufficient instructional
time built into their school day, and that all teachers receive
excellent training and adequate time for course development and
common planning. All of us not just professional educators
but also business leaders, community members, labor leaders, and
above all parents must work together if we are to achieve
Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education