Report from the Commissioner
Dear Fellow Rhode Islanders:
This has been an exciting year – a time of transition for public education in Rhode Island. Last fall, after two years of planning and preparation, we introduced a new set of state assessments for all of our elementary schools and middle schools. These new state tests are groundbreaking in many ways. For the first time, the tests are directly linked to a set of academic standards that were developed by Rhode Island educators. These standards specify what students should know and be able to do in each subject and at each grade level. The tests measure whether our students have met these standards.
These new tests were developed in collaboration with two other New England states – New Hampshire and Vermont. This project represents the first multistate assessment collaboration in the nation. By pooling our resources and expertise, we were able to create a better set of tests than any one of us could have developed alone. We will have a bigger collection of assessment data to help us analyze the results. And through economies of scale we saved money – about $5 million over the course of the contract with our testing company.
The results of these tests will be released this spring in several stages, and we will publish School Report Cards containing these results in the fall of 2006. The current issue of Information Works!, however, contains assessment results for high schools only, as state tests were administered only at the high-school level in the 2004-05 school year. So let me take a moment to tell you about changes under way in Rhode Island high schools.
High Schools in Rhode Island: A Status Report
Though test scores at our high schools have been on the rise for the past five years, the Board of Regents has had a long-standing concern that our high schools were not fulfilling the Regents’ mission, which is to “ensure that all students achieve at the high levels needed to lead fulfilling and productive lives, to compete in academic and employment settings, and to contribute to society.”
The Regents convened the first Rhode Island High School Summit in 2000 and a second summit in 2002, in order to consider in their entirety the issues of high-school education and graduation requirements. They called together secondary-school educators, business leaders, and college professors to ask: What should happen in high school? What should students have to know and be able to do in order to graduate? How can we be sure that our graduates are well prepared for higher education and the world of work?
These summits culminated in the Regents’ High School Regulations of 2003, which are now in effect. These regulations completely change the nature of high schools in our state.
Beginning with the Class of 2008, this year’s sophomore class, in order to graduate all students must demonstrate that they are proficient in six core subject areas: English, mathematics, science, social studies, technology, and the arts. Our graduating seniors will demonstrate what they know and what they are able to do – sometimes this is called “applied learning” – through such means as a senior project, an electronic portfolio that encompasses all four years’ of their high-school work, an exhibition such as a performance or presentation, or end-of-course exams.
The Rhode Island Diploma System = Tests Plus
Many people ask why we do not have so-called “high-stakes tests” in Rhode Island – tests that students must pass in order to graduate. In Rhode Island, we now have what I call a high-stakes system. Our system begins with standards (which you can read on the RIDE website, http://www.ride.ri.gov/standards/gle/). These standards tell us what students need to know at each grade level and they form the basis for every public-school curriculum. As part of our system of accountability and public reporting, we administer state tests to determine whether students have met these standards. But passing a state test is not enough to show that you’re proficient. Therefore we have multiple measures by which students will have to demonstrate proficiency.
In Rhode Island, a score on a single test can’t prevent you from graduating, for all students will have multiple ways to demonstrate that they have achieved proficiency. But a good score on a single test is not a free pass, either. Students who do well on the state test still have to demonstrate what they know and what they can do with their learning. That’s why we sometimes call our diploma system “Tests Plus.”
Rising Scores, but Gaps Persist: The Three Rhode Islands
As you can see from these graphs, high-school test scores have been rising gradually since 2001, in both English language arts and mathematics.
Rhode Island High Schools: