After Rhode Island’s discouraging results on the latest standardized test, this news isn’t exactly primed to inspire confidence, but rather looks like an attempt to find a rosier light for the state’s public education results:
Rhode Island has introduced a new evaluation system for schools that moves its focus away from standardized testing.
The Rhode Island Department of Education debuted its online school rating system Wednesday. Schools are rated on a scale from one to five stars. The new rating system takes into account academic growth, graduation rates, absenteeism and other factors.
On WPRI, Dan McGowan goes into much greater detail, but most of those details reveal the new program to be largely a repackaging of the status quo. Going forward, for example, the state will use a star rating system (one to five stars) rather than named categories like “commended” and “warning.”
McGowan’s objective summary should also raise concerns among anybody who believes we owe it to Rhode Island students to fix the problems for them, now. Under the encouraging header, “the CSI schools must improve or changes will occur,” McGowan provides this less-encouraging information:
Under the new system, schools that were previously rated as priority schools and now are CSI schools will have two years to make improvements or they will be required to undergo a significant intervention. (If this is the first time a school is in the bottom 5%, they have four years to make improvements.)
So, they have to make some changes in line with a menu of pre-existing strategies which (a skeptic might observe) allow a good deal of delay and gaming of the system. So, if your child is entering a failing high school, he or she will possibly be graduating before the district forces any kind of change, and the changes it tries force could be largely ineffectual for years after that.
Worse, because this rule is relative and applies only to the bottom 5% of schools, they can avoid change simply by switching places every couple of years, which the system helps them to do. Here’s McGowan:
One of the most surprising things about the list of the lowest-performing schools is that none of them are in Central Falls, which posted district-wide proficiency rates of just 10% for English language arts and 7% in math on the RICAS exam. So how did that happen? Because students showed decent growth rates in testing, particularly on the ELA side. Education Commissioner Ken Wagner said this proves that schools can quickly move out of the bottom 5% – both the middle and high schools in Central Falls were previously listed as priority schools – but he cautioned that they can move back into the CSI cohort just as easily if they don’t continue to show growth.
The formula for scoring “growth” is very complicated, but it is once again relative to other students in RI’s troubled education system. It appears that Central Falls students’ “decent growth rates” mean that, on average, they improved about as much as other Rhode Island students who scored as poorly. That’s not an indicator of success; it’s an indicator of keeping up with failure.
The reality of Rhode Island politics and governance is that most people won’t even be aware of this updating of the education system’s approach to accountability. Those who are, though, should react with dissatisfaction. We’re being sold another delay that holds off real accountability until some time in the future when people have really had enough.