PARCC Results Prove Moral Imperative of Dramatic Change in Education

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The Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) has released schools’ results for the first year of Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) tests implemented under the federal Common Core initiative, and they are abysmal.

RIDE officials make a fair point, saying that this was the first run of a new test.  However, they made the decision to switch away from the locally developed New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP).  And unless schools have truly devolved to the point of entirely teaching students how to take specific tests, rather than developing the knowledge that the tests are supposed to measure, the results of a switch shouldn’t be this bad.

More importantly, comparison with other states — particularly our neighbor to the north — shows that Rhode Island simply underperforms.  We know that from NAEP scores, and the PARCC results illustrate it again.  The following charts don’t include high school because Massachusetts is still utilizing its local MCAS tests at that level.

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RIMANJ-PARCC-Math-2015

Overall, only 36% of Rhode Island students met or exceeded expectations in English language arts (ELA), and only 25% met or exceeded expectations in math.  In ELA, the results were within a relatively small margin depending on grade level: at 38% for elementary schools, 36% for middle schools, and 32% for high schools.  In math, however, the drop-off is steep (if results this low can be said to have any height): 30% in elementary slips to 26% in middle school, which drops by more than half, to 12% in high school.

Much of the commentary from inside and outside of state government will focus on disparities within Rhode Island’s education system, and those are there.  In ELA, the met-or-exceeded percentages range from a high of 71% in Barrington to a low of 10% in Central falls, while math ranges from 58% in East Greenwich to 5% in Central Falls.

With regard to student subgroups, disparities also exist.  Around 46% fewer blacks and Hispanics meet or exceed expectations in ELA than the state average, which drops further to 57% fewer in math.  For low-income students, the percentages are 43% fewer in ELA and 52% fewer in math, while for boys they’re 18% fewer in ELA and 4% fewer in math.

Looking more closely at the grade-level results, however, supports the argument that the state as a whole isn’t doing well enough that its focus should be on narrowing gaps among students.  Yes, an unacceptable 1% of Central Falls high school students met or exceeded expectations in math, versus 59% in East Greenwich, but the lines aren’t so clear.  Coventry high school came in at 7% and Tiverton high hit 8%, while Westerly reached 10%.  In other words, the suburban versus urban school narrative breaks down, at least inasmuch as many suburban schools are doing so poorly that it would be unreasonable to hold them up as examples of privilege.

Those tempted to turn to funding as the answer and insist that Rhode Islanders should devote even more money to public education across the board have to contend with national comparisons that suggest otherwise.  The PARCC results reinforce and amplify the reality that education has become a moral issue of civil rights, in Rhode Island, and raising taxes isn’t the solution.  Moreover, inside-the-system reforms have proven to have a political ceiling.  That leaves dramatic changes in the areas of school choice and labor reform, and a generation of children does not have time to wait for insiders to shore up their personal well-springs.



  • Rhett Hardwick

    Does anyone know of a way of making direct comparisons to educational levels before the onset of “modern methods”. let us say from the 1950’s, or 60’s. I suppose there have been so many societal changes that comparisons are difficult to make. For instance, students “dropping out” is now discouraged.

    I have had reason to read numerous letters from private soldiers of our civil war, both Northern and Southern. High school graduation was rare then, but I have been surprised by the apparent erudition. Of course, truly stupid soldiers probably were not writing.

    • OceanStateCurrent

      At least among those who could read and write, I think erudition was a higher priority back then. Just look at legislative debates, for example.

      • Rhett Hardwick

        It has always seemed likely to me that in a time without telephones, television, movies, or other diversions, people read more. I can’t count the times I have come across a series of books from the 1870’s entitled “Stoddard’s Lectures”. This was 20 volumes of scientific, geographic and historical discourse. Judging from surviving copies, it must have been very popular.

        • OceanStateCurrent

          Speaking of coming across things, every now and then when I worked construction, I’d open up a wall and find a newspaper from 100+ years ago. They were always very dense (little white space) and included information on everything from gossip to world news. Today, newspapers are designed to help one skim the headlines, but looking through those old papers, it seemed to me they were designed with the expectation that the audience would read every word as a form of entertainment.

          • Rhett Hardwick

            In most old houses (1870-1910) where i have opened walls, I found whiskey bottles. I am serious about that. To your point, I once came across an old Providence Journal which described an Irish attempt to invade Canada through Vermont. It was a rather lengthy article and I had never heard of it before. It was called the Fenian Invasion, I think. The U.S. seconded officers from the regular army (rather like the Flying Tigers”), been several years and I don’t recall names.

  • Joe Smith

    First, be careful in blanket comparison to Massachusetts. PARCC was not mandatory (meaning, not every school was required to administer it) for MA High school students and for the 3-8, districts had a choice of MCAS versus PARCC.
    You can’t draw any benchmark comparison with MA HS results and for 3-8, MA results are not *every test taker* but a “representative sample”. True for large numbers you could argue statistically the results are within some confidence interval, but the point remains RI results were not “representative” because there were no corrections for disparity in opt-out population versus test takers. As you noted Justin – and has been somewhat overlooked – there was a gap in ELA between male and females that held almost across every school district, Barrington to Burrillville; Westerly to Woonsocket. If you don’t correct for the opt out rates being unbalanced gender wise compared to test takers, you have a bias in your aggregate results.
    RI students are probably less proficient based on this assessment tool, but the comparisons are not direct “apples to apples”.
    RIDE should be better in explaining and correcting (like MASS DOE did) the variability between districts and statewide.
    Second, while I fully concur the results should not be interpreted as “we are underfunding education”, let’s also be careful about the blanket school choice as being better call as well. Some of the charter and state school (like the MET) had terrible results as well, even accounting for SES.
    RIDE *refuses* to provide any apples to apples comparison of charter school kids to the traditional public school the child would have attended. My guess is that would show valid support for some charters (like BVP) and shed light on some of the suburban, low minority, low SES charters that are underperforming or at best equally performing the schools those kids would have attended anyway as well as on some of these other charters (like the “Virtual Charter school” – 0% proficiency in Geometry; 9% proficiency in ELA for low income students).

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