Rhode Island Improves in Education Week Report Card, with a Long Way to Go

The local news paints a positive picture:

Rhode Island ranks 20th among all states in Education Week’s 2012 report, Quality Counts, a big improvement from last year’s ranking of 31st. According to the state Department of Education, the improved rankings are a result of a tough new teacher and principal evaluation system and noticeable improvements on last year’s National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as the nation’s report card.

Playing with Education Week’s interactive online map does indeed show the state to be eight steps above the national average.  Comparing this year’s press-release table with last year’s, however, shows that   In other words, some of the state’s advancement in the rankings had to do with other states’ falling behind.

A further curious flag to consider is that New Hampshire fell from 28th place to 34th, yet our neighbor two states north outperforms our school system in both the “chance of success” and “K-12 Achievement” categories, in which it ranks third and fifth in the nation, compared with RI’s 19th place showing in both.  Moreover, New Hampshire has not seen its categorical grades change at all.

What changed was that Rhode Island invested heavily in adjusting some processes, and students performed a little better than in the past on standardized tests.  Whether that trend will translate into long-term gains, only time will tell.  But New Hampshire’s consistently high rank on the two academically focused categories, even as it sinks in other categories, suggests that there might be a route to successful education that Education Week’s ranking isn’t adequately calibrated to discern.