The Key to Success in Rhode Island Education: A Low Bar

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I guess one can’t fault the administration of Cumberland schools for casting a positive light on their standardized test scores, but a sort of tone-deafness comes through in Linda Borg’s Providence Journal article:

With all of the hand-wringing over Rhode Island’s dismal performance on the latest standardized tests, it is easy to overlook islands of success.

Cumberland is one of them.

The district, which spends less on education per pupil than any other district in the state except Woonsocket, outperformed all of its Rhode Island neighbors on the Rhode Island Comprehensive Assessment System.

“Success.”  Nowhere does the article provide the school district’s actual scores.

Overall, only 56% of Cumberland students meet or exceed expectations in English, falling just below 50% for math.  By 8th grade, those numbers shrink to 53% and 45%.

In other words, the key to Cumberland’s success is the low bar of being in Rhode Island.  Of course, it’s better to be at the front of a class than at the back, but scores like that ought to inspire a prudent avoidance of triumphal talk, and Rhode Islanders shouldn’t fall for it.



  • Joe Smith

    True, but making your larger point leads to throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

    First, Cumberland has one of the lowest PPE so that counters the argument about just throwing more $$.

    Second, I’m guessing Cumberland’s FRL % has gone down because a bunch of those students got siphoned off by Blackstone Valley. This is an example of when charters *do* make sense – a charter (or alternative) that actually takes the most disadvantaged students and gets better results.

    We need more BVP but less charters that aren’t showing results and/or only take the non-FRL kids. RIDE at this point should be doing school to school level comparisons and shuttering charters that aren’t seeing gains over sending schools or limiting enrollment to only those attending lower performing schools – that would increase efficiency instead of the “all charters are good and let’s not put any qualifiers on them” view.

    Third – your point about a low bar is true, but it leaves hanging the question of what “success” is. Match MA (Cumberland does that)? The very best MA district – the one with only 2% low income and 92% white /asian (if we can be objective, the two racial groups on aggregate with the highest scores) had *only* about 82% proficiency – that declined as you went up as well. 20% of kids in arguably the most “set up for success’ district in MA still don’t score proficient. Yet, the district has about a 99% college placement rate – maybe they ship those 20% out..or maybe kids figure it out..or maybe they just do the minimum to get by and still graduate.

    CPA, Med boards, Bar exam – don’t require 100% proficiency. It’s nice pablum to spout “no child left behind” or “every student succeeds” but the reality is the discussion of what it means to be “on track” for college readiness and “on track” to be a functional adult is lost in the who can show the most outrage over the scores instead of a detailed analysis of what proficiency means, *who* (note what is absent from RIDE – filtering by chronic absenteeism for one, by type of disability, etc.) is not proficient, and what factors (at the elementary level was their teacher on the chronic absentee list, has the student been at the same school for at least three years, did the child attend a pre-K/full day K – all kinds of data RIDE has but refuses to do a deep dive).

    No, it’s easy to cry “follow MA”, “throw more dollars”, more charters, more of the same crowd getting together to discuss the same issues..blah blah blah…

    I’d settle more analysis to start.

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