12 things everyone should know about Rhode Island’s PARCC results

 PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The PARCC scores are in and they’re not pretty.

Rhode Island education officials on Tuesday released the long-awaited results from the state’s new standardized test, giving educators and families across the state their first look at how students performed on the Common Core-aligned exam.

So what should you know as you analyze the PARCC results? Here’s an overview.

1. The results are bad, but not surprising.

RI PARCC Results by School, District, and Grade Level
Interactive: Dig into the RI PARCC Results by District, School & Grade Level

Roughly 36% of Rhode Island public school students in grades three through 10 met or exceeded expectations in the English language arts section of the PARCC, which means they are considered on track for their grade level. For math, about 25% of students throughout the state are performing at grade level. In both sections of the exam, at least 17% of students scored at level one (of five), which means they did not meet expectations for their grade level. While the poor results may startle families and some educators around the state, no one at the R.I. Department of Education is shocked. In fact, the scores closely align with several other indicators of student progress. For example, 40% of fourth-grade students were considered proficient in reading when they took the widely respected National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP); for PARCC, 37% of fourth graders met or exceeded expectations in English language arts. In eighth-grade English, the NAEP proficiency levels and PARCC results are nearly identical, at 35%. There’s a slightly larger gap with math, as 37% of fourth graders were proficient on the NAEP and 27% were on grade level in PARCC, but the scores are still close. (In eighth-grade math, 32% were proficient on the NAEP and 26% met or exceeded expectations on PARCC.) Other indicators that suggest PARCC may be an accurate barometer of where students stand include average SAT scores (about 34% of Rhode Island students who took that test last year were considered college ready) and college remediation rates (at least 60% of students entering the Community College of Rhode Island are forced to take courses they should have mastered in high school).

2. This is a baseline year.
Don’t forget that the 2014-15 school year was the first time students have seen the PARCC, which is aligned with the Common Core State Standards that Rhode Island adopted in 2010. The Common Core has established basic criteria for what students should know at each grade level and the PARCC is one of way of testing what has been learned each year. Of course, the Common Core standards are built on one another, but results on the PARCC are not tied to student promotion. So for the 20% of third-grade students who did not meet expectations on English language arts last year, the PARCC exam in fourth grade is going to be that much more difficult unless they receive the academic support they need. The good news on PARCC is Rhode Island has a lot of data to work with. The statewide participation rates on both parts of the exam hovered around 90%, which means the vast majority of students in Rhode Island did take the PARCC. While a lot of the focus will be placed on the five levels students are placed into (in order to be on grade level, you had to score in the fourth or fifth level), the overall scores will be how Rhode Island officials measure progress from year to year. The English and math sections are each scored on a scale that ranges from 650 to 850. In English, the statewide average was 735. In math, the average score was 728. Both scores would place the average Rhode Island student at level three, which means they approached expectations for their respective grade level.

3. Reactions from state education leaders are similar.
Once everyone has the chance the digest the PARCC results, we’ll be able to get a more holistic view of where people stand on the exam. But here’s what Education Commissioner Ken Wagner, Board of Education Chair Barbara Cottam and Council on Elementary and Secondary Education Chair Daniel McConaghy thought of the results. Wagner: “These latest results track closely with previous data from other assessments such as the SAT and with college readiness rates, and these results show, once again, that we have work to do. We must prepare our students for their futures with challenging coursework and great teaching tailored to their strengths and interests. If we stay focused and work together, we will be successful.” Cottam: “The 2015 PARCC assessment results provide another data point telling the same story – we have a lot of opportunity for improvement and success. We now must provide all students with access to high-quality learning opportunities, from childhood through adulthood.” McConaghy: “Our students need to meet the expectations of the Common Core State Standards in order to succeed throughout their schooling and to be ready for success beyond high school.”

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4. It’s good to go to school in South Kingstown or East Greenwich.
Three of the four best-performing schools in the state on the math section of the PARCC are in the same town: South Kingstown. At least 74% of students at Peace Dale Elementary, Wakefield Elementary and Matunuck Elementary scored at grade level or better in math. In both middle and high school math, schools from East Greenwich take the cake. Nearly 65% of students at Archie Cole Middle School were at grade level in math and 59% of students at East Greenwich High School met or exceeded expectations. In English, Classical High School in Providence was the star, with 88% meeting or exceeding expectations. Peace Dale and Archie Cole were the top elementary and middle schools for math, respectively.

5. The urban schools struggled mightily.
At the second-largest school in Providence, DelSesto Middle School, only 2.5% of students scored at grade level in English language arts. At three of the city’s high schools – Mount Pleasant, Hope and Cooley – fewer than 4% of students were at grade level in English. All told, 13 Providence elementary, middle and high schools had fewer than 10% of students meet or exceed expectations in English. Central Falls High School was also under 5% at grade level, but the majority of students there didn’t take the exam. For math, Scituate High School actually had 0% of students at grade level, but only 25% of students actually took the exam (see more below). At Shea High School in Pawtucket, fewer than 1% of students met or exceeded expectations in math. At Pilgrim High in Warwick, about 4% of students were at grade level.

6. Rhode Island’s achievement gaps are scary.
Students who do not live in low-income families were three times more likely to meet expectations in math than their low-income counterparts and twice as likely to be on grade level in English. In math, 89% of black and Hispanic students did not meet expectations, while one in three white students did score at grade level. In English, just over 19% of black and Hispanic students met expectations, while 45% of white students were at grade level. For students with special needs, about one in 10 met expectations in English and one in 20 scored at grade level in math.

7. If you take Algebra 1 in middle school, you’re in pretty good shape.
The idea of the PARCC exam is to test students based on what the Common Core standards say they should know in a certain grade. For math, that means third-graders need to be beginning to understand multiplication, division and fractions. By the sixth grade, they need to be able to divide fractions and use ratios and rates to solve problems. In the eighth grade, PARCC allows students to take an eighth-grade version of the math test or Algebra 1, which students also take in high school. Of the roughly 2,500 eighth-graders who took the Algebra 1 exam, 65% met or exceeded expectations. Meanwhile, only 12% of students who took the Algebra 1 test in ninth grade were considered on grade level.

8. The opt-out movement was a factor at some schools.
While 90% of students in grades three through 10 across the state ended up taking the PARCC exam, there were pockets of areas that saw a large drop off in participation, particularly in high school. All told, 18 schools in Rhode Island had participation rates of fewer than 75% on the math section of the exam. At Scituate High School, only 25% of students participated, which led to 0% meeting expectations in math. Schools in Burrillville, East Providence, Portsmouth and Westerly also had low participation rates. When students don’t take the test, they are classified as non-participants, so it’s not completely clear if they opted out of taking the exam or were simply out of school during the test, but anecdotal evidence suggests some schools did see coordinated efforts to skip out. Any school that receives Title I funds from the federal government (this is money that goes to schools with disadvantaged students) is required to have at least 95% of their students participate in annual standardized exams, but it remains unclear if schools or districts will be penalized after only one year of testing. What we do know is that falling under the 95% participation rate means a school cannot receive a “commended” ranking when the Department of Education releases its school classifications early next year.

9. If Rhode Island was Ohio, the performance picture would be rosier.
The PARCC results break students down into five levels, which were established based on the recommendations of educators and policymakers in each state that uses the exam. Level one means they did not yet meet expectations; level two means they partially met expectations; level three means they are approaching expectations; level four means they met expectations; and level five means they exceeded expectations. Ohio is the one outlier. In that state, about one-third of students met or exceeded expectations in math and English based on the PARCC standards. But the state created its own definition of proficiency, which included students that fell into the level 3 PARCC group as well. If Rhode Island were to do the same thing, 62% of students would be considered proficient in English rather than 36%, and 54% of students would be proficient in math instead of 25%.

10. Charter schools had mixed results.
Rhode Island is often credited with having strong public charter schools, but the PARCC results vary widely. At all four of the well-known Blackstone Valley Prep (BVP) mayoral academies, at least 40% of students met or exceeded expectations in English (the statewide average was 36%) and at least 36% were on grade level in math (the statewide average was 25%). In both parts of the exam, there were big drop-offs in scores in BVP’s middle schools. “We are excited to use this data to drive improvement in order to fulfill our mission to prepare every scholar for success in college and the world beyond,” Jeremy Chiappetta, the executive director of BVP, told WPRI.com. “While BVP has several wins within this year’s data, including exceeding the state average in almost every grade level in both math and ELA, we recognize that we still have a lot of important and hard work ahead of us.” Other schools performed worse than the state average, but better than the traditional school districts they’re in. For example, the Paul Cuffee charter elementary and middle schools in Providence saw 21% and 26% of their students score at grade level in math, respectively. (That doubled the rates in Providence’s traditional public schools.) The Kingston Hill charter school in Saunderstown had 77% of students at grade level in English and 58% at grade level in math. As for other choice schools, the MET in Providence had 2.4% of students at grade level in math and 9% at grade level in English. Davies Career-Tech High School had 15% at grade level in English and 7% at grade level in math.

11. Scores were low in most PARCC states.
Rhode Island joined 11 other states and Washington, D.C., last school year in administering the PARCC exam for the first time and most states have seen similar drops in performance. In Illinois, for example, between 26% and 36% of students in grades three through eight met or exceeded expectations on the math portion of the exam, while between 33% and 38% earned a passing score on the English section. In Massachusetts, where about half the districts took the PARCC, about 60% met expectations in English and 52% met expectations in math. In Seekonk, 73% of middle school students were on grade level in English and 64% were on track in math. Meanwhile, East Providence, which borders Seekonk, saw just 33% of middle school students on grade level in English and 18% on grade level in math. In Worcester, which is similar in size and per capita income – but not racial demographics – to Providence, about 41% of students in grades three through eight met or exceeded expectation in English and 29% were on track in math. In Providence, 16% of elementary school students and 18% middle schoolers were at grade level in reading and 12% of elementary and 10% of middle school students met or exceeded expectations in math. (It’s worth noting that Arkansas, Mississippi and Ohio have all pulled out of the PARCC, and Massachusetts is still deciding whether to continue use of the exam.)

12. PARCC is not a graduation requirement yet.
Even if you’re alarmed by the results, it’s worth noting that PARCC scores won’t be tied to a high school diploma until the class of 2020 – and at this point, Rhode Island hasn’t even determined what a cut score for graduation will be. (Commissioner Wagner has also made it clear he is open to using multiple assessments to show whether students are college- or career-ready by their senior years.) Similarly, scores at the lower grades are considered tools for instructors to know where students stand, but they won’t be used to decide if a child should be promoted from the fourth to the fifth grade.

Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan


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