RI’s new standardized test is similar to PARCC, but shorter

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – When Rhode Island public school students begin taking their standardized test in May, they’ll be staring at an exam that looks similar to the one they’ve been taking for the last three years.

But the new Rhode Island Comprehensive Assessment System (RICAS) will be about 85 minutes shorter per grade than the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test, according to Mary Ann Snider, the deputy commissioner for teaching and learning at the R.I. Department of Education.

With more than half of the 24 states that initially planned to use the PARCC backing away from it in recent years, Snider said Rhode Island thought it would be wise to partner with Massachusetts, which first developed the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) in 1993.

The MCAS has evolved over the years and will now include elements of the PARCC exam, but Snider said Massachusetts has a “proven assessment system.” She noted that Rhode Island has long partnered with other states on standardized exams, including the the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) and the PARCC.

“They are also giving us a cost-effective way to administer a high-quality assessment program that provides strong information to students, to teachers and to families,” she said.

Federal law requires schools to administer standardized exams to students in grades three through eight each year, as well as once in high school. Schools that fall below a 95% participation rate can be penalized, although most Rhode Island schools have met the threshold in recent years.

Beginning in May, students in grades three through eight will take the RICAS, which is computerized and uses the same platform as the PARCC, Snider said. She said the test will be approximately 85 minutes shorter because there will be fewer writing samples that are shorter in length. The exam is still aligned with the Common Core State Standards, which functions as a set of expectations for what students should have mastered over the course of time at various grade levels.

High school students will take the PSAT and SAT, which are free in Rhode Island and administered in school. Snider said the goal for high school was to have an exam with “naturally-occurring implications.”

Both Snider and Education Commissioner Ken Wagner have said they don’t expect results on the RICAS to be significantly different than the PARCC, which showed that 40% of students in grades three through eight were proficient in English language arts (ELA) and 33% were proficient in math last school year.

“What it does is it reinforces our message that it’s really not important to focus on the test as the end game,” Snider said. “It’s really important to focus on the standards and I think for the first time in Rhode Island, we have shifted a test but not shifted the standards.”

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