May 31, 2007

Rhode Island Elementary and Middle School Test Results

Carroll Andrew Morse

State assessments of all Rhode Island public elementary and middle schools are available today from the Rhode Island Department of Education website. The final summary classifies each school as “high performing”, “moderately performing”, or as making “insufficient progress”, but the intermediate data presented suggests that the final classifications have more to do with some obscure bureaucratic criteria than with how well students are learning. For example, you can find schools rated as “high performing” even though less than half of their students are rated as proficient in math; some schools with less than one third of students proficient in math receive a rating of “moderately performing”

Last week’s Time Magazine article on the present and future of the No Child Left Behind Act helps explain some of the limitations of the testing system being used…

The do-or-die [adequate yearly progress] system creates perverse incentives. It rewards schools that focus on kids on the edge of achieving grade-level proficiency....There's no incentive for schools to do much of anything for the kids who are on grade level or above, which is one reason the law is unpopular in wealthier, high-achieving communities. And sadly, says [California Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell], "NCLB provides no incentive to work on the kids far below the bar."
However, the real question here is why anyone ever thought that a bureaucracy-centered reform was going to do anything but encourage mediocrity or worse. When the main criteria that bureaucrats will be judged by is a paper evaluation of the systems they administrate, those bureaucrats have a powerful incentive to define success down and set the most modest goals they can get away with, so they can meet this year's goals with minimum risk and leave room for improvement next year.

If you don’t think that these kinds of perverse bureaucratic incentives are a significant impediment to education reform, in Rhode Island and elsewhere, then explain how a school with 32% of its students proficient in writing and 47% proficient in math can be classified as “high performing”.

Comments, although monitored, are not necessarily representative of the views Anchor Rising's contributors or approved by them. We reserve the right to delete or modify comments for any reason.

The ”high performing” moniker on these state tests is inappropriate. It should be “proficient” or some other term that suggests a passing grade. Thanks to RIs education establishment they’ve fooled all the parents into thinking a C grade is an A.

Not only do many schools get credit for looking like they perform much better than they really do, but our best schools and school districts look no better than the mediocre schools and districts. It’s all very misleading, just the way the education folks like it.

Posted by: Frank at May 31, 2007 2:34 PM

Well, it's not just the students, but the RI Department of Excuses (err, I mean Education) and the teachers unions that enjoy unwarranted "high self-esteem!"

Posted by: Tom W at May 31, 2007 3:14 PM

Tom, I was trying not to antagonize the head of NEARI again by suggesting that the teacher unions were the primary force behind this test score scandal. Besides I knew someone else would get to that.

RI Department of Excuses ... good call.

My daughter is in the public school system. At last Fall's parent teacher conference both her teacher and Principle were suprisingly candid about last years state test scores which were "high performing" for their school. The direct quotes were that the schools scores "weren't that great" and that they were "just okay". You'll never see quotes like that in the ProJo. Instead it's just the usual misleading, over the top accolades for mediocrity in our schools, usually spewed from the mouths of superintendents.

Posted by: Frank at May 31, 2007 4:42 PM

How many other states across the nation used these tests?....MA? Iowa? WA...non. I find this patting each other on the back, high fives and cheers of "aren't we great" misleading and damaging to our children. They will not be able to compete in the world and their future declining lifestyles lay at our feet.

Posted by: Susan at June 2, 2007 11:16 PM

Susan, the state test is the NECAP test, it was developed and is used by three states, RI, NH, and another New England State (which I can't recall for sure). I'm not even sure that the three states have the same "cut points", or passing scores, though it is the same test.

The Federal test, the NAEP, is the one which ranks state to state comparisons. RI usually ranks in the mid to low thirties on this test. Unfortunately the NAEP does not break down their scores to the district or school level.

Posted by: Frank at June 3, 2007 9:21 AM
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