NARRAGANSETT—Superintendent of Schools Katherine Sipala held a discussion Wednesday evening with the School Committee regarding recently released index scores for schools in Rhode Island. The Department of Education (RIDE) has developed a new performance measuring system for approximately 300 schools, ranking them with a point score as well as a qualifying grade, from 'priority' being the worst to 'commended'.
“According to No Child Left Behind’s previous accountability system, everyone was supposed to be proficient by 2014,” said Sipala. “When the country realized that it wouldn’t happen, every state who wanted to keep their money filed a waiver. Now, [the new performance system] is our way to keep progressing.”
Narragansett Elementary School and High School were rated as ‘typical’ with scores of 63.3 and 68.67, while Narragansett Pier School was given a grade of ‘leading’ at 72.83. According to School Committee members, the scores were derived from NECAP test scores which students take in October.
A number of School Committee members were dismayed by the rankings of Narragansett schools, particularly the ‘typical’ rating given to NES, and expressed frustration Wednesday evening.
“I had some person pull me aside and ask, what is going on with Narragansett, I thought they were good schools?” said School Committee Chair Tammy McNeiece. “To be labeled ‘typical’ bothers me tremendously, especially when we look at the algorithms and formulas they use, which are divided six different ways.”
“They are taking every single sub-group and doing a crazy statistical group thing for a test that kids take once during a week in October,” she added.
This past Tuesday, Sipala met with representatives from RIDE in order to discuss the reasoning behind their new school-performance rankings. They stressed that the index scores and grades are focused more on closing achievement gaps between students with quality means of obtaining their education and those presented with more impediments, either physically or socially. The performance measuring system also prefers measurements of school system growth.
“We were a little surprised to hear typical for our Elementary School, but pleased to hear about NPS as leading and NHS as typical,” said Sipala. “Almost 60 percent of the state is in the typical category.”
Sipala noted that Narragansett Schools continue to score highly on proficiency testing, which was not a measured statistic in the new performance system. According to Sipala, 85 percent of students are proficient in reading at NES and 82 percent in math. At NPS, 91.8 percent are proficient in reading, and 78.8 in math, which Sipala emphasized is well above the state average. At NHS, 93.1 percent are reading proficient and 50.9 percent in math.
“The focus is on growth and gaps, and I am not going to say they are not important, but to put all that emphasis on it, we have to understand that there is proficiency and accountability in state classification,” said Sipala. “Our proficiency is as high as it ever was, but with this new classification, growth and achievement gaps have a high deal of points associated with them, so we have to move with that.”
McNeiece, who also attended the meeting with RIDE’s representatives on Tuesday, further expressed the unique position that Narragansett Schools hold within the state, and that because of population size and already high achievement rates, the new performance system is not as telling as it would be for a school struggling with greater educational deficiencies.
“It is upsetting when you look at NES at 85 percent proficient in math and NHS at 93 percent in reading because those are not typical schools,” said McNeiece. “I am really uncomfortable with the word 'typical', and if you look at how Narragansett has been rated over the past years, it has been the third highest in the state, compared with Barrington and East Greenwich.”
“We had three National Merit scholars last year, and have high graduation rates and test participation rates,” she added. “The principals and teachers know what they have to address anyway, and it just bothers me tremendously. [RIDE’s] target might be 94 or 95 percent, but it is very hard for a school to go from 93 to 94 percent as opposed to a school that needs to go from 73 to 74 percent.”
Committee member Diane Nobles also spoke to the new grades, noting that it is difficult for schools to address the problems pointed out in the new performance measuring system when schools are already working hard to prepare for the switch to Common Core State Standards (CCSS). The new set of teaching methodologies were enacted on June 1, 2010, and the program will update current mathematics and English language arts teaching practices from kindergarten through grade 12 in order that graduating students will be better prepared to compete in the global economy.
“Now we have a whole different set of criteria we are being judged on,” said Nobles. “It probably is a system where we do need to close the gaps, but changing it midstream when everyone needs to meet other targets, and everybody is shuffled, is difficult.”
“Because Narragansett has small cell sizes, now we are being punished because of the small cell size,” she added. “I also do not like their choice of labels for different categories.”
Sipala will be meeting again with state and school representatives in August in order to further discuss the classifications and where to move forward with making them more consistent with the high proficiency ratings the school already achieves. She also stated that teachers and administrators will convene with parents in the fall to discuss with them the scores.
“We’ve got some work to do, but I am happy that the Committee understands enough of these metrics to understand the weaknesses of the system as well” said Sipala. “We will have to continue to get the message out that we are proficient and we continue to grow.”