Sollitto: Low student test scores result of changing assessments

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BURRILLVILLE – Burrillville students scored below their statewide peers on the 2018 Rhode Island Comprehensive Assessment System exams, but school administrators say parents shouldn’t worry: town kids are still making progress in education.

The tests, administered to students in 3rd through 8th grade last spring, aimed to measure proficiency in math and English language arts.

In Burrillville, 17.49 percent of students met or exceeded standards for the math portion on the exam, while 27.31 did so across the state. The numbers weren’t much better in ELA, with just 24.93 percent meeting or exceeding the benchmark in town, while 33.71 hit the goal across Rhode Island.

The scores put Burrillville behind just a handful of urban districts and charter schools in terms of scores. On the district level, only students in Central Falls, Woonsocket, Providence, Pawtucket and Newport showed more students scoring below standard.

It is the first time the test, developed from an assessment used to measure student progress for decades in Massachusetts, has been administered in Rhode Island. The exam replaced the PARCC, the standardized test used in the state from 2014-2017, which replaced the NECAP.

“The expectation for proficiency is higher than the PARCC,” said Curriculum Director Julie Mayhew. “In theory a student could have performed the same both years and on the PARCC would have been proficient.”

Supt. Michael Sollitto said it is the 7th different standardized test used to measure students during his 20 years in Rhode Island education.

“We have to see some consistency from the Department of Education,” said Sollitto. “It’s very difficult to hit a moving target.”

Sollitto compared the scores to the students’ SAT scores, which actually improved in 2018. On that test, 62 percent of students met or exceeded standards in ELA, and 42 percent met or exceeded the math standard. Scores were similar on the PSAT, with 66 percent of Burrillville students hitting the ELA standard, and 39 percent meeting the mark in math.

“Kids take those very seriously, parents take those very seriously, and you can see that in the results,” the superintendent said.

Results were not the same across all Burrillville schools. At Steere Farm Elementary School, 31.23 percent of students met or exceeded expectations in both ELA and math, while only 23.1 percent of those who took the exam at William Callahan could say the same. At the middle school, the number dropped to 22.56 percent.

Mayhew noted that Burrillville students are still achieving in terms of growth.

“Our growth actually looks much better than our scores do,” she said.

Still, school officials must now face the challenge of improving scores in Rhode Island’s most recent system of measurement, and Mayhew outlined a plan that she said includes collaborating with RIDE and EdReports to implement high quality instructional material.

“Our students are learning and are being taught what they need to be successful on that assessment,” Mayhew said.

Town Councilor Dennis Anderson asked how big of a surprise the scores were when compared to what teachers in Burrillville classrooms already know about their students. School Committee member Alexandria LeClair answered from a teacher’s perspective.

“There’s so many other factors that play into their performance,” said Leclair, pointing to what a student may have eaten for breakfast, or how much sleep they got the night before “Our teachers can know everything about our kids, and may not expect their performance to be what it was that day.”

Committee member Donison Allen said that he has long been a critic of both tests like the PARCC, and the underlying standard.

“I still have those sentiments about the standards,” said Allen.

All agreed that scores will be greatly improved if the state sticks with a single benchmark for more than a few years.

“I truly hope that’s what will happen,” said Mayhew. “It’s really difficult when things are constantly changing.”

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Sandy Seoane is the founder, publisher, and editor of Northern Rhode Island News On the Web. A SUNY Albany graduate with more than eight years experience covering news in the Blackstone Valley, Seoane previously worked for The Valley Breeze and Woonsocket Patch.