PROVIDENCE –– Saying parents need more information about how the state’s 300-plus public schools are serving their children, an education advocacy group has developed an online tool and a ranking system to assess how well different groups of students perform on standardized tests, compared with their peers across Rhode Island.
Rhode Island Campaign for Achievement Now (RI-CAN) has calculated a school grading system based on the percentage of low-income and minority students proficient in reading and math at the elementary, middle and high school levels.
RI-CAN’s sister organization in Connecticut has provided similar information to parents for seven years, said Maryellen Butke, RI-CAN’s executive director. People have to register with RI-CAN to use the database and see the school grades.
“Our goal is to shine a light on schools that are performing well for kids in a particular category,” Butke said. “Some of the ones that ranked highest are schools I don’t know that much about, so I want to visit and see what they are doing.”
The Rhode Island Department of Education gathers and generates voluminous data but does not present it in an easily accessible format on its website. Recognizing this, Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist has pledged to develop interactive “data dashboards” for teachers, parents and policymakers.
But that work is still under way, said a department spokesman Monday.
Alexander “Sasha” Sidorkin, dean of the Rhode Island College School of Education, cautions against using RI-CAN’s report cards “as a definite way of assessing how well a school does, how hard teachers and principals try, or how good they are at their jobs.”
Sidorkin said he “applauds” RI-CAN for promoting a conversation about how well schools serve diverse students. But, he said this data should not be used to make broad assumptions.
“Standardized tests in general are very imperfect tools … we use them widely because there is nothing better for the same money,” Sidorkin said. Rather than use a report card to decide where to send your child, “go to the school, talk to the teachers, talk to the principal, to other parents,” he said. “See if this feels like a good place for your child.”
RI-CAN also developed lists of the “top 10” schools in various categories: those that serve significant numbers of poor children; those that have experienced the largest performance gains since 2010; and those that do the best job in closing the achievement gap among Hispanic, black, low-income students and children learning English.
According to RI-CAN’s methodology for “Title 1” schools with 40 percent disadvantaged students or more, Stadium School in Cranston is the highest ranked elementary school, with 85 percent of students scoring proficient or higher when reading and math scores are combined.
The Urban Collaborative Accelerated Program, a regional public school serving at-risk students in grades 7 to 9, scored highest in middle school performance gains between 2010 and 2011, increasing by 25 percentage points in reading and math combined.
Paul Cuffee Middle School, a Providence charter school, ranked highest among middle schools for the percentage of Hispanic students scoring proficient in reading and math combined –– nearly 78 percent –– and for Title 1 middle schools, with 73 percent proficient.
Classical High School, an exam school in Providence, ranked highest among high schools for the performance of Hispanic students, with 70 percent scoring proficient, and highest for the performance of black students, with nearly 65 percent proficient.
And Cranston public schools scored high in the percentage of students with limited English proficiency scoring proficient or better. Arlington School scored first among elementary schools, with 71 percent proficient, and Park View Middle School scored first among middle schools, with 65 percent proficient.