Cumberland near the top, Lincoln middle of the pack on RICAS

Cumberland near the top, Lincoln middle of the pack on RICAS

Cumberland fared far better than the state average on the Rhode Island Comprehensive Assessment System, or “RICAS,” the state’s newly adopted standardized test format, leading school officials to hail the results as a victory.

In Lincoln, students also bested the state average, but were more toward the middle of the pack on results released last week.

Results were for students in grades 3-8, and did not include those in high schools.

In total, 55.93 percent of Cumberland students are “meeting and exceeding expectations” in English language arts and 49.88 percent in math.

In the dreary statewide results, only 27 percent of students met and exceeded expectations in math, while 34 percent of students were considered proficient in ELA. By comparison, 51 percent of students in Massachusetts met and exceeded expectations in ELA, and 48 percent did so in math.

“Cumberland is one of the few districts that performed well in comparison to comparable districts in both Rhode Island and Massachusetts,” said Cumberland Supt. Bob Mitchell. “I am pleased to report that the Cumberland School District outperformed a number of districts in Rhode Island that have historically outperformed us. In fact, the number of students meeting and/or exceeding proficiency has led to Cumberland achieving a strong level of proficiency as compared to the other Rhode Island districts, resulting in the strongest level of achievement Cumberland has experienced to-date.”

This year’s administration of the RICAS was the first for the state, which most recently used the PARCC Assessment tool to evaluate students from 2014 to 2017. Students in grades 3-8 take the RICAS, while the PSAT and SAT are used at the high school level to meet federal testing requirements.

Education Commissioner Ken Wagner said RICAS would give officials an “apples-to-apples comparison of how we perform compared to Massachusetts, the gold standard for education in America and beyond.”

Unfortunately, the first round of results for Rhode Island’s version of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment Exam (MCAS) didn’t add up to the state’s neighbors just over the border. Students in Massachusetts scored 17 percentage points above Rhode Island students in English and 21 percentage points better in math.

Half of Cumberland’s student body met and exceeded expectations in both ELA and math on this year’s RICAS, despite the district having one of the highest enrollment numbers of the districts tested, along with Coventry, Cranston, East Providence, Providence, Warwick and Woonsocket.

In ELA, Cumberland students ranked fifth in the state when accounting for ties, recording an average scaled score of 502 (tied with East Greenwich and Little Compton). The highest was Kingston Hill Academy with an average ELA score of 511, while the statewide average was 487.

Cumberland had among the highest number of students exceeding expectations in ELA (8.16 percent), ranking eighth in the state. Cumberland is also ninth in the state for meeting and exceeding expectations (55.93 percent). The town has one of the lowest percentages of students “not meeting expectations, at 6.5 percent, while 37.57 “partially” meet expectations and 47.77 meet expectations in ELA.

In math, Cumberland students rank ninth in the state for overall score (499). When sorted by the percentage of students exceeding expectations, Cumberland placed 10th statewide (4.76 percent) – and seventh for its portion of students both meeting and exceeding expectations (49.88 percent). Only 8.01 percent of Cumberland students tested did not meet expectations; 42.11 percent partially met expectations, and 45.12 percent fully met performance expectations for their grade level.

Mitchell said the results are encouraging.

“This was not an accident,” he told The Breeze.

“This validates the important work we’ve been doing over the last four years in teaching and learning,” he added, regarding some of Cumberland’s “data-driven decisions related to curriculum and professional development that are paying off.”

Mitchell said implementing new classroom programs such as a writing program with a professional development component has helped improve student performance. There’s an increased focus on differentiated instruction, providing the instructional strategy that works best for the individual learner’s needs.

“We’re making progress,” Mitchell said. “It’s not a competition, but we feel good about the fact that our students are performing better than districts that historically out-perform us. This path that we’re on is working. We need to stay the course.”

Lincoln students also exceeded the statewide numbers, with 40 percent of students tested meeting and exceeding expectations in ELA, versus the state’s 34 percent average. In math, 42 percent met and exceeded expectations, compared to 27.3 percent statewide.

Though Lincoln students outperformed the statewide average, the district fell toward the middle of the pack when ranked by the percentage of students meeting and exceeding expectations, placing 18th statewide in math and 25th statewide in ELA.

Roughly the same number of students in Lincoln only partially met expectations in both subjects: 45.4 percent in ELA and 45.5 percent in math. Similarly, 37 percent of Lincoln students met expectations in ELA, compared to 38.5 in math. Lastly, 2.8 percent exceeded expectations in ELA, while 3.3 percent did so in math.

Lincoln’s average scaled score in ELA was three percentage points above the statewide average of 490. In math, Lincoln scored an average of 495, eight percentage points higher than the Rhode Island average, earning the district the 11th position across R.I.

Lincoln Supt. Larry Filippelli said he and the district’s curriculum director were still wading through the scores and data early this week. While he said it would be premature to comment on a strategy for improving scores going forward, Filippelli said the district “has a lot of work to do in picking apart the cut scores, how each grade performed, looking at potential gaps in the curriculum, etc.”

“Then, we need to meet with our administrators and come up with some plans to address strategies for increasing the scores for next year,” he said.

Filippelli noted that Massachusetts made a 20-year commitment to this test two decades ago and saw continuous improvement over time.

“Conversely, Rhode Island has had three different assessments for our students in the last five years. Hence, it is like hitting a moving target for our students and for our teachers,” he said. “Once we think we get the curriculum nailed down and prepare our students, the assessment and curriculum changes again. I think moving forward, if Rhode Island actually commits to this test, you will see the scores go up every year.”

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Good things are happening in Cumberland.