Students in Rhode Island were found to have made slight improvements on state standardized tests, although achievement gaps between white students and students of color were shown to have continued to grow.
While less than 22% of black and Latino students received a score showing proficiency in English, the statewide average was found to be around 38% for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. The test was introduced last year with poor results.
At the same time, less than 9% of English language learners were found to meet the state standard, and less than 6% of special-needs students.
State Education Commissioner Ken Wagner said in an interview that the low test scores in urban school districts could not be blamed on poverty:
"If you go back 40 years, we've always been at a 30- or 40-percent plateau," he said, referring to the percentage of students reaching proficiency in English and math. "Part of the story is we need to stop changing our minds. We need take a common-sense approach and stick with it for the long haul."
Meanwhile, math scores showed an increase of five points this year, as close to 30% of all students met the standards. Students from every grade level were found to have improved. English scores rose by two percentage points, with almost 38% meeting proficiency levels. Students in five of the eight grade levels to take the test showed improvements, writes Linda Borg for The Providence Journal.
However, Tim Duffy, the executive director of the Rhode Island Association of School Committees, said the state was not moving forward fast enough.
"The anxiety about the PARCC seems to have dissipated," he said. "But the scores are stagnant at the upper grade levels, which reinforces that the test has to be part of the graduation requirements."
Earlier in the year, Wagner suggested that the PARCC be dropped as a graduation requirement, citing arguments that suggested urban students were not prepared enough to take the test, in addition to other concerns, reports Ana Bottary for ABC6 News.
Originally adopted by 24 states, the PARCC is currently only used by seven. Rhode Island is the only state in New England to use the exam, which has seen numerous technical issues and rejection from testing opt-out movements.
Wagner does not believe the test to be too hard. Instead, he states that more work needs to be done by the state to increase the level of curriculum in use in schools, in addition to adding more teacher training, and redesigning the way schools are structured, especially high schools.
High school students were found to have performed poorly on the test. Every high school in Providence, except one, scored in the single digits on both the math and English PARCC tests.
In addition, academic standards currently in use in the state were implemented six years ago. Wagner argues that while elementary school students are under more demanding expectations, the same is not true of high school students in the state. He went on to say that the largest gaps found in high school scores were between poor and wealthy communities.
Meanwhile, the participation level for the exam saw an increase, going from 90% to 96%. A participation rate of 95% is required by the federal Department of Education.