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Everything you need to know about the 2019 RICAS results

Roger Williams Middle School is among the underperforming schools in Providence’s beleaguered school system. (Ryan Conaty for the Boston Globe/File)
Roger Williams Middle School is among the underperforming schools in Providence’s beleaguered school system. (Ryan Conaty for the Boston Globe/File)Ryan T Conaty

PROVIDENCE – The vast majority of Rhode Island students still aren’t doing math or reading at their grade level, according to the latest round of results on the Rhode Island Comprehensive Assessment System released Tuesday.

The state did show some improvement on both sections of the exam that was administered last spring compared to the 2017-18 school year, but Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green quickly issued a statement noting that students still trail behind their peers in Massachusetts.

You can find results for every school in Rhode Island by clicking here. And here’s a breakdown of the key takeaways from the new results:

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Math and English scores went up, but they’re still pretty low

Let’s start with the good news. On the math side, the overall proficiency rate jumped three percentage points between 2018 and 2019, to 30 percent. The percentage of students reading at grade level increased to 38 percent, up four points. The state considers that “significant” statistical growth, but Commissioner Infante-Green isn’t ready to spike the football. She noted that this is the second year that students have taken the RICAS test, and scores were expected to increase as they became more familiar with the exam. The youngest children posted the best scores, with third graders reaching 36 percent proficiency in math and 48 percent proficiency in English.

Rhode Island lags far behind Massachusetts

The state started using the RICAS last year so it could finally have an apples-to-apples standardized test comparison with students in Massachusetts. The scores for both states range between 440 and 560 for each section, and reaching 500 means a student is proficient. On the math section, 49 percent of students in Massachusetts were at grade level, while 52 percent of students were considered proficiency in English. So if you’re looking for math/English proficiency splits, Massachusetts is at 49 percent/52 percent and Rhode Island is at 30 percent/38 percent.

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The state still has massive achievement gaps

While there were overall gains, students with disabilities and children from low-income families continue to trail their peers in math and English. Only five percent of students with a disability were doing math at grade level, and six percent were proficient in English. By comparison, 34 percent of students without a disability were proficient in math, while 44 percent were reading at grade level. Slightly more than 15 percent of students from low-income families were proficient in math, 28 percentage points behind those from more affluent families. For English, 22 percent of poor students were proficient, while 54 percent of students from financially better-off households were reading at grade level.

English learners continue to struggle

Scores aside, the number of test takers who were considered English learners — students who generally come from immigrant families — grew by nearly 900 to 7,000 between 2018 and 2019, by far the largest increase of any subgroup in the state. That’s roughly 10 percent of all students who took the RICAS. But results didn’t change much year over year. On the math section of the exam, six percent of ELL students were proficient, while eight percent were proficient in English.

Barrington has the best school in the state

The only school in Rhode Island where at least 78 percent of students reached proficiency in math and English was Nayatt Elementary School in Barrington, but there were several schools that put up big numbers on at least one section of the exam. Rockwell Elementary School in Bristol-Warren, Barrington Middle School and Hamilton Elementary School all reached 80 percent proficiency in English. On the math side, schools hitting at least 70 percent proficiency in math were Community School in Cumberland, Kingston Hill Academy, Rockwell in Bristol-Warren, Jamestown School-Melrose, Hamilton in North Kingstown, Ashaway Elementary School in Chariho and Barrington Middle School.

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The urban districts still have the lowest test scores.

On the math side, Central Falls, Segue Institute for Learning charter school in Central Falls and the Trinity Academy for the Performing Arts charter school were the only local education agencies (this includes districts and charters) to post proficiency rates below 10 percent. No district was in the single digits for English, but Central Falls, Woonsocket and the Beacon Charter School were all below 15 percent proficiency.

Providence made gains, but some schools still have single-digit proficiency rates

From here on out, the state of Rhode Island is in control of Providence schools, and will be responsible for the test scores that come with them. In the final year under local control, about 12 percent of students were proficient in math and 17 percent were proficient in English, both slight improvements from 2018. But some schools continue to post depressingly low numbers. At four schools – Gilbert Stuart Middle School, Roger Williams Middle School, Governor Christopher DelSesto Middle School and Mary E. Fogarty Elementary School – fewer than five percent of children were proficient in math. Roger Williams, Gilbert Stuart and DelSesto also posted English proficiency rates of below 10 percent. One thing to remember about Providence: Classical High School remains one of the best schools in Rhode Island, but high school students don’t take the RICAS.

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Charter schools had mixed results

You might remember last year when students from the Achievement First Mayoral Academy dazzled the state by posting better proficiency rates than some of the top suburban districts. This year’s charter school darling is RISE Prep, the Woonsocket-based mayoral academy that had 66 percent of its third graders reach proficiency in math and 76 percent reading at grade level. At Achievement First’s schools, 54 percent of students were proficient in math and 57 percent were proficient in English. At Blackstone Valley Prep, which has far more students than RISE and Achievement First, 49 percent were doing math and English at grade level. On the other end of the spectrum, charters like the Segue Institute for Learning and Trinity Academy for the Performing Arts continue to struggle.


Dan McGowan can be reached at dan.mcgowan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @danmcgowan.