Parents appreciate a quick snapshot of the school their children attend, or might attend. Community members appreciate information about how the schools their tax dollars fund are actually doing and local leaders rely on the information to make decisions about education policy and capital expenditures. It’s helpful to know whether a school earned 4 stars or 2 stars—at least it should be.
And in many cases it is. South Kingstown earned 5 stars in all six accountability categories, with the exception of English Language Learner proficiency because they don’t have enough ELL students to even get a score. That’s right. If a school has fewer than 20 students in any given category, they don’t get any score. And in a highly segregated place like Rhode Island, that means that many districts were not scored at all on the performance of their English Language Learning students. Meanwhile, other districts and schools were not only scored in that category but it became THE score that determined their overall star rating.
The Learning Community is one example of a school whose overall rating is lower than it should be because of one category: the proficiency of its English Language Learners. But The Learning Community is in Central Falls and 32 percent of their students are classified as English Language Learners. The Learning Community is also the only school in the state that has been approved by RIDE to train teachers for ESL certification. The school scored 3 stars for achievement and growth, 4 stars for its absenteeism and suspension rates, and 5 stars for having no low performing subgroups but they are rated, overall, as a 2 star school. And they are not a 2 star school in reality; it’s largely the reason there is great demand to attend. They are forced to use a lottery system because they don’t have enough seats for all the students whose parents want them to attend. Meanwhile, a another charter school just up the road, Segue Institute, was rated with 3 stars even though 87 percent of its students are not proficient in math.
Here’s a look at a few schools throughout the state that cast doubt on the decision to rate schools by their lowest scoring category:
And here’s another high school with a 2 star rating—Woonsocket High School. They don’t have a single category with more than 3 stars and yet they find themselves with the same overall rating as schools that have multiple categories with 4 and even 5 stars. Why? Because they too earned 2 stars for ELL students.
Will anyone at the Rhode Island Department of Education go on the record and say that Woonsocket High School is as good a school as Blackstone Valley Prep High School or The Learning Community or North Providence High School? I’m sincerely asking.
Does this chart really suggest that Middletown High School is a 3 star school? If I were a parent trying to decide about sending my children to Middletown High School, a quick look at the 3 star rating really does not tell me what I want—and need—to know.
The good news is that at a recent meeting of the the Council on Elementary and Secondary Education, a few members seemed aghast at this flaw in the the rating system and are on record saying that it “makes no sense.”
Wonder what others think. I applaud RIDE for moving towards a system that synthesizes information for families in a way that is easy to understand. I do hope, however, that they rethink the overall rating if/when it does not accurately reflect the school as a whole.
To read more about the star rating system, Dan McGowan of WPRI has a great explainer here.