Pawtucket cited as example on RICAS

Pawtucket cited as example on RICAS

But school officials not satisfied with progress

PAWTUCKET – At an Oct. 30 meeting of the Woonsocket School Committee, Supt. Patrick McGee pointed out that Pawtucket has similar demographics to that city but has higher scores in state testing.

“I’d like to reach out to Pawtucket to see what they’re doing, what types of things they have in place,” he said.

Woonsocket school board members then discussed why Pawtucket might be doing better than all other urban districts, speculating that it might have something to do with that city gearing its curriculum toward the Rhode Island Comprehensive Assessment System tests.

Pawtucket is toward the bottom of the list on statewide RICAS results, but is ahead of the three urban core communities of Providence, Central Falls and Woonsocket. It is somewhat behind urban core district Newport in math and English language arts.

In ELA, 24.33 percent of Pawtucket students met and exceeded expectations, compared to 17.22 percent in Providence, 14.1 percent in Woonsocket, and 12.62 percent in Central Falls. That was up four percentage points on last year’s proficiency rate of 20 percent.

A total of 17.77 percent of Pawtucket students in grades 3-8 met and exceeded expectations on the math part of the test, compared to 11.92 percent in Providence, 11.87 percent in Woonsocket, and 7.9 percent in Central Falls. Last year, 17 percent of Pawtucket students scored proficiently in math.

Those compared to 38 proficiency on ELA and 30 percent math proficiency statewide.

Pawtucket officials are not reveling in these results, saying there’s still much more work to be done, but interim Supt. Cheryl McWilliams notes that there are a number of “pockets of encouraging growth” within the district that staff expect will lead to greater proficiency rates this year and beyond.

“This is unquestionably difficult but necessary work. We can and we must do better for our students,” she said. “Fortunately, here in Pawtucket our School Committee, school administration, teacher union leadership, and the mayor are all working collaboratively to implement policies and programs that will increase achievement for all of our students.”

School Committee Chairman Jay Charbonneau said Pawtucket school officials and staff are pleased with their progress, but far from satisfied.

“It’s nice to hear other urban communities are looking to model what we are doing in Pawtucket,” he said. “I want to be very clear that no one here is satisfied with our results, nor is it our goal to be the best urban district. We are committed to being the best district period ... in every school for every student.”

Here are the individual school proficiency results:

• Varieur Elementary – scored 48 percent in ELA, 32 percent in math, outperforming the state averages on both.

• Curtis Elementary – 31 percent in ELA, 41 percent in math.

• Greene Elementary – 28 percent in ELA, 32 percent in math.

• Potter-Burns Elementary – 31 percent in ELA, 27 percent in math.

• Winters Elementary – 31 percent in ELA, 23 percent in math.

• Fallon Elementary – 32 percent in ELA, 22 percent in math.

• Agnes Little Elementary – 28 percent in ELA, 24 percent in math.

• Baldwin Elementary – 26 percent in ELA, 18.75 percent in math.

• Curvin-McCabe Elementary – 25 percent in ELA, 18 percent in math.

• Cunningham Elementary – 19 percent in ELA, 23 percent in math.

• Goff Middle School – 36 percent in ELA, 17 percent in math. This school showed significant growth over last year and may now be able to come out from under the state’s oversight.

• Jenks Middle School – 11 percent in ELA, 9 percent in math.

• Slater Middle School – 10 percent in ELA, 6 percent in math.

Several schools, including Curtis, Cunningham, Fallon and Goff, are showing an increase in math growth scores.

“We understand there is much work to be done to dramatically increase proficiency rates for all of our students,” said McWilliams.

Growth scores are essentially predictor trends, she said, and several of them within the district show that local students will likely be achieving higher and higher scores.

“Looking at data, looking at achievement, obviously we want all of our kids to be 100 percent achievers,” she said.

Teams of administrators are meeting this week to break down trends and other information for various subgroups, including multi-lingual students and “differently-abled” students. They’ll work to identify which aspects of the standards were missed by various students so staff can address those cases specifically.

Charbonneau said Pawtucket’s academic turnaround started under former Supt. Patti DiCenso and her belief that all city students would achieve excellence.

“We have taken a multi-pronged approach from facilities conditions, to a 5-star pre-K program, to partnering with our teachers’ union to develop community schools,” he said. “In addition, the committee authorized a $1 million investment in the American Reading Company reading program, and we have added social/emotional support in our buildings. We are focusing on a collaborative approach where all stakeholders feel part of the process.”

McWilliams has her team analyzing the most recent scores and is now making adjustments based on data, he said. She has shared her vision with the committee and she is committed to building on the results. The committee fully supports the plan she has laid out for the district, he said.

McWilliams said the success of the city’s full-service Community Schools on RICAS results this year only reinforces her desire to incorporate more of these schools under the model of them being the hub of activity for the community. Agnes Little, Fallon and Winters all saw improvement, she said. Community schools have a direct impact on school attendance and how students feel about themselves, she said.

Other success stories include ELA going up at various schools, and ELA among 6th-graders and 3rd-graders improving. Across the district, 3rd-graders improved from 30 percent to 37 percent in ELA proficiency, “a very positive trend as extensive research shows that 3rd-grade reading proficiency is a key predictor of future academic success,” she said.

“These improvements are a testament to the curriculum implementation of Self-Regulated Strategy Development framework where students and teachers have developed a common language about high expectations and the concrete steps needed to meet those expectations,” she said.

The goal is to do “a lot of necessary work” to “continue doing what we’re doing,” said McWilliams. She said she doesn’t feel satisfied to stack Pawtucket up against other urban communities, but wants to see it competing among the suburban districts.

“I’m confident we’re on the right road,” she said. Analyzing the data to bring change is a “powerful, powerful thing,” she said. It will help staff determine if a student is not understanding a certain question or what other challenge they’re facing.

“RICAS results once again show that we have a great deal of work ahead of us to raise achievement for all Pawtucket students,” she said. “We are committed to this work and using data from RICAS as an important measurement – one of many – to help us tailor our curriculum, interventions, and wrap around services to improve student learning.”

Staffers are hopeful that this year will bring positive results from the adoption of a K-3 literacy curriculum from ARC, said McWilliams. Current 3rd-graders who were the first in the program when they were in kindergarten will be taking the RICAS next spring.

Too often, said McWilliams, local educators focus solely on RICAS scores, rather than the underlying factors that are holding their students back from achievement.

“That is why the Pawtucket School District is committed to improving the social and emotional health of our students,” she said. “We are laser focused on this critical element to student success, and that’s why we are so excited about our new grant funded partnership with Bradley Hospital and the Rhode Island Departments of Education and Health to provide clinical mental health services for students and families, behavioral health professional development for our teachers, and crisis response services for students and families experiencing mental health emergencies.”