A “Devastating Look at Providence’s Taxpayer Supported K-12 School District”; “Not Enough Learning Going On”

Steph Machado:

The 93-page report, conducted by the Johns Hopkins University Institute for Education Policy, describes a school district that is struggling to support many of its students academically, socially and emotionally, and is bogged down by an organizational structure and red tape that impedes progress.

“My initial reaction was devastation,” Angélica Infante-Green, Rhode Island’s new educational commissioner, told WPRI 12. “It was tough to read without feeling the pain. I actually was sick after I finished reading the report.”

Infante-Green said the review was conducted at her request in reaction to abysmal test scores on the RICAS exam, the state’s new assessment that mirrors Massachusetts. The Partnership for Rhode Island, an organization made up of the CEOs of major Rhode Island employers like CVS Health and Brown University, paid for the $50,000 review.

In the report released Tuesday evening, the authors said they interviewed scores of people involved in Providence’s public schools, including teachers, students, parents, administrators, district employees, city councilors, school board members, the outgoing superintendent and the mayor of Providence.

Here are 12 key takeaways from the report. You can read the full report here, and find a schedule of public follow-up forums here.

There’s not enough learning going on

The review team made a stunning observation: “very little visible student learning was going on in the majority of classrooms and schools we visited.”

The report almost never names individual schools, but does give specific examples, including an English language arts class in one school where reviewers observed “almost no authentic reading.” During a French lesson at another school, the researchers report, “No French was spoken by anyone in the room.”

Only one of the 12 schools visited had “no substantial challenges.” Researchers said that school, which was not named, “seemed to be using blended learning successfully with high student engagement and teacher monitoring.”

The report also described a “large number of classrooms” where students were on their phones watching YouTube videos, taking phone calls and chatting with other students during the lesson. The authors said some teachers even arranged their classrooms so that the off-task students were in the back or facing a wall, rather than attempting to engage them in the lesson.

Test scores drop off in 8th grade

Test scores show fewer than one in five Providence Public School District students are proficient in English language arts and math across all grades, and the rates get worse as students get older.

“The proficiency rates of PPSD students start low and decline in middle and high school,” according to the researchers.

RICAS scores from 2018 showed 17% of 3rd grade students achieved proficiency in math, compared with about 6% for 8th grade students. While that was the first year of the RICAS exam, the researchers said a similar drop-off was seen on the results of other tests since 2015.

In fact, only 3% of Providence 8th graders achieved proficiency in math on the 2017 PARCC test.

Students in Providence also scored lower than their peers in Newark, New Jersey, and Worcester – both cities with comparable standardized testing – in English language arts and math across all grades and years examined. The gap between those communities and Providence was even larger among racial and ethnic minorities.

“Black and Hispanic students in Providence experienced a serious drop in performance in 8th grade English language arts that was nowhere near as evident in Worcester, and these minority students performed substantially lower than their white peers in Providence across all grades,” according to the researchers.

The dismal results are coming even though the Providence schools spend more per pupil than the state average: $17,273 in Providence, compared with $16,558 statewide, as of the 2015-16 academic year.

Additional coverage.

Public forums to discuss the report.

The John’s Hopkin’s School of Education Report (PDF)

Ed.gov Snapshots: Madison | Providence.

Madison spends $18 to 20K per student, more than Providence. Yet, we’ve long tolerated disastrous reading results.

Via Chan Stroman.