Can the full picture of a school’s success be captured up through a five-star rating system?
We imagine most people would respond, “Of course not.” There are so many factors to consider that such a simple metric could never truly tell the whole story.
That is not to say, however, that a rating system of this kind is without merit. Quite the opposite – we believe that providing an easy-to-understand baseline helps distill the complex data that drives educational policy discussions and foster a broader community conversation about the state of our schools.
With that in mind, we joined the rest of Rhode Island in taking note last week when the Rhode Island Department of Education released its 2019 school accountability results.
For the second year, the state has used a Star Rating system – which designates schools as being between one and five stars – to provide a snapshot of where each of the state’s schools stands. In a statement, RIDE described the Star Rating system as having been “developed to bring increased transparency and accessibility to school performance data” under the terms of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA.
According to RIDE, the Star Rating system uses a “broader range of performance measures” than previous accountability systems. While student achievement and growth as measured through state assessments are the “primary drivers” of the Star Rating system, those are “rounded out by a more expansive view of school climate and culture.”
“Schools must perform well across all measures to earn a high star rating,” the statement reads. “In other words, high performance in a single category cannot mask low performance in another.”
Twenty-two schools across Rhode Island earned the five-star designation, while 49 were rated as four-star schools. The lion’s share of schools – 134 – received three stars.
Fifty-nine schools received two stars, while another 35 received a single star. Of the latter schools, 22 were identified for Comprehensive Support and Improvement, or CSI, which RIDE says is a federal designation for the state’s lowest performing schools. Half of those 22 CSI schools are in Providence.
The results for schools in Warwick, Cranston and Johnston largely mirrored the statewide ratings, with the vast majority of schools falling in the two-to-four-star range.
Specifically, Warwick has five two-star schools and 12 three-star schools; Cranston has a single one-star school, three two-star schools, 15 three-star schools and four four-star schools; and Johnston has a pair of two-star schools, four three-star schools and one four-star school.
So what is the main takeaway? In RIDE’s statement, Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green said the findings point to the need for continued improvements across the board.
“Rhode Island’s accountability system takes a holistic look at school performance, including traditional measures like test scores and graduation rates, and also emphasizing school culture and student learning experiences. This approach holds schools accountable for a broader range of measures, and pushes all communities to focus on areas for improvement,” she said. “Every school and every community has work to do to improve outcomes for all students.”
Infante-Green also said the accountability results must serve as the starting point for a larger discussion.
“It’s not enough to make data transparent. We need to consistently look for new ways to communicate and share the data so that it’s accessible and actionable for families and communities,” she said “I encourage and expect districts to talk about these results with students, families, and school teams, and work together to identify how the data will inform our collective work moving forward.”
RIDE’s statement notes that in tandem with the release of the accountability results, resources have been provided to principals to help them guide families through the process of reviewing the data. Additionally, tutorial videos in English and Spanish are available on RIDE’s YouTube channel.
We agree fully with Infante-Green’s sentiment. The ways in which we gauge student performance have too often been distant and difficult to understand. They have also frequently changed. That creates confusion and a lack of continuity, which both serve to exacerbate existing challenges.
Like many observers, we are still parsing the data and studying the full scope of RIDE’s latest ratings. But we are hopeful that the Star Ratings system proves to be the valuable tool that state leaders envision – and that it provides a pathway to more inclusive and productive deliberation over how we can provide a brighter future for all of Rhode Island’s children.