'It's encouraging'

DiLullo: Schools show RICAS improvements, but still 'a lot of work to do'


Johnston schools made gains in both portions of the Rhode Island Common Assessment System, or RICAS, testing this year, but there is still room to grow.

Johnston jumped nearly 3 percent overall in students meeting and exceeding expectations in mathematics, while seeing a significantly larger 8.57 percent hike in English language arts. However, both metrics – 25.2 percent in math and 36.1 percent in ELA – still place the district on the cusp of the bottom-third of results across the state.

Superintendent of Johnston Schools Bernard DiLullo told the Sun Rise during an interview at the central administration building on Tuesday afternoon that while the district showed “substantial improvements,” the work is only just starting.

“It’s encouraging,” DiLullo said. “We’re moving in the right direction, and again we have a lot of work to do. We have a lot of analysis of these results, but I’m pleased that we’re going in the right direction.”

Ferri Middle School more than doubled its rate of students meeting ELA expectations this year, skyrocketing from 17.3 percent to 28.7 percent. Coupled with a 4 percent improvement in students exceeding expectations, Ferri produced the largest change year-over-year of any institution, with a 15.7 percent climb.

Math gains, however, were much smaller. Ferri only saw a 1 percent jump in students meeting and exceeding expectations, bringing its total from 16.7 percent to 17.7 percent. Overall, though, Ferri’s increased efforts to reinforce the importance of the test impressed DiLullo.

“Our suspicion in the past is not every student takes it seriously. First and foremost, they wanted to make sure the students were giving it an honest effort,” DiLullo said, adding that there had been some classroom visits to “ensure that proper instruction is happening.”

“So, it’s a kind of a concerted effort on multiple levels to make sure that the test is being taken in earnest and that the materials that students need to do well on that test are being provided with instruction on a day-to-day basis,” he said.

Winsor Hill Elementary School witnessed the most noteworthy math boost. It nearly doubled its number of students meeting and exceeding expectations, going from 15.1 percent to 28.4 percent. Math advancements across the district otherwise were much more stagnant. DiLullo’s reasoning for why it is easier to improve ELA scores as opposed to math was simple.

“Generally kids struggle in math for whatever reason. That seems to be much more of a difficult area to make significant improvement in,” DiLullo said, using high school PSATs as an example. “The PSAT scores in math did go from 21 to 24 percent. A modest improvement, however they remained about stagnant when the kids took the SATs this year. Those tests are measuring multiple levels of math, so in order to do well on those tests, students are taking algebra I, geometry and algebra II, so they have to have experience in all of those areas, plus there’s some trigonometry and calculus in there as well.”

While Brown Avenue Elementary School – the newly christened Blue Ribbon institution and smallest by population at 139 students – experienced the largest fall in ELA scores, it still outpaced the district by a wide margin in percentage of students meeting and exceeding expectations. Brown Avenue’s 56.4 percent rate was just about 14 percent higher than the next closest school, Sarah Dyer Barnes.

Brown Avenue saw a .08 percent uptick in math, but its 54.76 percent rate of students meeting and exceeding expectations was about double the next highest school, Sarah Dyer Barnes, at 29.86 percent.

“As typically happens, Brown Avenue did well, although Brown Avenue didn’t show major jumps,” DiLullo said. “They kind of held their own, as did Barnes. Barnes kind of held their ground as well.”

Despite Ferri’s gains in ELA, it still had the highest rate of students not meeting expectations at 18.4 percent. The aforementioned Brown Avenue demonstrated the lowest figure at 3.2 percent. In math, Brown Avenue once again scored the smallest number of students who didn’t meet expectations at 3.2 percent, as the other three elementary schools each had at least 13 percent of students who did not meet expectations.

DiLullo said the district is in the process of switching math programs, from GO Math! to Eureka. He said grades K-2 worked with the latter this year, and he plans to add a couple more grades to the transition next year.

“We are studying where our kids didn’t do as well as we would like to see. We’re looking at those items and every school is doing that at this point,” DiLullo said. “Firming up even more specifically our ELA program and our math program. Again, the math program is much more of a prescribed approach to math. However, we have to make sure that not only are our students gaining the basic skills in math, but a deeper understanding of math concepts.”

For a full look at each Johnston school’s RICAS scores, visit lms.backpack.education/public/ride.


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My math may be a little fuzzy but I don't think that going from 17.3 to 28.7 percent is considered "more than doubled" the number of students meeting the expectations in ELA. People in our community need to realize that N.A. Ferri Middle School is considered a failing school. That, and the fact that only 16.8 percent of the students met the expectations in math and only 0.4 percent exceeded those expectations, should alarm every parent with a child moving up from the elementary level. The superintendent's comment that “our suspicion in the past is not every student takes it seriously" is not only ridiculous but grossly negligent. It's the school department that hasn't taken it seriously and clearly lacks the sense of urgency to work on a plan to improve student achievement. This crisis will have life-long negative impacts on our children if something is not done immediately to take corrective action. Another long-term negative consequence will be that more parents will send their children to schools in other districts and further drain our resources.

Monday, November 4, 2019