Ho hum test results must spur prompt action

By Arlene Violet
Posted 10/31/19

On Oct. 22, State Education Commissioner Angelica Infante-Green released standardized test results for Rhode Island students that should turn a lot of faces red. While ostensibly the test results …

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Ho hum test results must spur prompt action


On Oct. 22, State Education Commissioner Angelica Infante-Green released standardized test results for Rhode Island students that should turn a lot of faces red. While ostensibly the test results show a slight improvement from the first year scores , the Commissioner noted that the gains were expected as students became more familiar with the test. The reality is that about 4 out of 10 students met or exceeded expectations in English and only 30 percent did so in math. There were a few bright spots with the Cumberland School system showing even stronger progress than a good start last year. Regrettably, the Central Falls school system again ranked last while low income schools in Providence, Pawtucket and Woonsocket also scraped the proverbial bottom rung in performance.

By the time you read this, I predict that teacher union leaders will rain a chorus of blame onto everybody else but its own shortcomings. The National Education Association (NEA), for example, boo-hoed last year results between Massachusetts and Rhode Island by citing incorrectly an alleged discrepancy in salaries and benefits paid to teachers. NEA also trotted out a video claiming that mental health issues and student hunger are to blame for the poor results in urban areas, yet students’ scores in Massachusetts poor neighborhood schools trounced those of its counterparts in RI. Parents, no doubt, will also be maligned as being uncaring.

The reality is that some teacher contracts are sweetheart deals without much accountability. In Providence, there was a 2018 study which documented that 58 percent of teachers were chronically absent. The “chronic” definition meant that they were out for 11 or more days. You don’t need to be a Mensa candidate to realize that this is the major reason for the lack of classroom continuity. Children sit in “study halls” because there aren’t enough substitute teachers to fill the gap. Rather than jaw-boning with all the excuses known to mankind, the Union honchos should agree to eliminate such a provision.

So, now we have a Commissioner of Education who thus far has said all the right things about reform. Now she will have to produce results. How well she does her job is dependent upon her “real” boss, Governor Gina Raimondo, who appointed her. The freedom or lack thereof for Ms. Infante-Green to make meaningful changes will be a bellweather of the governor’s future political plans. Efforts may be dialed down if the governor is looking for union support for a higher office.

The Providence Journal had a recent insightful editorial which focused on the “5 year timetable” adopted thus far by state and city leaders. The writer correctly noted that the governor will be long gone by that time since she is term-limited. Her fingerprints won’t be on any delay. Further, the timeframe tempts the unions to put breaks on reform by lobbying wanna-be candidates for state and Providence offices respectively. Future governors or city leaders would be in a position to give the Commissioner the heave-ho before the time frame is up. Citizens should insist that the time frame parallel those office holders now and certainly not more than 3 years.

The RICAS test results are in. It is time to see reform NOW.

Arlene Violet is an attorney and former Rhode Island Attorney General.

Arlene Violet

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