Editorial: Little Bristol school is the best in Rhode Island

Posted 10/24/19

If analysts did a deep dive into student test score data, they could make a credible argument that Rockwell Elementary School in Bristol is the best school in the entire state of Rhode …

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Editorial: Little Bristol school is the best in Rhode Island


If analysts did a deep dive into student test score data, they could make a credible argument that Rockwell Elementary School in Bristol is the best school in the entire state of Rhode Island.

Pause and let that sink in … Rockwell is the number-one school out of 230 elementary and middle schools in all of Rhode Island.

As reported this week, Rockwell and Nayatt Elementary School in Barrington are the only two schools to score in the top five in both Mathematics and Language Arts on Rhode Island Comprehensive Assessment System (RICAS) tests last spring. A few thing set Rockwell apart Nayatt, which happens to sit in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in southeastern New England.

At Rockwell, not a single student failed to meet any of the expectations in Language Arts, and only 2 percent failed in Math. Nayatt had 2 percent fail in both categories. At the high end, Rockwell had 31 percent of its students exceeding expectation in Language Arts (best, by far, in all of Rhode Island); Nayatt had only 13 percent. And in Math, Rockwell had 19 percent of its students exceed expectations (second-best in Rhode Island, and slightly better than Nayatt).

Lastly, because Nayatt is a K-3 school, it is being measured by only one grade level (Grade 3) taking the test each year. Rockwell is being measured on the performance of its students in Grades 3, 4 and 5, which includes more advanced materials and more challenging expectations.

So Rockwell is doing great overall, great at the low end, and off the charts at the high end.


Socioeconomics are a factor. Rockwell draws students from one of Bristol’s premiere neighborhoods, the Highlands. As a group, the Rockwell students typically come from wealthier households with more disposable income and more highly educated parents.

But if that were the only factor, then schools would always perform in exact relation to household income, and Nayatt would out-perform Rockwell every day and twice on Sunday.

The best explanation for Rockwell’s incredible performance can be found in the adults who walked through its doors every day. Its teachers, its principal and its parents deserve credit for creating a culture — and most importantly, a model — that demand high achievement and bring every student along for the ride.

Principal Tara McAuliffe talks about how Rockwell teachers constantly individualize their lessons and methods. Though herded into classrooms for efficiency and structure, young people are highly diversified beings, learning at different rates and demonstrating an array of aptitudes, strengths and learning styles. The more a school can individualize its learning, group students into peer-level cohorts, and customize its teaching, the more successful it will be.

Unfortunately, public schools are historically designed to do the exact opposite. They group students into age-identical classrooms and have one adult deliver instructions equally.

Rockwell has obviously figured out a better way of reaching and teaching to its students, and the rest of the district has to take notice.

In most districts, the disparity between schools is minimal. In other words, their “best” elementary school and their “worst” are typically close together in the rankings. Not in Bristol Warren.

Here, Guiteras has much to be proud of, and it is performing at a respectably high level, but Rockwell is far superior to all the rest.

The leadership of this school district, from the school committee to the principals, should be examining all that makes Rockwell special and looking to emulate those traits elsewhere. The data speaks for itself. Bristol’s little elementary school is creating a model for everyone else in Rhode Island.

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Meet our staff
Scott Pickering

Scott Pickering has been on the East Bay Newspapers team for more than two decades, since starting as a reporter for the Sakonnet Times. He's been editor of most of the papers, was Managing Editor of all the papers for many years, and became General Manager in 2012. Today he can be found posting to EastBayRI.com, steering news coverage, writing editorials, talking to readers, working with the sales team, collaborating on design, or helping do whatever it takes to get the papers out the door. Reach him at spickering@eastbaynewspapers.com.