Letter: Criticism of Bristol Warren educators lacked crucial context

Posted 7/27/22

To the editor:

I am writing this letter in response to the recent letter from Georgina Macdonald criticizing the Bristol Warren Regional School District and its teachers for failing to provide …

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Letter: Criticism of Bristol Warren educators lacked crucial context


To the editor:

I am writing this letter in response to the recent letter from Georgina Macdonald criticizing the Bristol Warren Regional School District and its teachers for failing to provide quality educational experiences for our community’s children. While I understand the writer’s concern regarding both the lack of preparedness in our graduates and the money spent by taxpayers, she failed to include several important points that I believe depict a clearer picture than the one she painted.

First, the data collected regarding student and teacher absenteeism was gathered during a worldwide pandemic. Up until mid-fall of the 2021-2022 school year, any person who tested positive for COVID was required to isolate for ten days. After that, people were still required to isolate for a minimum of five days, and possibly more depending on the severity of their illness. Imagine you are a teacher with two young children at home. Perhaps you caught COVID in the fall. Then, your child contracts it from you. Maybe your second child tests positive in January. And to top it all off, you test positive again in May. This scenario is one that a number of teachers faced the past two school years. To call for the firing of these teachers in these unprecedented times is anything but student-centered. Of course, this situation is not ideal. But with schools already facing teacher shortages, punishing teachers for adhering to statewide COVID mandates would be foolish and ultimately detrimental to children.

Additionally, the RIDE Report Card website includes a disclaimer on its district accountability pages that states, “As schools adapted to hybrid and virtual learning, absence definitions may differ from prior years and from definitions used in other schools and districts. Use caution when comparing these data to past years and between districts.” We have no way of knowing if the BWRSD used the same guidelines and definitions as the Portsmouth School District to monitor student and teacher absences unless further information is provided.

Second, to draw comparisons between the academic performance of the students in these two districts is like comparing apples to oranges. Bristol Warren and Portsmouth have very different student populations. Georgina excluded information regarding sub-populations in both districts when she reported on their ELA and math proficiency scores. According to the RIDE Report Card for Mt. Hope High School, 26 of the 212 students tested in the 2020-2021 school year are classified as having a disability (~12%). Compare that to the 15 out of 217 (~7%) of Portsmouth High School students who are classified as having a disability. At Mt. Hope, 38 students were classified as economically disadvantaged (~18%). At Portsmouth High School only 16 students were classified as economically disadvantaged (~7%). These are significant differences! Having a disability and being at an economic disadvantage are both factors that could impact students’ performance on the SAT.

Put yourself in the shoes of an 11th grader. You’ve been struggling with distance or hybrid learning for months. You have ADHD and lose focus easily. Money and food have been tight at home. Now it’s April and you must sit for hours and take the SAT. This one test determines whether or not you’re “academically proficient.” Might you struggle to reach the benchmarks? Furthermore, the RIDE Report Card website contains another disclaimer regarding ELA and math scores: “You are viewing 2020-21 assessment data. When reviewing these results, keep in mind that student performance may have been influenced by disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

It is either misleading or careless to exclude these points, especially when placing 100% of the blame on poor teaching.

I’m not saying that there isn’t room for growth in teaching. I am also not saying that we should set a low bar for our students. But should one really be making such a bold attack on teachers based on the data from the first (and most disruptive) year of the pandemic? Shouldn’t more care be taken when comparing two completely different school districts? Georgina either cherry-picked data or overlooked important factors that didn’t support her assertions. I highly recommend that members of the community visit reportcard.ride.ri.gov to see the facts for themselves.

Lauren Hunt
Arthur Avenue

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