The Jacqueline M. Walsh School for the Performing Arts in Pawtucket and North Smithfield High School were among the 24 schools Tuesday designated as 2013 commended schools, the highest classification in the Rhode Island Department of Education’s annual public school rankings.
So-called “commended” schools have the highest index scores in the state, no achievement gaps and are recognized because of either high performance or for making significant progress.
To determine the 2013 school classifications, which were released Tuesday, the department used what is known as the Rhode Island Accountability System, which is designed to recognize outstanding performance and support low-achieving schools. This is the second year the classifications have been used.
The annual accountability system provides state education officials with a way to focus on achievement gaps, diagnose school performance by identifying specific shortcomings and achievements at each school, and provide each school with the specific support or intervention needed to improve student achievement and to close achievement gaps.
The classifications are based on specific criteria, including proficiency, progress, growth and improvement and graduation. Using these measures, the department places each school into one of six classifications: Commended, Leading, Typical, Warning, Focus, or Priority.
“Our accountability system, which the U.S. Department of Education approved last year, provides us with a snapshot that shows where our schools excel and where our schools need resources and support,” Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist said Tuesday. “We have been working hard with our lowest-achieving schools – to help diagnose their challenges, identify needs, and take the necessary steps to turn around performance. So far, we have seen some examples of progress, and we expect the pace of improvement to advance dramatically in the coming years.”
Of the 279 classified schools, the state identified 24 schools - about 9 percent – as “commended.” Among the 12 newly identified commended schools this year are North Smithfield High School, the Jacqueline M. Walsh School for the Performing Arts in Pawtucket and the Blackstone Valley Prep Elementary Charter School in Cumberland.
Some of the other commended schools this year include the Blackstone Academy Charter School in Pawtucket and the Community School in Cumberland.
At the other end of the spectrum, 28 schools in Rhode Island - about 10 percent - received the state's lowest ratings in an evaluation of their performance, including 21 “priority” schools and seven “focus” schools. Priority and focus schools are designated as those schools that will require state intervention, including a diagnostic screening process to determine strengths and weaknesses.
Among the 21 priority schools raked this year are Central Falls Senior High School and the Dr. Earl F. Calcutt Middle School, both in Central Falls; Shea Senior High School and William E. Tolman High School, both in Pawtucket; and the Agnes B. Hennessey School in East Providence.
Among the four schools newly classified this year as focus schools is the Veterans Memorial Elementary School in Central Falls.
All of those schools are designated for state intervention and must come up with improvement plans. The 41 “warning” schools that RIDE identified Tuesday must also develop and implement plans for improvement, but on a lesser scale and without intensive state oversight.
Area schools in that warning classification include Woonsocket Middle School and the Bernon Heights, Citizens Memorial, Aram J. Pothier and Harris Elementary Schools in Woonsocket; Garvin Memorial School in Cumberland; the Ella Risk Elementary School in Central Falls; the Nathanael Greene Elementary School, Goff Junior High School and Henry J. Winters School in Pawtucket; and the Emma G. Whiteknact Elementary School, James R.D. Oldham Elementary School, Kent Heights School and Orlo Avenue School in East Providence.
“Through the school classifications we released today, we honor the schools that have advanced student achievement and closed achievement gaps,” said Board of Education Chairwoman Eva-Marie Mancuso. “These classifications will also help us focus our efforts on providing support and guidance to the schools most in need of improvement. On behalf of the Board of Education, I extend congratulations to our commended schools and leading Schools, and I pledge that we will work together to improve achievement levels in all of our schools.”
“I am glad to see that a large number of schools from communities across the state have earned the designation as 2013 Commended Schools,” added Governor Lincoln D. Chafee “ I congratulate the students and teachers in our commended schools on their accomplishments, and I expect them to lead the way as we continue to move Rhode Island schools toward greatness.”
(Follow Joseph Fitzgerald on Twitter @jofitz7)