Release the damn test scores, Rhode Island

In keeping with the spirit of the Rhode Island Comprehensive Assessment System (RICAS), here’s a multiple choice question: If students showed substantial improvement on the exam they took last spring, what would Governor Dan McKee and Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green be doing with the results leading into an election?

a) They would wait until mid-November to release the scores because there should be absolutely no connection between politics and education in Rhode Island.

b) They would try their very best to get the scores out before the election, but if that poor sole data analyst at the Department of Education couldn’t crunch all the numbers on time, they’d be perfectly fine with holding the data until it was thoroughly reviewed.

c) They would schedule celebrations in all 39 cities and towns to honor all students beginning Wednesday, which just happens to be the first day of early voting for the Nov. 8 general election.

Anyone considered even partially proficient in Rhode Island politics knows the answer, which is why it’s difficult to trust McKee and Infante-Green when they say that none of the data is available even though they now acknowledge that the state has had it since Sept. 12.

The problem is they know the results are going to be poor, just as they were in Massachusetts, because students have struggled during the pandemic, and there’s a lot of work to do to help students catch up.

If this were an odd-numbered year, or even a presidential election year, there would be no controversy at all. The state would release the data sometime this month, and every policymaker would dust off their canned statements about the need for urgency to improve educational outcomes — the same pablum they’ve spouted every year when results aren’t up to snuff.

This year happens to be different because McKee is facing a spirited challenge from Republican Ashley Kalus, who is making school reform a central theme of her campaign.

Kalus has been calling attention to the state not releasing the test scores since the Globe reported Oct. 5 that they wouldn’t be made public until after the election. She’s doing what any candidate would do with the same information. Knowing what we know now, Helena Foulkes might have won the Democratic primary if she started discussing RICAS before Sept. 13.

During the Channel 12 gubernatorial debate last week, McKee said that his understanding was that Rhode Island was “second in line” behind Massachusetts – students in each state take similar tests – to receive the results, and “when the information is ready, it will be provided.”

When reporters at Channel 12 fact-checked that statement, Cognia, a Georgia-based nonprofit that assists “states, large systems, and international agencies” with school assessments, said it had already released the scores to Rhode Island.

For good reason, Cognia doesn’t want to get dragged into a political fight. But the organization brings in more than $100 million in revenue each year, so it’s safe to say that it has the capacity for employees to walk, chew gum, and process the test scores of students in Massachusetts and Rhode Island at the same time.

Kalus held a press conference Monday outside of the Department of Education to once again call on McKee to release the results immediately. She said McKee needs to be “honest, transparent, and able to deliver bad news” to the state.

Other than her driver parking illegally next to a fire hydrant on very narrow Westminster Street during the press conference, it’s hard to argue with Kalus on the merits of this issue.

It’s time for McKee and Infante-Green to release the damn test scores, no matter how painful the results are.

At the very least, they could release topline data about the results – like statewide proficiency rates for students in Grades 3 through 8. That would at least give the public a sense of where students stand even if the data isn’t ready for every city and town.

What’s sad is that schools are an issue McKee should beat Kalus on every single time.

He has done more to improve public education in Rhode Island during his political career than any other currently elected official. That’s how important the mayoral academy charter schools are to this state. They’ve literally changed the lives of thousands of children.

But that was two elected offices ago, when McKee was still mayor of Cumberland. Being a sports lover, he knows that education is a “what have you done for me lately?” kind of issue.

If they released the results tomorrow, he and Infante-Green could do what the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council called on state leaders to do last week and launch a real campaign to actually improve the results over the next few years.

Have some faith in the voters, hold our hands, explain exactly what it’s going to cost to reform the state funding formula, and maybe come up with an innovative idea like extending the school year until students are at least back to their pre-pandemic proficiency rates. There are still thousands of kids on the waiting lists for charter schools in Rhode Island. Maybe now is the moment to discuss expansion.

Or do we only consider these things in non-election years?