RICAS test results sent to state a month ago are ‘not final’ — when will they be released?

PROVIDENCE – The Rhode Island Department of Education on Monday said it received the RICAS standardized-test result data file on Sept. 12, but cautioned that the scores weren’t final.

The department “received the data file that was not validated or final from the vendor on Aug. 25 last year and Sept. 12 this year,” department spokesman Victor Morente said Monday.

The release of scores from the Rhode Island Comprehensive Assessment System has blown up into a major campaign issue following WPRI’s story Friday that the vendor, Cognia out of Georgia, had already provided the data to the education department.

What do the RICAS test results show?

The RICAS, a standardized test in math and English given every spring in Grades 3 though 8, is the most important measure of how students are doing at the individual, school and state level.

They are crucial in several respects. They show how students are doing over time – last year’s third-graders, for example, versus the previous year’s. They show how groups of students are faring – in particular students of color, students with special needs and English language learners.

These student populations typically lag behind, sometimes far behind, their white, middle-income peers. When teachers drill down into the data, they can identify where a student is struggling or where the curriculum needs tweaking.

Rhode Island adopted the Massachusetts version of the RICAS in the 2017-2018 school year because of its rigor and its role in elevating Bay State student performance to the best in the nation.

Test scores took a nosedive in Rhode Island last year in the wake of the pandemic, as did scores across the nation.

With students back in school, there is an expectation that scores from last year’s tests will be brighter. Gov. Dan McKee has a lot riding on those hopes, as does state Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green, in the third year of state takeover of Providence schools.

Responding to questions from The Journal, Morente on Monday denied that someone from the governor’s office helped draft the Department of Education news release in November. WPRI said it had obtained emails showing that the governor’s office was involved in shaping the department’s news release.

Although Infante-Green said she expected the release in October, Morente called that an estimate, adding that the scores have been released anywhere from late October to late November.

Providence administrators reportedly received preliminary data this summer. Morente said school districts received raw student data, not “final, aggregated, validated data. No district should be drawing conclusions from raw scores.”

RICAS test results becoming key election issue

Republican gubernatorial candidate Ashley Kalus on Monday continued to accuse McKee of playing politics with the scores by not releasing them until after the November election.

“Last Tuesday, Dan McKee looked into the camera – into the eyes of Rhode Islanders – during the first debate and lied,” Kalus said Monday morning outside of the Department of Education. “He not only lied to the press, but he lied to every parent and teacher in the state.”

“Based on what the [education] commissioner said this morning, a month passed between the state receiving the scores and the first debate,” Kalus said. “You never once asked during that time period?”

Cognia declined to comment Monday on the RICAS.

In a series of emails late Friday night, McKee’s administration said he had not personally seen the scores “in any form.”

At a business forum Monday in East Providence, McKee denied asking the Department of Education to hold onto the results until after the election.

“Look, we are not going to make a political issue out of this … kids are too important,” he said. “When the information is ready it should come out. Not before it’s ready … “