Standards and Accountability: Rhode Island has adopted standards in English, mathematics, and science, but not in social studies/history. Moreover, only its math and science standards are rated clear and specific by the American Federation of Teachers, an evaluation that significantly hurts the state’s grade.
Rhode Island has math and English tests aligned with its standards at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. State tests use a variety of questions, including multiple-choice, short-answer, and extended-response items.
The state holds schools accountable for student performance by publishing test data on school report cards and using the results as part of its school rating system. The state provides help to schools that are rated low-performing, and it imposes sanctions for consistently low-performing or failing schools, including non-Title I schools. The state lacks monetary rewards for high-performing or improving schools.
Efforts to Improve Teacher Quality: Rhode Island’s failure to ensure that its teachers demonstrate subject-matter knowledge on tests lowers its grade. The state requires its elementary teachers to pass licensing tests and is working with the Educational Testing Service to develop exams for prospective middle school teachers. But it currently offers no subject-matter tests for either middle or high school teachers to earn licenses. The state also does not use performance assessments such as videos, portfolios, or classroom observations to evaluate teachers who are further along in their careers.
While future high school teachers must complete majors in the subjects they plan to teach, the state’s elementary certificate does not require a minimum amount of subject-area coursework, and teachers who earn the certificate can teach middle school students.
Rhode Island requires each district to have a mentoring program, and it has established standards for the programs. But the state does not earmark funds for mentoring. The state’s grade gets a lift because Rhode Island finances teacher professional development for all districts and identifies low-performing teacher-preparation institutions based on its new program-approval process.
The state recently adopted regulations and standards for alternative-route programs, which must be sponsored by a local education agency and a higher-education partner with an approved teacher-preparation program. No such programs have yet been established.
School Climate: Rhode Island’s above-average grade in this category is based, in part, on its School Accountability for Learning and Teaching survey, or SALT. The state’s survey of students, parents, teachers, and administrators asks questions about school practices and climate, making Rhode Island one of only 17 states to survey those groups about such issues.
Eighty-nine percent of 8th graders attend schools where school officials report that absenteeism is not a problem or is only a minor problem, based on data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress—putting the state near the top for that indicator. Also contributing to the state’s grade are school discipline codes, which require local school boards to adopt policies that prohibit bullying.
The state loses points for its weak public-school-choice provisions. The state has only a limited open-enrollment policy, and its charter school law is deemed weak by the Center for Education Reform.
Equity: Rhode Island’s wealth-neutrality score has improved this year, rising from a rank of 40th of the 50 states last year to 32nd. The state still has a positive score, however, indicating that wealthy districts on average have more state and local revenue for education than those with low property wealth. Rhode Island fares better on the other two measures of resource equity, the McLoone Index and the coefficient of variation, ranking 16th and 17th, respectively. Those scores indicate moderate disparities in funding across districts in Rhode Island, compared with other states.
Spending: Rhode Island does well on all spending indicators. With $8,800 spent per pupil in the 2001-02 school year, the state has the 10th-highest such spending in the nation. About 94 percent of students are in districts that spend at least the national average per pupil. Rhode Island also ranks 11th on the spending index, with a score of 99.4. The index measures the percentage of students in districts spending at or above the national average, and how far the rest of the students fall below that average.
Rhode Island spends 4.2 percent of its total taxable resources on education, which exceeds the national average. The state saw an average annual increase in expenditures per pupil of 2.2 percent from 1992 to 2002, after adjusting for inflation.