Commissioner's Report

March 2009

Dear Fellow Rhode Islanders:

I am pleased to report to you that, for the third straight year, Rhode Island test scores have improved across the board. The 2008 NECAP test results, which we released earlier this year, show significant improvements on all tests, for all grades, and among all student groups.

The scores for students in Grades 3 through 8 rose by 3 points in reading and mathematics and 5 points in writing. High-school scores (Grade 11) were up 7 points in reading, 5 points in mathematics, and 4 points in writing.

Over the three-year span of testing, we have seen significant gains at every grade level:

Percent proficient
One-year change
3-year change
Grade 3 69 +1 +9
Grade 4 68 +4 +8
Grade 5 68 +2 +8
Grade 6 68 +6 +10
Grade 7 71 +4 +15
Grade 8 65 +4 +10
Grade 11 69 +8 NA


Percent proficient
One-year change
3-year change
Grade 3 60 No change +9
Grade 4 63 +9 +11
Grade 5 60 +3 +8
Grade 6 55 +1 +6
Grade 7 52 +3 +5
Grade 8 53 +5 +5
Grade 11 27 +5 NA

These gains have been made among all student groups, including students living in poverty. In fact, our greatest gains have come in the urban districts:

Reading – Grades 3-8

District type
Percent proficient
One-year change
3-year change
Urban 48 +5 +13
Urban ring 72 +3 +10
Suburban 78 +2 +6


Mathematics – Grades 3-8

District type
Percent proficient
One-year change
3-year change
Urban 36 +4 +8
Urban ring 58 +4 +8
Suburban 70 +3 +5

After three years of steady improvements, we see that our comprehensive reforms are working. Our students are performing well, and our schools are improving. We have achieved these gains because:

  • We have adopted clear standards that specify what students should know and be able to do at each grade level.
  • Educators use these standards as the basis for classroom instruction.
  • Our state assessments are aligned to these standards.
  • With the support of the Governor, the General Assembly, labor leaders, and the community at large, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (RIDE) has been able to support schools in need and to intervene in schools that are in need of improvement.

The gains in test scores this year are the result of years of school-improvement practices. Test scores may be our final measure of achievement, but many other indicators show us over the years whether schools and districts have sufficient capacity to improve. For each of the schools that improved this year, you can look back to earlier data and see that the framework for improvement has been in place. Such indicators as the surveys of student and staff attitudes and practices, school visits by teams of practitioners, and financial reports allow us to monitor and analyze schools to ensure that they are on the right track and to provide the support that they need to meet annual targets.

I am proud of the many accomplishments we have attained during my years as Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education. Together, we have transformed public education in Rhode Island from a system that was about some students to a system that is about all students. We have brought needed aid to the urban districts to help educators in our cities face the unique challenges that they live with every day. We have made sure that students with disabilities receive the special resources that they need so that they can have equal educational opportunities in the least restrictive educational environment. We have recognized and begun to take on the responsibility of educating our growing population of English-language learners. Obviously, many challenges stand before us.

Despite the improvements in our urban districts, there remains a large gap between the urban districts and the rest of the state, both in test scores and graduation rates. This equity gap – not unique to Rhode Island, by any means – must be closed.

We also are concerned about the relatively low scores in all grades on the state science assessments and about the low mathematics scores in Grade 11. These scores show me that too many of our students are not receiving the instruction that they need in order to meet the state standards in mathematics and science. As a result, we are at the beginning stages of a complete review of mathematics and science instruction across the state. We will need to see significant reforms in curriculum and instruction so that our students can meet their grade-level expectations in these subjects, which are so vital to the future well-being of our state.

The Board of Regents has established a number of priorities that will guide education reform in Rhode Island over the course of the next few years. These include:

  • Developing standards for high-quality early-childhood education
  • Strengthening educator quality through the development of standards and evaluation tools
  • Implementing the new Secondary Regulations, which establish proficiency-based graduation requirements as the key element of the Diploma System
  • Working toward the development and implementation of a fair and predictable funding formula for state aid to education

The Regents will need support from the education community and from the general public as they work to put these reforms into practice.

Information Works! The State Report Card

Information Works! 2009 serves as the official Rhode Island State Report Card, as required by the No Child Left Behind Act. In this report, you will find state-level data as well as many tables that give data for all schools and all districts. If you are interested in more detailed information on any school or district, you can read the individual school and district reports here on our Web site.

As you look through Information Works! 2009, you will see how well our students are performing on state assessments. You will also find reports that summarize the findings of our annual SALT Surveys regarding instructional practices, school climate, and parental engagement. And you will find charts and tables on school spending and municipal finances.

Information Works!, now in its 12th year, is the result of a successful partnership between RIDE and the Center for School Improvement and Educational Policy (formerly NCPE), at the University of Rhode Island. Since 1997, there has been basic policy agreement on education, shared by the legislature, the Regents, and the Governor. I hope that you will use this report to become more engaged in public education, no matter what your community of interest. School improvement is a challenge for all of us – parents, teachers, and students of course, but also business leaders, labor leaders, and community members.

Though this is a time of transition, the work of school improvement will continue under new leadership. I am proud to have done my very best to improve public education in  Rhode Island and to improve the lives of many of our students and graduates. I wish you well as you continue this awesome and fulfilling work that we have begun together.

Peter McWalters
Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education