PROVIDENCE (April 2016) – Today, the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council (RIPEC) released a report, titled “Results: Education in Rhode Island 2016”, that provides comprehensive data and a robust analysis of public school performance in Rhode Island relative to the national average and New England states, as well as a district-to-district comparison. The report demonstrates that despite recent reform efforts intended to improve the state’s public school system, including a new accountability system, a new state funding formula, and adoption of the Common Core State Standards, there remains room for improvement in the state’s educational outcomes. During Fiscal Year 2013 (the 2012-2013 school year), Rhode Island spent $14,899 per pupil, the ninth-highest amount nationally and nearly 40 percent greater than the national average of $10,763 per pupil. Despite this substantial financial investment, Rhode Island performs near, or even slightly below, the national average on several standardized assessments of student performance, including the SAT and the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) examination. In 2015, Rhode Island had the lowest percentage of 8th grade students score at or above proficient on the NAEP reading and mathematics examinations among the six New England states.
On the 2015 Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exam, just 36.8 percent of Rhode Island students in grades 3 through 8 met expectations on the English language arts (ELA)/literacy portion of the exam, while 26.3 percent of students met expectations on the mathematics portion of the exam. Among the 10 states for which PARCC scores were available, Rhode Island ranked seventh-highest for the percentage of students meeting expectations on the ELA/literacy portion, outperforming only Arkansas, Mississippi, and New Mexico. The state ranked eighth-highest on the mathematics portion of the assessment, outperforming only Arkansas and New Mexico, and slightly underperforming Mississippi. Rhode Island’s performance on the PARCC exam, which is closely aligned with the Common Core State Standards that the state adopted in 2010, suggests that more work needs to be done to align statewide content and performance standards with the actual curriculum and instruction that happens in the classroom.
A comparison of student performance in Rhode Island and Massachusetts is particularly telling, as Massachusetts students consistently outperform their peers in Rhode Island, often by sizeable margins. Yet the two states are similar demographically, with comparable percentages of English Language Learners and minority students. Although Rhode Island does have a larger portion of students eligible the free and reduced lunch program (which serves as a proxy for poverty) than Massachusetts (46.7 versus 38.2 percent, respectively), it is still below the national average (50.2 percent). The two states also devote similar amounts of resources to education, with per-pupil expenditures in Rhode Island actually exceeding Massachusetts in four of the last five years for which data are available.
The foundation for effective education reform is accurate and complete data. This RIPEC report provides a tool for policymakers and stakeholders to identify the problem and address the issue of education reform in the Ocean State. It also sets the stage for a second RIPEC analysis, titled “Understanding Institutional Differences in Education Governance: A Comparison of Massachusetts and Rhode Island.” RIPEC’s second report will examine the institutional differences in education governance that may contribute to the difference in student performance between the two states.