PARCC Scores: RI Vs. MA

Sep 30, 2016

Credit Elisabeth Harrison

After just two years of PARCC, there is little longitudinal data to help us understand how students and their schools are doing. But one of the promises of PARCC was that it would allow state-by-state comparisons of achievement, so let’s see what we can learn by comparing scores from Rhode Island with our high-achieving neighbor to the north: Massachusetts.

Massachusetts has said it plans to implement a modified version of PARCC next year, but we can at least compare scores from 2016. And we can hone in on communities that are similar in terms of population, median income and demographic makeup.

I’ve have chosen to focus on 3rd grade and 7th grade scores, in part because 3rd grade reading skills are seen as a critical factor in future school performance. I chose 7th grade because many Massachusetts districts do not administer PARCC to high school students, and Rhode Island gives some 8th grade students a subject-specific Algebra test, making it difficult to compare 8th grade math scores. 7th grade, therefore, provides the most accurate snapshot of an older student.

I'll start with Springfield, a city of about 154,000 people, with approximately 39% Latino residents and a median income of $34,700, according to the U.S. census. The demographics are similar to Providence, a city of about 179,000 people, with 38% Latino residents, and a median income of $37,500. Both cities have a poverty rate of roughly 30%. (Note: Census population/demographic data may differ from school district data, but the goal here is to compare similar communities.)

Springfield students consistently score better than their peers in Providence on PARCC, especially in Math. So do students in Worcester, another city of similar size with slightly higher median income.

Percent of  Students Meeting/Exceeding Expectations

Providence 3rd Grade   Springfield    Worcester

ELA                 22%                38 %                36%                 

MATH           25 %                45 %                34%

Providence 7th Grade  Springfield      Worcester

ELA                17%                 29%                  46%

MATH          10%                22%                  30%

Looking at specific subgroups yields an interesting result. Latino and low-income students in both 3rd and 7th grade achieve significantly higher proficiency rates in Springfield than they do in Providence. But for Latino 3rd graders, Springfield has a wider achievement gap. The gap is wider in Providence for low-income 3rd graders, at least in English Language Arts. Achievement gaps are similar in both districts at the 7th grade level, but Springfield students continue to show higher proficiency rates.

Latino Students Meeting/Exceeding Expectations

Providence 3rd Grade   Springfield 3rd Grade

ELA             21%                  34%

MATH        22%                 41 %

Gap between Latino and White Students in terms of Percentage Points

Providence 3rd Grade    Springfield 3rd Grade

ELA            11 points             17 points

MATH       10 points           16 points

Low-Income Students Meeting/Exceeding

Providence 3rd Grade   Springfield 3rd Grade

ELA               20%                35%

MATH         23%                 41%

Gap between Low-Income/ Non Low-Income Students

Providence 3rd Grade   Springfield 3rd Grade

ELA             25 points          16 points

MATH        17 points          18 points

I also looked briefly at scores from Pawtucket, a smaller urban district, compared with New Bedford, MA, a similar city. As with Providence, Pawtucket students were less likely to score at grade level than their peers in New Bedford, and that trend held true for Latino students in addition to all students. But the achievement gap between white and Latino students was wider in New Bedford's 3rd grade. I'll leave it to you to decide whether a student is better off in a district with higher proficiency rates or lower achievement gaps.

Let’s look next at two high achieving, wealthy communities: Barrington, RI and Marblehead, MA.

Marblehead has a population of 20,500, mostly white residents, and a median income of nearly $101,000. Barrington, consistently one of Rhode Island’s highest scoring districts, is slightly smaller with a little more than 16,000 people. Like Marblehead, the vast majority of Barrington residents are white, and the median income is nearly $104,000. Let’s look at the scores.

Students Meeting/Exceeding Expectations

Barrington 3rd Grade   Marblehead 3rd Grade

ELA            61%                     85%

MATH        73%                   78%

Barrington 7th Grade   Marblehead 7th Grade

ELA             87%                   88%

MATH        73%                   71%

Barrington 3rd graders scored lower than their peers in Marblehead, particularly in English Language Arts. But by 7th grade Barrington students were catching up, and, at least in Math, slightly outscoring their Marblehead counterparts.

Cranston and Warwick, Rhode Island’s second and third largest districts, tend to score close to the state average on PARCC. Both cities are close in size: Cranston has about 81,000 residents, Warwick a little less than 82,000. Cranston is slightly more diverse, at 82% white and 11% Latino. Warwick is 93% white. Median income is a little higher in Warwick at nearly $63,000, compared with nearly $59,000 in Cranston.

The closest comparison I could find in Massachusetts is Framingham, with a population of about 71,000 people. At 72% white and 13% Latino, the city may look more like Cranston than Warwick. But Framingham’s median income is nearly $69,000, closer to Warwick than Cranston. Framingham has a poverty rate of 11%, the same as Cranston and slightly higher than Warwick. (As noted above, census data on populations and demographics may differ from school district data)

Here’s how the three cities stack up when it comes to test scores. At the 3rd grade level, Framingham and Warwick have similar results. Cranston comes close in English but falls behind in Math. In 7th grade, however, Framingham students outperform their peers in both Cranston and Warwick, with an especially large gap in Math.

Students Meeting/Exceeding Expectations

Cranston 3rd Grade      Warwick 3rd Grade   Framingham 3rd Grade

ELA             41%                            42%                          44%

MATH        39%                           46%                          45%

Cranston 7th Grade      Warwick 7th Grade   Framingham 7th Grade

ELA           38%                             38%                          47%

MATH       27%                           29%                           40%

Since Cranston and Framingham have similar poverty rates and similar percentages of Latino students, it may be instructive to compare subgroups.

Interestingly, Cranston and Framingham have similar achievement rates for low-income 3rd graders and similar achievement gaps. Warwick’s low-income 3rd graders out-performed both Framingham and Cranston, and the city has a smaller achievement gap. We should note, however, that Warwick has a considerably lower poverty rate than either Cranston or Framingham.

Low-Income  Students Meeting/Exceeding Expectations

Cranston 3rd Grade      Warwick 3rd Grade    Framingham 3rd Grade

ELA           25%                            34%                           27%

MATH      25%                            35%                           29%

Low-Income/Non Low-Income Gap in terms of Percentage Points

Cranston 3rd Grade      Warwick 3rd Grade    Framingham 3rd Grade

ELA           30 points                 13 points                 27 points                          

MATH      25 points                 18 points                 25 points

In 7th grade, the trend reverses on test scores but not achievement gaps. Framingham’s low-income 7th graders scored slightly higher than their peers in both Cranston and Warwick. Warwick, however, continues to have a smaller achievement gap.

Low-Income  Students Meeting/Exceeding Expectations

Cranston 7th Grade    Warwick 7th Grade    Framingham 7th Grade

ELA             23%                          23%                                  30%

MATH        15%                           17%                                   21%

Low-Income/Non Low-Income Gap in terms of Percentage Points

Cranston 7th Grade      Warwick 7th Grade    Framingham 7th Grade

ELA             29 points               22 points                        26 points

MATH        21 points                18 points                        29 points

Latino students in both Cranston and Warwick 3rd grade classrooms outperformed their peers in Framingham, which also had the largest achievement gap. Warwick had the smallest gap, but the city also has a considerably smaller Latino population.

Latino Students Achieving/Exceeding Expectations

Cranston 3rd Grade      Warwick 3rd Grade   Framingham 3rd Grade

ELA             26%                      37%                                   23%

MATH        25%                     33%                                   21%

Latino/White Gap in terms of Percentage Points

Cranston 3rd Grade      Warwick 3rd Grade    Framingham 3rd Grade

ELA            22 points            5 points                          28 points  

Math         20 points            15 points                        31 points

But by 7th grade, Framingham Latino students, like low-income students, outperform both Rhode Island districts. Framingham still had higher achievement gaps, particularly in Math.

 

Latino Students Achieving/Exceeding Expectations

Cranston 7th Grade      Warwick 7th Grade     Framingham 7th Grade

ELA           25%                      20%                                  32%

MATH      17%                      13%                                   23%

Latino/White Gap in terms of Percentage Points

Cranston 7th Grade      Warwick 7th Grade     Framingham 7th Grade

ELA           20 points           20 points                      22 points

MATH      13 points           17 points                       25 points

Since we have yet to consider any districts in the South County, let’s take North Kingstown, population 26,200. The town is 95% white and the median income is $80,500 (not too shabby). Without moving too far beyond the Massachusetts border, we find Stoughton, MA, population 28,400, 80% white (11% black) and a median income of $74,700. Both towns have similar poverty rates, 8% and 7%.

In this example, similar to Barrington, the Rhode Island district fares worse than its Massachusetts counterpart at the 3rd grade level, but outperforms Stoughton in 7th grade.

Percent of Students Meeting/Exceeding Expectations

N. Kingstown 3rd Grade               Stoughton 3rd Grade

ELA                   50%                             59% 

MATH              57%                             61%

N. Kingstown 7th Grade               Stoughton 7th Grade

ELA                   70%                             65% 

MATH              55%                             40%

For one final look at a pair of districts that are geographically close together and demographically similar, I chose East Providence, RI and Taunton, MA. Taunton, with nearly 57,000 people, is slightly larger than East Providence, population 47,400. Median incomes are similar, $52,000 in Taunton and $51,000 in East Providence. Both cities are more than 80% white.

Unlike the two wealthier districts considered earlier, East Providence performed worse than its Massachusetts counterpart in both subjects and at both grade levels. The disparity is particularly stark in 7th grade.

Percent of Students Meeting/Exceeding Expectations

East Providence 3rd Grade    Taunton 3rd Grade

ELA                         35%                44%

MATH                    41%                48%

East Providence 7th Grade    Taunton 7th Grade

ELA                         26%               51%

MATH                    17%                32%

Here are the biggest takeaways from these comparisons: Rhode Island’s urban and middle-income communities may want to visit Massachusetts to find out why more of their students are scoring at a level that meets or exceeds expectations. But no one has solved the problem of achievement gaps, and wealthier districts in Rhode Island compare well to similar districts in Massachusetts.

It's unfortunate that future comparisons with Massachusetts may prove impossible, since it would be nice to track trend lines. Next year I'll have to pick another PARCC state for a similar analysis.