Tuesday, September 16th, 2014
Mostly True
McKee
"This year, the Blackstone Valley Mayoral Academy became the first public school in Rhode Island history to have 100 percent of its elementary-age students proficient in reading on state assessments."

Daniel McKee on Sunday, August 21st, 2011 in a Providence Journal commentary

Mayors claim students in Blackstone Valley charter school were first in R.I. to achieve 100 percent proficiency in state reading tests

As part of the ongoing debate about mayoral academy charter schools, mayors and town administrators from several Rhode Island communities released a newspaper commentary last month touting their benefits.

The commentary,  published Aug. 21 in The Journal and credited to Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian, Cranston Mayor Allan Fung and Cumberland Mayor Daniel McKee, highlighted test scores at the state’s first mayoral academy, in Cumberland.

"This year, the Blackstone Valley Mayoral Academy, which serves students from Central Falls, Cumberland, Lincoln and Pawtucket, became the first public school in Rhode Island history to have 100 percent of its elementary-age students proficient in reading on state assessments."

That sounds very impressive. A 100-percent proficiency rate? The first time in the state's history? On multiple assessment tests?

We're selecting McKee as the person making the claim because he's a driving force in the school, known as Blackstone Valley Prep. He would be in the best position to know what the test scores are at his own academy.

(A proposal by Fung to create a mayoral academy for Cranston and Providence was rejected Sept. 1 by the Rhode Island Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education.)

So we turned to Elliot Krieger, spokesman for the Rhode Island Department of Education. He delved into the records and here's what he found going back to 2005, when the state inaugurated its current testing system.

Last May, all 152 first graders and kindergartners at the school passed the Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA), a test developed in the late 1980s in Ohio to measure reading skills. In fact, 130 of those 152 passed with distinction.

Krieger said it was the first instance he could find of any elementary school doing so well on the current state-mandated standardized tests or, as far as he could recall, since the state began doing proficiency testing, in 1998.

In May 2010 -- the school’s inaugural year, when all the students were kindergartners -- 97 percent were deemed proficient.

"They're doing really well. No one will dispute that," said Krieger. "It's not a test where this is a cakewalk."

But the mayors’ statement leaves out an important fact: The DRA is a test that very few students take because it is given only in schools that don't go above second grade. In all other elementary schools, the state uses the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP), a series of reading, writing, math and science tests used by Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Vermomt and Maine. Those tests start in grade 3.

Last year, only 6 of the state's 168 elementary schools took the DRA, which makes Blackstone Valley Prep a big fish in a very small pond.

"There are a lot of schools that are high-performing that don't take this test," said Krieger.

(Blackstone Valley Prep did have a class of fifth graders last year and those students took the NECAP test, with less impressive results -- 61 percent were proficient in reading and 48 percent were proficient in math, both below the state average. But Krieger said that doesn't reflect the quality of the school because the test was given in October 2010, before the students had spent much time there.

"They didn't teach those kids. It's testing them on what they learned the previous year, wherever they came from," Krieger said.)

So when Mayors McKee, Fung and Avedisian say that the Blackstone Valley Mayoral Academy is "the first public school in Rhode Island history to have 100 percent of its elementary-age students proficient" on a state reading assessment, they're right.

But that statement might lead readers to assume a comparison with all elementary schools in Rhode Island. Instead, the Blackstone Valley students are taking a test that students in the vast majority of elementary schools don’t take, an important qualifier.

In addition, the statement -- and its use of the plural "assessments" -- suggests that the students got 100 percent in more than one test, which is false.

Because the statement is mostly accurate but leaves out those important details, we rate the claim Mostly True.

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