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Ashley Kalus attacks Governor Dan McKee over release of RICAS test results

PROVIDENCE — The Rhode Island Department of Education said Monday it received the RICAS standardized test score data file on Sept. 12, but cautioned the scores weren’t final.

The department “received the non-validated or final data file from the vendor on August 25 of last year and September 12 of this year,” department spokesman Victor Morente said Monday.

The release of Rhode Island Comprehensive Assessment System scores exploded into a major campaign issue after WPRI’s story on Friday that the provider, Cognia of Georgia, had already provided the data to the Department of Education.

What do the RICAS test results show?

The RICAS, a standardized test in math and English given each spring from grades 3 through 8, is the most important measure of student performance at the individual, school, and state level.

Republican challenger Ashley Kalus and Democratic Governor Dan McKee found many areas of disagreement at Thursday night's forum sponsored by The Providence Journal and The Public's Radio and hosted by Rhode Island College.  To watch the video of the debate, go to https://bit.ly/3et7ps5

They are crucial in several ways. They show how students are doing over time – last year’s third graders, for example, compared to those of the previous year. They show how groups of students are doing – especially students of color, students with special needs, and English language learners.

These student populations generally lag behind, sometimes far behind, their middle-income white peers. When teachers dig deeper into the data, they can identify where a student is struggling or where the curriculum needs to be modified.

Rhode Island adopted the Massachusetts version of RICAS in the 2017-2018 school year because of its rigor and its role in elevating the performance of Bay State students to the ranks of the best in the country.

Test scores plummeted in Rhode Island last year as a result of the pandemic, as did scores across the country.

With students returning to school, last year’s test results are expected to be brighter. Gov. Dan McKee is counting heavily on those hopes, as is state education commissioner Angélica Infante-Green during the third year of the state takeover of Providence schools.

RIC:Timing of student test results release continues to cloud RI gubernatorial race

Responding to questions from the Journal, Morente on Monday denied that anyone in the governor’s office helped write the Department of Education’s press release in November. WPRI said it obtained emails showing the governor’s office was involved in crafting the department’s press release.

Although Infante-Green said she expected the October release, Morente called this an estimate, adding that the scores were released between late October and late November.

Providence administrators reportedly received preliminary data this summer. Morente said school districts received raw student data, not “final, aggregated, validated data. No district should draw conclusions from raw scores.

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RICAS test results become key election issue

On Monday, Republican gubernatorial candidate Ashley Kalus continued to accuse McKee of playing politics with the scores by not releasing them until after the November election.

“Last Tuesday, Dan McKee looked into the camera – in the eyes of the Rhode Islanders – in the first debate and lied,” Kalus said Monday morning outside the Department of Education. “He not only lied to the press, he lied to every parent and teacher in the state.”

Previous report:The results of the RICAS standardized tests will arrive in mid-November, after the general elections

” From what [education] said the commissioner this morning, a month passed between the receipt of the scores by the state and the first debate,” Kalus said. “Have you ever asked once during this time?”

Cognia declined to comment Monday on RICAS.

In a series of emails late Friday night, McKee’s administration said he had not personally seen the scores “in any form.”

At a Monday business forum in East Providence, McKee denied asking the Department of Education to hold the results until after the election.

“Look, we’re not going to make this a political issue…kids are too important,” he said. “When the information is ready, it should come out. Not until it’s ready…”

Asked when the department got the results, McKee said, “I don’t know if that’s the case. I’m told they have raw data that they’ve been working on.”

Asked if he or his staff had helped the ministry write its press release, McKee replied: “No. We were provided with what it looked like. We told them to run with what they have. provided.”

McKee, when asked if he knew the department had the raw data, referenced an Oct. 6 interview Infante-Green did with Matt Allen on WPRO.

During this interview, Infante-Green said the department gets raw data that it needs to review, analyze, and correct for any errors.

“Every state goes through this process,” she said. “It’s the same process this year as last year.”

She also said parents receive individual student data before it is reported to the district or state.

Dig deeper:Why the latest RI student test scores are so bad. It’s not just COVID

Infante-Green also said the department does not have enough staff to handle not only RICAS data, but also SAT and ACT test scores.

“We don’t have the capacity,” the commissioner said. “Do we need more resources? Yes.

When asked if he had been told to “slow down” the exit, Infante-Green replied, “Absolutely not.”

She also denied that anyone from McKee to the Board of Education asked her to delay release.

With reporting by Katherine Gregg.

Linda Borg covers education for The Journal.

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