Latino Policy Institute Says RICAS Scores Show Need for More Support for English Language Learner Students

The LPI at RWU calls for more conversation and action to improve support and programming in low-income school districts

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By Public Affairs

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Although statewide proficiency in the 2019 RICAS test increased by 3 to 4 percent over last year, a closer look at the test scores demonstrates that low-income districts serving primarily students of color and English language learners continue to vastly underperform compared to their wealthier, predominantly white counterparts.  

The Rhode Island Department of Education’s release Tuesday of the Rhode Island Comprehensive Assessment System scores confirms this stark reality, which the Latino Policy Institute (LPI) at RWU and other research-based advocacy organizations have been expounding for the last decade. This information once again compels all stakeholders to have an important conversation regarding what these scores truly represent for the students and districts, and more importantly, what to do next. 

While some districts may have seen slight improvements compared to 2018, the LPI says there are not nearly enough gains across the board and applauds Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green’s message about not using these slight improvements as a victory lap. Instead, the LPI says this is a call to action to ensure that districts are providing adequate support and above-average programming to our students, especially English language learners (ELL), low-income students, and students with disabilities. 

When it comes to assessing ELL students, Marcela Betancur, Director of the Latino Policy Institute, said, “It is limiting that we continue to use RICAS scores to evaluate learning outcomes for English language learners when many of these students are being tested in English, a language which by their very status these students are not yet proficient in.” 

Rather, ELL students should be evaluated on what they know and are able to do in a more comprehensive way, such as using the ACCESS assessment, which is a proven, nationally adopted tool for evaluating English language proficiency in ELL students, as well as conducting an evaluation of which programs ELL students are accessing. 

The eye-opening results of the 2018 RICAS data served to open difficult conversations and decisions about districts that were chronically underserving students and Betancur hopes this year’s data will do the same.

“More importantly, it is imperative that as we look at these results we stop blaming students – especially those represented in the subgroups – for the low scores, and instead hold the districts and state accountable as the main providers of programming, curriculum, and overall school culture,” Betancur said.