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New Study: RI’s Suburban Schools Trail Nation In Advanced Programs

Saturday, July 23, 2011


A new analysis of the nation’s schools found that Rhode Island falls below the national average for offering high-level curriculum such as Advanced Placement or talented and gifted programs, particularly in the more suburban districts in the state.

The report, which seeks to showcase what is known as the “opportunity gap” between wealthy and high-poverty school districts, actually suggests that Rhode Island offers similar chances to be involved in specialty programs in urban schools as it does in suburban schools. In fact, in some cases, the high-level programs are more available in cities like Providence than they are in Barrington.

But the reality is the state offers very little advance programming overall, meaning that while there may not be a significant gap between the city schools and the ones from more rural areas, Rhode Island schools are still being outpaced by the rest of New England and most cases, the country.

The Numbers

The study, which was conducted by ProPublica, found that Rhode Island falls well-behind the rest of the country when it comes to offering AP tests, advanced mathematics courses and talented and gifted programming.

More students, however, are taking chemistry and physics than in other parts of the country.

According to the report, the national average for students taking at least one AP course in their high school careers is 18 percent. In Rhode Island, that number dwindles to just 9 percent. While 15 percent of the rest of the country takes high-level math courses such as trigonometry or geometry, only 11 percent of students do so in Rhode Island.

About 8 percent of Rhode Island students are enrolled in talented and gifted programming, which the report, citing the US Department of Education, defines as “programs during regular school hours offered to students because of unusually high academic ability or aptitude or specialized talent or aptitude.” The national average is 10 percent.

The study shows that more students are taking talented and gifted programming in Providence (34 percent) than anywhere else in the state.

State Wants More AP Courses

The question of how to create more advanced programming for students has been a major topic of discussion since Education Commissioner Deborah Gist came to the state. In May, GoLocalProv reported that the lack of AP testing in Rhode Island was one of the reasons zero schools were ranked in a Washington Post listing of nearly 2,000 top public high schools from around the country. A month later, Newsweek also did not include a single state high school in its rankings of the nation’s best schools.

At the time, Gist said the state is committed to offering more AP courses.

“One of our goals is to ensure that all students have equal and ample opportunities to take challenging courses such as College Board AP courses,” she said. “AP courses and other challenging high-school courses inspire students to do their best work and to achieve at performance levels of proficient and proficient with distinction.”

Gist said advanced curriculum prepared students for college.

“AP courses can also serve as an excellent bridge between high school and college – preparing students for challenging college-level courses and providing students with college credits that can lead to early graduation or opportunities for more advanced study,” she said.

Numbers Growing

The Commissioner did acknowledge that the state still falls below the national average but she highlighted the fact that more courses than ever are available to Rhode Island students. In Providence, for example, every high school now offers at least one AP course.

“Rhode Island schools have taken steps to expand participation in AP courses,” she said. “Providence, for example, which used to offer AP courses in only one or two high schools, now offers AP courses in all high schools and has a district-wide participation rate above 10 percent. Newport has an AP participation rate above 30 percent. We still fall below the national average on AP participation, but we expect to see continued improvement in AP participation and results in future years.”

Legislation To Improve Opportunities

The report points to states like Florida and Texas that have taken leaps toward closing the “opportunity gap” between wealthy and poor students. In both of those states, advanced curriculum is offered almost equally between urban and rural districts.

Rhode Island’s numbers compare more with the state of Mississippi. Both states offer similar programming to their students, but the point is almost made moot by the fact that so few students are actually enrolled in the programs.

State Senator Hanna Gallo hopes to change that with a bill she pushed for during the last General Assembly session. The legislation promotes access to AP courses to all Rhode Island students.

“Advanced Placement courses require critical thinking of our students, the kind of critical thinking that is essential for success at the next level of learning and for jobs in today’s information-based economy,” Senator Gallo said “AP courses challenge our students. They also draw out the best in students, and give them a better basis to succeed at the college level, and beyond.”

Gallo said all students deserve an equal opportunity to excel.

“Students from one end of our state to the other should have access to AP course work,” she said. “To ensure equal opportunity for all students, this legislation sets out the means to get our state to that point.”

Vital To Give Students Courses They Need

Still, the Ocean State is far behind much of the rest of the country when it comes to offering the specialty courses, especially in the suburban districts, according to the ProPublica study.

Gallo said her legislation will ensure that students are offered the courses they need to be prepared for higher education.

“It is vital that we find the way to offer students the courses they will need to succeed,” she said. “We have already taken significant steps in Rhode Island to ensure that our post-secondary schools are focusing on workforce development, and preparing students to fit the needs of businesses and industry in the years ahead. We must also take steps to ensure that our high schools are adequately preparing students for their next educational step by challenging them to work harder and think critically.”

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