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RI High Schools Rank Worst in the Country

Monday, June 06, 2011


Rhode Island is one of only a handful of states to not have a single school included in the Washington Post's annual High School Challenge, a ranking of more than 1,900 high schools throughout the country.

The reason: Rhode Island students are significantly behind the national average when it comes to taking Advanced Placement (AP) exams, and near the bottom of the country when it comes to passing them. In the class of 2010, only 17.9 percent of Ocean State students took an AP exam (compared with 28.3 percent nationally) and just 10.9 passed (compared with 16.9 percent nationally), according to a report issued by the College Board.

According to The Post, the formula used to rank the schools was to "divide the number of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or other college-level tests a school gave in 2010 by the number of graduating seniors." The goal wasn't to measure to overall quality of the schools, but simply to track how well they are preparing "average students" for college.

The top 10 schools on the list came from seven different states, including Texas (3), Florida (2), Oregon, Arizona, Alabama, Indiana and New York.

College Advisor: Not Surprising

The rankings were compiled by well-known Post education columnist Jay Mathews. In an interview with GoLocalProv, Mathews said this was the second consecutive year a Rhode Island high school has not made the list. While he did not connect with every school in the state, he said that he reached out to many of the schools that appeared near the top of GoLocalProv's high school rankings last month, including Barrington High School, Classical High School, East Greenwich High School and Scituate High School.

The lack of Rhode Island schools on The Post's list came as no surprise to Cristiana Quinn, the founder of College Admission Advisors, LLC and a GoLocalProv college admissions expert. Quinn said there are certainly some schools doing a better job than others, but the state is known for not offering enough AP or International Baccalaureate (IB) courses.

"I work with students from all over and I see this all the time," Quinn said. "In other states, students are taking AP courses in tenth, eleventh and twelfth grade, sometimes even in ninth grade. Many schools aren't offering that in Rhode Island."

The Importance Of Advanced Courses

While Quinn doesn't believe college admissions officers would be scared away by Rhode Island schools not making The Post's rankings, she said AP courses and the IB programs are important to colleges because they're the same in every part of the country.

"IB and AP have a standardized curriculum," she said. "Biology in Barrington and biology in Woonsocket can be different. In an era of grade inflation in our schools, IB and AP are gold to colleges."

The College Board, which authors an annual report on the nation's performance on AP exams, suggests that AP coursework isn't just impressive to college admissions officers; it also means students will likely remain - and succeed - in college.

According to a 2009 study by the College Board, "students who scored 3 or higher on four popular AP Exams earned higher first-year GPAs, were more likely to continue on to a second year of college, and were more likely to attend selective institutions, on average, than students with comparable SAT scores and high school GPAs who did not take AP. Even students who scored a 1 or 2 on an AP Exam showed higher retention rates into their second year of college than non-AP students, and they were more likely to attend selective institutions.

Education Commissioner: Rhode Island Schools Are Improving

State Education Commissioner Deborah Gist (left) agreed that it is important for more AP courses to be offered in Rhode Island schools. She said one of the Department of Education's goals has been to ensure that all students have equal and ample opportunities to take challenging courses.

"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. "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."

Schools Offering More AP Course Work

According to Quinn, one of the reasons the state doesn't have more AP or IB courses is that it costs a lot of money to get teachers properly prepared to teach them. Other states appear more willing to invest in these programs.

But Gist said Rhode Island schools have increased participation when it comes to to advanced course work. Over the last decade, the number of seniors leaving high school that have taken at least one AP exam has increased from 903 in 2001 to 1,795 in 2010. The number of students passing has more than doubled in that time, from 530 to 1,095.

"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."

Ed Reformer: More Reason To Bring In Charter School

For Maryellen Butke (right), executive director of the Rhode Island Campaign for Achievement Now, the time for waiting is over. Many of the schools at the top of The Post's rankings are magnets or charter schools, which is why she is pushing for more high-performing charter schools to come to Rhode Island.

In recent weeks, Achievement First, the charter management organization that has schools in New York and Connecticut, and hopes to come to Cranston for the start of the 2012 school year, has been criticized by vocal opponents during public hearings. But Butke says Achievement First is precisely the type of organization Rhode Island needs.

"It's ironic that Rhode Island would consider barring its students from accessing one of the best-performing schools in the country just when these rankings come out," Butke said.

Achievement First, which operates 19 elementary, middle and high schools, does not have either of its high schools on the list.

Gist: We Expect Improvement

Gist agreed that there is still plenty of work to be done.

"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," she said.

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can i assume this list does not include private ri high schools ?

Comment #1 by Nick Patriarca on 2011 06 06

Mary Ellen:
Why hasn't your co-worker, Anna Cano Morales, done more for the students under her care in CF? She's too busy, along with Gallo & Gist, running the district into the ground. Funny that none of the Achievement First high schools made the cut but you are pushing to have them in RI.

Comment #2 by barnaby morse on 2011 06 06

I have an idea, place all the students with a learning disability and behavior disorder in your little "charter schools" and your "achievement first schools" and leave us with the rest of the students and lets see how well you guys compare.....I think these people should go back into the classroom and show us their magic. But no they will never do that, because it is easy to blame people when you are getting paid thousands to just point a finger and criticize the hard work the educators and the learners try to put in each and every day....

Comment #3 by Hope Hope on 2011 06 06

The title of the article is deceiving. Some of the best schools in the state have reduced the number of AP classes in recent years as state funding has decreased in order to save money. The number of AP classes in a school is more a refection of community spending rather than the quality of the teaching in the school.

Comment #4 by Doreen Gardner on 2011 06 06

Follow the money. charter management organization, what is that a franchise? How do they make money? Who owns/invests in it-- Raytheon?

PS I'm sick of Gist glamor shots.

Comment #5 by Real Clear on 2011 06 06

maybe if there was money left after paying teachers and administrators, there would be money to improve the schools. i know most teachers work very hard, and they have a hard job dealing w/ too many kids these days who are being raised w/o respect for others. but, the teachers are still some of highest paid in the country and our kids need help. the other difficulty teachers face, especially in the inner cities, is fact that many kids do not speak english. most were born here, but no one spoke english at home. that is ridiculous, and also needs to be addressed.

Comment #6 by LDN65 on 2011 06 06

The harsh reality is RI should not be a State any-longer as it is far to small and corrupt. The only thing this State is at the top of is corruption!! RI needs an enema to remove the leaches that are running this place!!

Comment #7 by happy harry101 on 2011 06 06

@ happy harry101 the one thing you have learned quiet well is cliches.

Comment #8 by jkl the 2nd on 2011 06 06

Years of corruption takes it's toll on all of us, including our children.

Comment #9 by Joyce Bryant on 2011 06 06

AP courses are of questionable value. IB courses are definitely a plus. RI could distinguish itself by focusing on IB courses rather than AP courses. Perhaps some private foundation could offer "scholarships" to schools to fun some IB programs. But I do agree with the commentator who stated, in other words, that RI is incapable of self-governance.

Comment #10 by John McGrath on 2011 06 06

Seriously, who gives a shit? Bring back jobs and no one would care. The politicians have us all hoodwinked. Think back to your school days? Seems to me there were always a bunch of dumb asses and there always will be. the only difference is that we have to ship them to
Mexico to do jobs that used to be in Rhode Island. Stop wasting your time.

Comment #11 by boobie titus on 2011 06 06

Lets close down the schools and start charter schools. Eliminate the local school committees, the endless local administration and most of all the unions. Have a unified state system with specific levels of achievement. With a Commissioner instead of 37 or so superintendents.
a board of education, instead of the school committees. and those on the board must meet
certain eligibility requirements. Teacher accountability with performance based pay.
Instead of teacher aids, janitorial and groundskeeping we use people on welfare. If they do not want to do the job then no welfare. And by doing the job they receive training. (Note: I would hire professional assistants for the principals and only they would have access to student records.)

Comment #12 by Phil Lagoy on 2011 06 06

Let's see, RI spends more money per student than most states and another measurement that we are on the bottom of performance.
Charter schools rank much higher in achievement than public schools in RI, yet there is resistance to adopt more of them, why?
Plain and simple, the RI educational system is broken, miss management, UNION contracts against education and under performing management have gutted any value. Fortunately we have many good teachers that have tried to save what they can with the students. Many of these teachers are on their own because of the self serving attitudes that go rampant in management (school boards, councils and administration and let's not forget the UNIONS).
RI has shown improvement but we are so far down that just getting more students to show up will give an improvement it is not a testimonial to improved accomplishment.

Comment #13 by Gary Arnold on 2011 06 06

It is mismanagement, not miss management. Maybe there should be an AP exam in spelling.

Comment #14 by George McLaughlin on 2011 06 06

I am humored by everyones well thought out responses, but you are all to lazy to put pressure on your elected officials to bring back traditional jobs to RI so the dummies can dropout and work rather than be a drain on society!

Comment #15 by boobie titus on 2011 06 06

Hello boys and girls, welcome to your first day of school! My name is Miss Management. IDIOT!!

Comment #16 by boobie titus on 2011 06 06

Boobie, Before you call someone an IDIOT you should check your grammar. ....you are all TOO lazy.......

Comment #17 by Phil Lagoy on 2011 06 06

I went to and graduated from a charter school. It was a much better school than the one I came from (NS high) mostly because the teachers cared about their jobs and weren't in the union... go figure?

Comment #18 by Amber Martin on 2011 06 07

And it's going to get worse as RI's many tiny high schools' declining enrollment will mean they can't offer even as many AP courses as they do now. We need to regionalize for this and many other reasons. As for AP courses being of questionable value, my son's friend went into college with so many AP credits that she graduated in 3 years. From a parent's perspective, that's value!

Comment #19 by Pam Thomas on 2011 06 07

YESSIREE! Finally some of the media and more of the public are now asking what Gist is doing besides creating pitched battles all over the place rather than thinking about the entire broken down system. Yes folks as I've said in the past look at MISMANAGEMENT as well as other parts of the system like the unions etc.

She just gives us a generalized answer that appears to answer a question without really answering it.....what a politician she is!

Comment #20 by Thoughtful One on 2011 06 07

Maybe RI kids are smart enough to detect the scam that AP classes represent. They are merely snares for students to commit to a particular college or university for early enrollment. Why are these credits not transferable? Wake up, America. Colleges are nothing more than businesses who have no concern for their students. SAT scores? Not so important. Checking account balance? Very important.

I feel bad for the our high school seniors who will headed to high tuition colleges to secure low paying jobs. They're doomed to financial ruin so that Brown, RIC, and even Bryant can continue their social agendas.

Comment #21 by Brent Luchmann on 2011 06 07

Local school, local control.

Trust the education of my child to an out-of-state corporation and it's highly paid executives? You ARE kidding me? No, I know they are serious... send all profits out-of-state, use uncertified teachers. THAT will help our students. DUH

It's a corporate scam. Vote to deny this proposal and keep any monies in our LOCAL schools.

Comment #22 by Martino Lazzareschi on 2011 06 10

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.