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Department of Communications/
News Bureau
22 Davis Hall, 10 Lippitt Road, Kingston, RI 0288
Phone: 401-874-2116 Fax: 401-874-7872

URI teaching nation a lesson in
school improvement research

KINGSTON, R.I. -- June 30, 1999--While 36 states have begun producing school and district "report cards," Rhode Island's has been singled out as a national model with awards from the American Educational Research Association (AERA).

Information Works, Measuring Rhode Island Schools for Change, is a comprehensive, comparative view of every public school and school district in Rhode Island. A unique partnership between URI's National Center on Public Education and Social Policy (NCPE) and the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) developed the family-friendly charts and graphs that visually represent more than 21,000 data elements about schools and districts in the state. State policy-makers joined URI researchers to design, research and implement this vast public accountability project, which is available to the general public both in hard copy and on the web at http://infoworks.ride.uri.edu.

AERA chose Information Works! -- the 1998 Statewide Analysis, as the winner in its 'Summary Reports' category.

It also chose A Technical Brief on the Statistical Model Used in the 1998 Information Works! as the runner-up in the Institution Research category.

The URI Center is headed by national school reform expert Professor Robert Felner, who also chairs the University's School of Education. Dr. Felner states, "Because of its small size and striking diversity, Rhode Island is a perfect research laboratory for education. We can see the effectiveness of certain classroom practices, for example, in urban, suburban and rural settings, with differing populations in very different school structures and contexts. Our partnership with RIDE has produced fascinating results and we're very pleased to have this work recognized by this prestigious group of education research colleagues."

In hard copy, Information Works! is nearly 900 pages. Easily comparable charts, graphs and tables quickly illustrate, for example, how schools are performing in reading and math, the level of parental involvement and daily attendance. The achievement information is broken down by gender, race and ethnicity.

This report is a response to state legislation passed in 1997 designed to strengthen educational accountability. Keenly aware that student achievement results mirror the students' family incomes -- i.e. high incomes tend to produce high scores, and the reverse -- the URI/RIDE partnership decided to share statewide test results in the context of other important data that illustrate a school's strengths, as well as its challenges.

State Education Commissioner Peter McWalters said, "We are especially pleased that the preeminent research organization in American education has recognized the quality and value of our reporting efforts to date. Access to high quality information is a vital component to inform school improvement efforts and to track progress toward results over time."

To get a sense of the "value added" to a child's education by a school, URI researchers developed a statistical model -- a kind of virtual school -- which projects how a school's students probably would perform given the performance of students like themselves statewide. Using factors such as economic status, parents' education, minority and language status, URI researchers could compare the statistical model to the actual achievement to understand how much value is being added to the child's education by the school. It was for the Technical Brief of this model that AERA awarded the runner-up award.

Dr. Dennis Cheeks, director of Information Services at RIDE and RIDE project manager for Information Works!, reports that other state departments of education have begun inquiring as to how this user-friendly accountability feat was accomplished. They are especially interested in the statistical model. Cheeks says, "In retrospect I realize that we were very lucky as to whom was at the development table. URI contributed crackerjack researchers, Assistant Professors of Research Minsuk Shim and Stephen Brand. The URI-side Information Works! project manager, Julia Steiny, has both an education and a communications background, so she helped guide us through hiring a designer who could represent data and write accessible, jargon-free documentation."

Ample evidence shows that schools, districts, town councils, legislators, parents and even people shopping for where to buy homes in Rhode Island are making extensive use of the data available in Information Works!

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For Further Information: Dave Lavallee 401-874-2116

 

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