Op-Ed: A Classical Defense

A flawed system tarnishes one of Providence’s leading high schools


Arguably, Classical is still the best public school in Rhode Island. “The state of Classical High School has never been stronger. We still, and will continue to, achieve high graduation rates, high college acceptance rates, and scholarship opportunities for students,” notes Scott Barr, Classical’s principal and the 2022 Rhode Island Principal of the Year.

“And this week I was informed that Classical has achieved Platinum status, as designated by the College Board, for Advanced Placement course offerings and participation,” he adds.  Platinum schools are the highest rated and earn this level through “their commitment to increasing a college-going culture, providing opportunities for students to earn college credit, and maximizing college readiness.”

Then the Rhode Island Department of Education’s (RIDE) new school rating report was quietly released. The report was staggeringly misinformative in its conclusions, which do not portray an accurate rating for a number of the finest schools in Rhode Island. In fact, it penalized excellent schools for doing the right thing!

Considering that RIDE is constantly under fire on virtually every level and their mission is to raise the state’s education performance, it is truly amazing that they could create a system that does more harm than good.

Classical has been trying to expand their multilingual learners, or students learning English.  Under the state’s new system, once a school reaches 20 students (Classical has 27 – out of 1,100 students) it triggers a new metric in the scoring system and the school qualifies to be rated in an additional seventh category: English Language Proficiency.

Let’s be clear. Expanding multilingual learners in a city as diverse as Providence is not only critical, but it’s the right thing to do. Doing so is a challenge, for a multitude of reasons.

Currently, this metric involves less than 2.5 percent of the Classical student population and resulted in a 5 Star school becoming a 2 Star school. And that was 2 Stars for English Language Proficiency among its multilingual learners. In prior years, Classical wasn’t even in this category because it didn’t have enough students.

“We have doubled our Multilingual Learner (MLL) programs here at school as we embrace and welcome our increase in MLL students. We celebrate their accomplishments as over 40 percent of our MLL students are enrolled in Advanced Placement courses and that number is growing,” adds Barr.

RIDE, in their infinite wisdom, is penalizing an entire school for doing the right thing. In a state struggling to improve its education system, RIDE states that “the star rating system simplifies and summarizes overall school performance,” but the problem is that a school is only as good as its lowest score, which clearly does not accurately summarize the overall school performance as RIDE claims. This hurts Providence. It hurts Classical. It hurts the students. And it hurts the teachers. In a rational world, a 97.5 percent English Language Proficiency along with the other metrics would rate 5 Stars. 

Of course, no one will criticize RIDE directly on this irrational system and their press release started a firestorm in the Classical community as well as several other “formerly” leading schools. This rating is not only ludicrous, but it encourages schools to stay below the threshold to keep their rating high.

Classical is a bridge to the world for Providence students whose excellence and achievements
generate tens of millions of dollars in scholarship and financial aid to the finest colleges in the country on an annual basis. This bridge, unlike the Washington Bridge, doesn’t have any broken bolts or excuses and was unfairly penalized for being evaluated by an absurd system.

Classical alums include a Pulitzer Prize winner, two RI governors, three mayors, multiple state senators and representatives, a House Speaker, federal and state judges, a university president, a US Ambassador, and an Emmy Award-winning Sopranos writer.

Principal Barr, rightfully the school’s biggest booster, offered these words to the community: “Fear not, Classical is growing, prospering, and continues to celebrate our diversity with kindness, grace and humility – and will continue to grow and prosper in the years ahead.”

Go Purple!


Op-eds express the authors’ opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of Providence Media. Readers are welcome to send responses or letters to the editor to be considered for print publication in a future issue or posted online. Letters can be emailed to Abbie@providenceonline.com



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