Graduation Requirements: Inequitable, Punitive, or Just Plain Dumb?
Friday, September 28, 2012
In 2011, Commissioner Gist and the Rhode Island Board of Regents passed a new set of high school graduation requirements. Ignoring the protests of numerous education experts, students, teachers, parents, special-education advocates, and civil rights groups, they went ahead and mandated that high school students need to score partially proficient on both the Math and English NECAP tests in order to graduate, beginning this year.
First and foremost, these new requirements are based on students’ scores on the NECAP, a standardized test that was specifically and expressly not designed to measure individual achievement. Personally, I think it’s amoral to base graduation decisions on any single standardized test, particularly when countless research studies have shown that high-stakes testing has a disproportionately negative impact on people of color, English as a Second Language students, and students with disabilities, to say nothing of students who (because of their particular learning styles) are simply not good at test-taking. But it is far worse educational practice to base these individual requirements on a test that was explicitly designed to demonstrate school-wide and district-level trends. I really can’t stress this point enough—the people who devised the NECAP test have stated very clearly that school districts should under no circumstances use the NECAP as an individual measurement. RIDE’s own website states, “NECAP is only one indicator of student performance and should not be used for referring students to special education or for making promotion and/or graduation decisions.” In other words, don’t do what RIDE is doing now, because it’s a fundamental misuse of an evaluation tool.
Unfortunately, this is a mistake that—if implemented, as it will begin to be in October—will affect a huge proportion of young people. Last year, 71% of African American students and 70% of Latino students in Rhode Island scored less than partially proficient on one of the NECAP tests and so would not have graduated. And the effects would have been even more serious among other student subgroups—86% of students with IEPs (special education students) and a full 94% of students with Current Limited English Proficiencies would have failed to graduate. It should be clear to most readers that any regulation that puts this many students at risk for failure to graduate is beyond unfair. It puts the entire weight of educational accountability and responsibility on the shoulders of individual students, many of whom have been academically underserved since elementary school and have not been provided with the resources necessary to address their weaknesses in test-taking. Our focus should be on improving our school systems, not on punishing young people for the system’s failures. Yet that is precisely what Commissioner Gist and the Board of Regents seem prepared to do.
And while the discrimination around high-stakes testing is particularly acute in low-income, urban areas, it will also be felt by many youth in Rhode Island’s wealthy and middle-class communities. Test scores from the class of 2012 show that 17% of students in East Greenwich and 13% of students in Barrington—two of the state’s most affluent towns—did not score well enough to have graduated under the new requirements, meaning this policy disaster is one that will have negative effects all across Rhode Island. It will cause countless students to drop out of school after the 11th grade, when the NECAPS are taken, and—since a high school diploma is a basic requirement for almost any job—it will consign many more to unemployment and poverty.
Of course, there’s another big problem with putting so much emphasis and weight on a single standardized test. I can’t even imagine the accumulated teaching and learning time students are going to lose as more and more teachers feel compelled to give up their regular curriculum and turn their classrooms into test prep zones. This side effect is already being experienced by teachers and students in schools around the state—I myself have heard numerous stories of teachers being told they need to do NECAP drills for the next month. And that’s just the in-school component; I’ve heard even more stories of students who’ve had to give up sports, dance classes, and other intrinsically valuable extracurricular activities to do after-school test prep (and those are the lucky youth who even have access to these prep programs). Do we really think that all this is improving our schools? Do we really think that this is helping youth become career- and college-ready?
Every Rhode Island student deserves a fair chance to demonstrate his or her academic proficiency, and that requires graduation requirements based on multiple measures of success. The new system of high-stakes testing is inequitable, punitive, ill-informed, and poorly designed. It is poor public policy in the deepest sense of the term, and it’s time for us to stand up and say so. The Board of Regents will be meeting next Thursday at 4pm at the Shepard Building in Providence—their last meeting before these regulations are set to begin taking effect. I’ll be there. Will you?
- Aaron Regunberg: A Rhode Island Teaching Fellow Speaks Out
- Aaron Regunberg: A Tale of Two Ed Reforms
- Aaron Regunberg: Bain’s Democratic Defenders are Nauseating
- Aaron Regunberg: Be Fair to Those Who Care
- Aaron Regunberg: Brown Needs to Pay Up
- Aaron Regunberg: Do Mayoral Academies Have Something to Hide?
- Aaron Regunberg: Don’t Let School Vouchers Fool You
- Aaron Regunberg: Behind the Standardized Test Curtain
- Aaron Regunberg: Don’t Close the Pawtucket Network RI Office
- Aaron Regunberg: Funny Business in Providence Superintendent Search
- Aaron Regunberg: Governor Chafee Should Prevent DLT Layoffs
- Aaron Regunberg: It’s Okay to Question Our Constitution
- Aaron Regunberg: Parent Trigger Laws are Not the Answer
- Aaron Regunberg: Police Should Stay Out of Schools
- Aaron Regunberg: Providence Can Learn from Chicago Teachers Strike
- Aaron Regunberg: Providence Needs an Elected School Board
Enjoy this post? Share it with others.
Commenting is not available in this channel entry.