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NEW: ACLU Files Lawsuit Against Rhode Island Board of Education

Friday, August 02, 2013

 

The ACLU of Rhode Island today filed a suit against the Rhode Island Board of Education over plans to discuss high stakes testing in secret.  

See ACLU Release Below

The following was issued by the ACLU of Rhode Island:

The ACLU of Rhode Island today filed an open meetings lawsuit against the R.I. Board of Education over its plans later this month to meet in a private retreat, closed to the public and the media, in order to hear from invited “experts” on the issue of its “high stakes testing” requirement for high school seniors. The ACLU argues that allowing such a private meeting would significantly undermine the open meetings law’s purpose.

The lawsuit, filed in R.I. Superior Court by ACLU volunteer attorneys Miriam Weizenbaum and Amato DeLuca, argues that the planned retreat is clearly a “meeting” under the Open Meetings Act and therefore must be open to the public. The suit seeks a court order barring the Board from holding the retreat unless it is open to the public.

In questioning the Board’s plans to discuss the issue “in a closed meeting outside all public view,” the lawsuit cites the “extraordinary public attention” the high stakes testing issue has received in recent months. The Board of Education has been in existence for over seven months, and while members of the public have insistently called for an examination of the testing issue throughout that period, the scheduled retreat is the first time it has been placed on the Board’s agenda.

As a result of the high stakes testing requirement, which is scheduled to take effect in 2014, approximately 4,000 students face the risk of not graduating next year because of their scores on the current test, known as the NECAP.

This is the second time in less than two weeks that the ACLU has sued the Board over the way it is addressing its controversial “high stakes testing” requirement. Last week’s suit was filed under another state law, the Administrative Procedures Act, and challenges the Board’s failure to properly respond to a formal petition signed by 17 organizations seeking repeal of the regulations mandating high stakes testing. That suit argues that the Board had a statutory obligation, which it ignored, to consider the petition and either reject it or initiate a formal rule- making process to consider its adoption.

In response to that petition, Chair Eva-Marie Mancuso indicated that the Board would be holding a retreat on August 24 and 25, at which it would be receiving “from RIDE staff members and from national experts an in-depth informational briefing on the relationship between large- scale assessments and graduation requirements.” News stories since then have indicated the Board’s plans to hold that retreat in private, prompting today’s legal action.

The three plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Christine Egan, the parent of an East Greenwich high school student; Edward Benson, a member of the Coalition to Defend Public Education, a group which has been lobbying against the testing requirement; and Rick Richards, a former employee in the Department of Education’s office of testing and outspoken critic of the NECAP.

Numerous questions have been raised about the validity of the NECAP test as a high stakes testing tool. When the NECAP was introduced in Rhode Island, the Department of Education specifically acknowledged that it should not be used for making graduation decisions. A comprehensive 2011 study by the National Research Council concluded more generally that “high school exit exam programs, as currently implemented in the United States, decrease the rate of high school graduation without increasing achievement.”

Last month, the General Assembly entered the fray by approving a resolution calling on the Board to delay implementation of the high stakes testing requirement. Providence Mayor Angel Taveras made a similar request a month earlier.

The ACLU hopes to have a court hearing sometime next week on its request for a restraining order. Statements from the parties involved in the suit appear on the following page. Copies of the lawsuit and other documents relating to this issue are available at http://www.riaclu.org.

STATEMENTS ON FILING OF EGAN V. R.I. BOARD OF EDUCATION

ACLU attorney Miriam Weizenbaum: “High stakes testing has generated an important public discussion. The Board has an obligation to keep that discussion in the public sphere. And it's not just a good idea, it's the law. That is why we are petitioning the Court to hold the Rhode Island Board of Education accountable to the Open Meetings Act."

ACLU of RI executive director Steven Brown: “It is astonishing that such an important public body would decide to hear in complete secrecy testimony that may be used by its members to make one of the most important decisions in the Board’s short existence. There is no compelling rationale whatsoever for this issue to be discussed in private. In fact, it completely undermines the whole point of the open meetings law.”

Plaintiff Christine Egan: “As a parent of a student in the public school system, it is extremely discouraging to think that our state's Board of Education is endeavoring to review information, hold discussions and/or make decisions that critically affect our children's future without the input of the public and the students themselves. The open meeting laws are intended to ensure fairness and opportunity to be heard. How can the RI Department of Education even pretend to be dedicated to moving our educational systems forward without the input and careful considerations of the concerns of the public? The RIDE website declares that our state will create and support great schools and programs by working with communities, families, civic leaders, and all educators so that Rhode Island leads the way in public education. Apparently the Board of Education has decided that is does not need to adhere to its own stated mission and methods at this time.”

Plaintiff Edward Benson: “I have been testifying at the state house against high-stakes testing over the last two years. Now that the issue is finally coming to a head, the Board of Education is trying to deliberate and reach a decision in secret. The board should be reaching out as widely and publicly as it can for more information.”

Plaintiff Rick Richards: “The Board of Education's tendency to treat public policy issues administratively, making important decisions without open discussion or meaningful public input, is unfortunately of a piece with the Department of Education's way of going about business. Taken together, they present formidable obstacles to keeping the ‘public’ in public education. This lawsuit is intended to reintroduce a public voice into an area of policy that concerns every student, family, and citizen in this state.”

 

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