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Opponents Pledge to Fight High-Stakes Testing

Wednesday, February 27, 2013


A group of political leaders, educators, parents and students hope to overturn the RIDE's mandate tying NECAP scores to high school graduation.

The Rhode Island Department of Education’s (RIDE) decision to mandate students be at least “partially proficient” in mathematics and reading on their NECAP testing has been a subject of much debate for years.

But now, as an estimated 4,200 members of the Class of 2014 faces the very real possibility that they won’t graduate next year without improvement, education leaders, parents and students are calling for the department to back off of its high-stakes mandate before it’s too late.

And today, they may get their wish.

A pair of bills (H-5277 and S-177) that would eliminate the requirement will be heard in front of the House Health, Education and Welfare Committee this afternoon and a number of prominent political groups in the state—including the RI ACLU, RI Legal Services, Young Voices and the RI Disability Law Center, are urging the legislation get approved.

“"The news of these scores across Rhode Island is sad,” said Rick Richards, a retired employee of RIDE's Offices of Testing, School Improvement and School Transformation. “It is very scary for students, parents and our society, but it is not at all surprising. With 40 percent of the 11th graders in danger of not graduating, every parent in this state has to know that this way of determining graduation can put their child in danger. And, as parents think this over, they should realize that, in a very real sense, this is a crisis manufactured by policy makers at RIDE.”

A RIDE Experiment?

RIDE Commissioner Deborah Gist has maintained that the NECAP mandate is a crucial tool for the state to ensure that students that obtain a “meaningful” high school diploma and, earlier this month, she lauded the progress students made in mathematics and reading as a whole on the testing.

“As we move forward in our work toward transforming education in Rhode Island, our students continue to make progress, particularly at the high-school level,” Gist said. “We hope and expect to see continued improvement for all student groups in the coming years as we implement the new Common Core State Standards and as our accountability system focuses ever-greater attention on closing achievement gaps.”

The issue is, even with slight improvements in both categories, a large portion of students throughout Rhode Island had still not risen past the bare-minimum standard required to meet the “partially proficient” category. In math alone, a total of 4,159 students would need to retake the test and “show improvement” just to meet their graduation requirement.

"RIDE adopted a graduation policy based in political ideology, not evidence,” Richards said. “Unfortunately, RIDE's decision to adapt an unproven policy puts the class of 2014 center stage in an experiment that will, in many, many cases, be life changing. And, in all too many cases, this experiment will be devastating.”

At a press event yesterday at Pilgrim High School in Warwick, Richards read a quote from Block Island superintendent Robert Hicks, who was unable to attend.

"I am not opposed to a proficiency graduation test, but I do believe it is important enough to do right,” he said. “The NECAP was not designed and the partially proficient standard was not set for this purpose. That other student achievement tests do not replicate NECAP results for 11th graders reinforces the inappropriateness of the test's usage in this way."

The Battle Begins

Opponents of the mandate argue that the test is putting students across the state in jeopardy.

"Whether you live in East Greenwich, Narragansett, Warwick, Providence or Barrington, parents and community leaders must pay attention and recognize that their own children are at potential risk," said RI American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Executive Director Steven Brown. "RIDE's policy is creating an entirely new category of adults who, due to an arbitrary score on a test, will not have a high school diploma with which to get a job or continue on in their higher education. Sadly, many will be forced to carry this stigma undeserved.

Brown said the test is particularly unfair to students with learning disabilities or “anxieties that prevent them from performing adequately on the test.”

“More importantly, it is about denying diplomas to students using a test never meant to be used in this way,” he said. “The thought of the fate that awaits many of these students is unfathomable. Unless this is stopped, RIDE's implementation of high stakes testing will unfairly change the course of these students' lives and prevent them from showing their true potential."

No Alternative?

Even though RIDE has a system of alternative tests, waivers and appeals in place for students who do not pass their NECAP exams, some feel the process is still unfair and shouldn’t be used to justify the testing mandate.

"This is misleading," said Veronike Kot, an attorney at Rhode Island Legal Services. "In fact, as opposed to helping students succeed, the alternative tests available to students are generally more difficult, and waivers are, by RIDE's own terms, available only 'in extremely rare cases.' Unfortunately, the talk of these limited and exclusive options is giving parents false hope."

At least one State Rep feels high-stakes testing might go too far and put too much importance on a number.

“Test scores aren’t the only thing,” Rep. Edith Ajello said recently. “I don’t think anybody would disagree with test scores aren’t a complete measure of the success of an individual student’s education or the success or need for improvement of a district as a whole.”

At the same time, however, Ajello feels some importance must be placed on an impartial measure of student progress.

How much is the debate.

“I think it can be a problem for students who have a hard time taking tests who either get very nervous or might have a bad day,” Ajello. “I think tests are snapshots of where a student is on a particular day so I think graduation requirements should be on a range of things, which includes test scores but also includes grades through the years a student is in school and perhaps performance portfolios showing an array of their work and capabilities.”


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I'd wager that Gist can't pass the NECAP.

Comment #1 by donatello gori on 2013 02 27

Looks like the Gist train is coming to the end of the line.

Comment #2 by tom brady on 2013 02 27

What is not fair? Do the projected results mean that the education dept is not doing its job of properly educating the student population or is it we have too many variables in the student body to handle all equally?
Probably both, but we can see the results happening because we focus on special needs that take a disproportionate percentage of teaching capacity.
We are sacrificing the total education system for an increasing but small percentage of special education requirements.

Comment #3 by Gary Arnold on 2013 02 27

So let's get this straight.
Kids today are too stupid to graduate under the current requirements, so we're going to lower the standards for them.

Everything that is wrong with today's society, starts right there.
How pathetic.

Comment #4 by pearl fanch on 2013 02 27

Wow, I guess this is how Rhode Island got to the bottom in student performance compared to other states.

If you can't educate them just pretend they are educated.

Perhaps we could same some money by just printing blank diplomas in the newspaper each June. Just fill in your name and you're done. Employers won't notice the difference, right?

What a sad commentary on leadership in RI.

Comment #5 by ted wrobel on 2013 02 27

"It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!" Thus, the true reason why these groups are against high-stakes testing. Their income and way of life are threatened by liberal policies that promote societal decay that affect an educational system designed to benefit teachers over students.

"The news of these scores across Rhode Island is sad,” said Rick Richards. I agree. It’s sad that the Protestant work ethic and concept of merit and is dead in our society, replaced by socialism. Rather than raise student achievement to meet the standards, let’s just lower the standards.

NECAP exams are not the only, “high stakes testing [that] will unfairly change the course of these students' lives and prevent them from showing their true potential.” While we are at it, let’s eliminate other high-stakes tests: the bar exam; the driver’s license Road Test; the United States Medical Licensing Examination for medical doctors; the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses; the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses; the Uniform Certified Public Accountant Examination; professional engineer exams, etc.

Let’s just give everyone a trophy. Sad indeed.

Comment #6 by Christopher Lee on 2013 02 27

A GoLocalProv.com writer named Travis Rowley recently did a very nice job explaining the "politically correct" mentality behind the people who are resisting RIDE's efforts.

Comment #7 by Gip H. on 2013 02 27

Here it is. I highly recommend it.

"Liberalism: The Source of Societal Rot"


Comment #8 by Gip H. on 2013 02 27

Let me get this straight....RI Reps & Senators, along with other "Advocates", are telling the parents of RI students that they fighting to give their kids a better chance at success after high school by awarding them a high school diploma even though these kids are not even "PARTIALLY PROFICIENT" on a high school proficiency test.
Sounds like a great strategy to improve the quality of the RI workforce. Smells like the same old Rhode Island to me. Maybe Issue the diploma and stamp it "Not Partially Proficient".....

Comment #9 by Michael Gorman on 2013 02 27

basically, by handing out diplomas to everyone, makes the diploma worthless to those who have earned it.

alot of teachers out there are excellent, soem not, but they have never been evaluated. and now they dont like it.and the results tell you why.

Comment #10 by jon paycheck on 2013 02 27

One aspect of this that is underplayed is that a MA/VT/NH/RI comparison across various tests shows that it is much more difficult to pass the NECAP math than MA's well-regarded and challenging math MCAS graduation requirement:


That's what people mean when they say it is not designed for this purpose. It is probably the most difficult graduation test anyone has every tried to apply in a US state. But then again, who knows? Which is kind of the point, nobody seems to know.

Comment #11 by Tom Hoffman on 2013 02 27

We are going to use a test to determine graduation. A test which was not designed for this purpose and specifically instructs that it should not be used as such. We will effect a childs entire life with the use of this test. We are making no accomodations for Special Needs students on IEP's so they are effected for the rest of their life as well. This makes sense how?

This from a Commissioner who did not have the credentials for the quarter of a million dollar job she has and received on the job training for her PHD at the expense of Rhode Islanders.

Comment #12 by dawn morrison on 2013 02 27

What's the big deal? When I went to high school in New York State some 60 years ago, you had to pass the Regents exam for enough courses if you wanted to get a NYS Regents diploma. If you didn't pass enough Regents exams, but passed enough classes, you got a high school diploma. No big deal. We all seem to have survived. Man-up Rhode Island.

Comment #13 by Charles Beckers on 2013 02 27

By the way...what state does GoLocalProv think I am in. I just posted at 11:28 AM Eastern Standard Time, but the post is marked "1:28 PM". What's with that?

Comment #14 by Charles Beckers on 2013 02 27

So one test is supposed to be an adequate reflection of a students entire high school career? I think the ACLU is right on this one. A student's entire high school career should be evaluated by more than a test. For example, my son has asperger's syndrome and has worked his but off to become a solid A/B student achieving honor roll for the last 3 quarters. After a meeting with his teacher yesterday I learned he is one of the top students in math and should be encouraged to pursue a career after high school involving math. But he does not test well on the NECAP. When there is this big a gap between course work and one test I think the system needs to be reviewed.

Comment #15 by Leanne LaBanca on 2013 02 27

How "meaningful" is it, Ms. Gist, to measure my dyslexic kids by their ability to encode bubblesheets? Sad and unfortunately RI kids are the ones who are going to pay for this ill advised case study in how not to go about process improvement.

Comment #16 by Russ C on 2013 02 27

its very unfortunate that there are soem students that will not get a degree.

but thats life. we all have to overcome things in life and its up to us to do it on our own.

are we supposed to let everyone that goes to uri form 4 years , a college degree???

Comment #17 by jon paycheck on 2013 02 27

@jon paycheck So if my son who is an honor roll student can not get a diploma because of a test.."that's life"...I say that's BS.

I’m not saying that the NECAP should not be used at all, but should only be used as one portion of evaluating the student’s overall performance.

Comment #18 by Leanne LaBanca on 2013 02 27

This discussion has devolved into the classic "good of the many versus good of the individual" debate. Is the purpose of public education to assure the best education for the most people or is it to assure an education for every individual?

Comment #19 by Charles Beckers on 2013 02 28

Let's just keep lowering the bar to accommodate bad parenting and language deficiencies due to massive amounts of illegal immigration in our cities. That'll really prepare our kids for the real world.

Comment #20 by Russ Hryzan on 2013 03 01

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