Students Dare Educators, Adults to Take the NECAP Tests Themselves
Saturday, March 16, 2013
Now, after months of hearing that scoring at least “partially proficient” on the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) exams isn’t a difficult a bar to attain, students in Providence are fighting back with a simple message: If it’s so easy, do it yourself.
This afternoon, members of the Providence Student Union (PSU) will invite community leaders and policy makers to “put themselves in students’ shoes,” and take an abbreviated version of the test that the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) has deemed an important tool in determining whether or not a high school student is prepared to graduate.
The goal, they say, is to show how one exam does not determine a student’s overall ability.
“We hope our point is proven that people are more than test scores,” said Leexammarie Nieves, a sophomore at Central High School. “We also want these community leaders to get a sense of what students are going through with this new policy.”
Punishment or Being Fair?
The central argument that the two sides in the NECAP side can’t seem to reconcile is whether or not the test if “fair” to students.
On the one hand, RIDE has had plans to begin mandating partial proficiency on the test for years and students from the class of 2014, the first group to have to pass the requirement, knew this day was going to come.
RIDE Commissioner Deborah Gist says the requirement is a necessary one because, right now, Rhode Island students are struggling to meet the basic skills they need to survive when they leave the classroom.
“It is essential that our graduates have at least some level of skill in mathematics if they are to be ready for college and challenging careers,” Gist said. “For too many years, we have passed these students along, and too many graduates have found doors closed to them when they seek employment or further education. We will no longer turn our backs on these students.”
The students themselves, however, feel the NECAP test isn’t the answer.
“We need to improve our schools and raise expectations but we don’t think that a single arbitrary test score can determine a person’s future and measure whether they will be successful or not,” said Classical High School junior Cauldierre McKay. “We also know, as the Providence School Board recently sent a letter to the Board of Education about, that the NECAP was not even designed to be used as a high-stakes test. And we do not think that we should be passing policies that punish individual students for systemic problems in our schools.”
According to Aaron Regunberg, a staff coordinator of the PSU, this conflict between students and adults was the impedes for the ‘Take the Test’ challenge.
“The idea came out of students’ frustration upon continually hearing people say, ‘These kids should just shut up and study and pass the test,’ “ he said. “Every time the group heard that, someone would say something like, “Well let’s see them take it and have it count for their whole life.” After that happened a few times, it clicked and students realized that was actually a good idea.”
According to teacher Pamela Ardizzone, it can be a helpful exercise for all involved.
“I think the students are right in seeking ways to communicate to the adults controlling their lives that the math test in particular is too hard and not a fair and appropriate measure of their knowledge and math skills,” she said. “Also, by taking sample items it will become clearer to some decision makers (if they dare take the test) that the test format itself is problematic.”
Steven Brown, the Executive Director of the Rhode Island ACLU, plans on taking the test himself and says educators and adults should do the same if for no other reason than to prove they can pass it … even if they don’t study.
“If adults who have done well for themselves are stumped by the NECAP test, then one should be asking exactly what is it that the test is measuring that warrants it being used in this make-or-break fashion,” he said. “If it measures something so critical, it shouldn't be something that adults have to study for. Why do we want to deny a diploma to students based on a test whose answers we don't expect adults to know without having to engage in a crash study course first?”
A Day to Remember
Regunberg says the interest in the “Take the Test” event has been strong.
“We have around 40 or so people overall,” he said. “Some of them have taken the test early because they are out of town Saturday. Today we’re expecting around 25-30 people. We very much wish that the direct decision-makers on this issue—Governor Chafee, the members of the Board of Education, and particularly Chairwoman Eva Mancuso, who recently said publicly that she supports this policy--would step up and take the test. We feel that the people making this decision should at the very least have some first-hand experience with the test they want to use in such a high-stakes way.”
One person Regunberg shouldn’t expect to see today is Gist herself.
“This week, some adults have volunteered to answer a set of mathematics questions that students have selected,” Gist said. “This exercise will not help adults understand the learning gaps of the students who score at the lowest level on the NECAP assessments.”
The Commissioner says with “hard work, good instruction, and the necessary support, all students can improve their knowledge and skills,” and continuing to debate whether or not NECAP exams should be used as a graduation requirement only serves as a distraction to the real point that should be raised.
“Let’s stop arguing about the test and focus on what really matters: working together to get our students where they need to be for success,” she said.
For Brown, that type of thinking misses the point of the exercise.
“I think the event is a great idea, as it gets past all the rhetoric of "high standards" we hear from public officials and concretely shows exactly what it is that may keep thousands of students from graduating,” he said. “Those of us who are opposed to use of the NECAP as a "high stakes test" strongly believe in high standards for our students too - but they should be relevant and meaningful standards, which the NECAP is not. If people think that the NECAP is something that students should be able to pass in order to get a diploma, then all I can say is, take the test for yourself.”
Today’s event takes place at the Knight Memorial Library, located at 275 Elmwood Avenue in Providence. The exams begin at 12:15 p.m. For more information, visit www.providencestudentunion.org.
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