Open Letter to Gov. Chafee:
I am part of the 18 percent. As you are well aware, the Rhode Island Board of Regents has made it a requirement for high school students attending Rhode Island public high schools to take the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) exam in order to receive their high school diplomas. More specifically, the students are required to earn a certain minimum score on the NECAP exam during their junior year, and if they do not pass on this first attempt, the students must make significant improvement on a second attempt during their senior year.
As I write this letter to you, 18 percent of students attending Rhode Island public high schools in the Class of 2014 neither earned a passing score on the NECAP exam on their first attempt during their junior year, nor did they improve enough to earn a passing score on their second attempt during their senior year. As a result, these students must pass one of several standardized exams approved by the Board of Regents. More importantly, 18 percent of students attending Rhode Island public high schools in the Class of 2014 have become extremely distressed because they fear that they may not receive their high school diplomas despite the fact that the majority of them have done everything else that has been asked of them in order to earn their high school diplomas, including passing their classes and successfully completing two performance-based diploma assessments. I write this letter to you to urge you to do everything in your power to renounce this policy requiring students to pass certain standardized exams in order to receive their high school diplomas. This policy should be renounced because the rationale behind the policy is unsound as evidenced by my own life, and because the policy is antithetical to the very framework upon which Rhode Island was founded.
The rationale behind the Board of Regents’ policy is unsound as evidenced by my own life. According to the Rhode Island Commissioner of Education, Deborah Gist, the fact that about 82 percent of Rhode Island’s public high school students in the Class of 2014 have passed the NECAP exam has resulted in there being “more students…prepared for success after they leave high school than…ever before.”
I began my letter to you by stating that I am part of the 18 percent because I have never done well on standardized exams. I failed the Bishop Hendricken High School standardized entrance exam, but thanks to my supportive middle school teachers at West Bay Christian Academy who wrote letters of recommendation on my behalf, I was placed on the Bishop Hendricken waiting list. Moreover, thanks to my mother who advocated for me to be taken off the waiting list and to be given a chance at Bishop Hendricken, I was accepted into the Bishop Hendricken Class of 2006. Under Deborah Gist’s theory, I should not have found “success” at Bishop Hendricken because I failed the standardized entrance exam. However, I accomplished much success while enrolled at Bishop Hendricken. I was elected Class President during my freshman, sophomore, and junior years, and was elected Student Council President during my senior year. Secondly, I graduated in the top 15 percent of my class. Lastly, I was the recipient of the Man of the Year Award, which is one of Bishop Hendricken’s most prestigious awards. Following Bishop Hendricken, I enrolled in and graduated from New York University. Several months after graduating from New York University, I was accepted into Roger Williams University School of Law as a Public Interest Scholar. As I graduated from Roger Williams University School of Law on May 16, 2014, I was one of only two Public Interest Scholars in the entire Class of 2014.
My failing of the Bishop Hendricken standardized entrance exam has not resulted in me not achieving success. More importantly, merely because a student does not pass the NECAP exam on their first attempt nor make sufficient improvement on their second attempt does not mean that they will not achieve “success after they leave high school.”
The policy being imposed by the Rhode Island Board of Regents requiring all students attending Rhode Island public high schools to pass certain standardized exams in order to receive their high school diplomas is antithetical to the very framework upon which Rhode Island was founded. Roger Williams, Rhode Island’s founder, believed that Native Americans were the rightful owners of their land, and that Native Americans were entitled to all of the rights that property owners possess. In fact, Roger Williams wrote a manuscript in which he denied the right of King James I to grant to English colonists a patent expropriating land from Native Americans without paying Native Americans for it. In the same way that Native Americans had a right to the property they owned, this 18 percent of high school students have a right to the diplomas that they have earned. They have passed their classes. They have successfully completed two performance-based diploma assessments. They have adhered to their respective high school’s attendance policies.
Rhode Island was founded upon the principle that all human rights are to be protected, and that no human being should be deprived of their rights. Roger Williams dedicated his life to protecting and ensuring the rights of Native Americans, but the Rhode Island Board of Regents is restricting the right that these 18 percent of high school students have earned to receive their high school diplomas. In light of his efforts to protect the rights belonging to Native Americans during a time period in which the majority of society sought to strip Native Americans of those rights, Roger Williams himself would oppose the Rhode Island Board of Regents’ policy.
For the foregoing reasons, I respectfully urge you to do everything in your power to renounce the requirement that high school students must pass certain standardized exams in order to receive their high school diplomas.
Joshua D. Xavier