September 19, 2014
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City schools gear up for NECAPs next week
Jennifer Rodrigues

New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) testing is set to begin one week from today, and Warwick Public Schools have prepared in a number of ways to help high school students facing high stakes testing requirements.

Between Oct. 1 and Oct. 23, students in grades 3 through 8, and 11, will take their math and reading NECAPs; Students in grades 5, 8 and 11 will also be tested on writing during the same three-week period.

Last year, 253 juniors did not show at least partial proficiency on their math assessment, receiving a 1 on their NECAP. Now as seniors, those students risk not graduating come June if they do not show improvement on their retake in the coming weeks or reach an appropriate score on an alternative assessment, such as the SAT or ACCUPLACER.

Dennis Mullen, director of secondary education for Warwick Schools, said a number of tools were put into place to help those seniors improve their performance and meet the high-stakes testing requirement for graduation, which was put into effect by the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) this year.

Over the summer, 25 students took part in a NECAP ramp-up course during summer school and a handful of others took part in a college course experience at the Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI).

“We were pleased,” said Mullen in regards to the programs offered over the summer. “We probably could have been more successful with the CCRI ramp-up we did.”

Mullen explained that a number of students took the ACCUPLACER, an entrance exam for CCRI, during the summer programs.

“Some kids did well and that can now be banked,” said Mullen, adding that students who have “banked” alternative assessment scores are required to take the test in October but will not be required to take it again in the spring if they still do not improve.

Now, as the school year begins, seniors who received a 1 on their NECAP last year were placed in a remedial math course in the hopes of improving those scores. Mullen explained that the NECAP prep course, as well as an Intro to Algebra II course, is including test-taking strategies in the curriculum to help with NECAP.

“All kids that received a 1 on their NECAP also participate in the problem of the day program,” added Mullen. Each day, the students are given a NECAP-style math problem to work through with their teacher at the beginning of class. The RIDE-approved virtual math modules, which were used in the summer course, are also being used in the regular classroom.

Mullen said the online ramp-up program, Math Facts In A Flash, is also being offered to all students and it features common core, state-released items for practice. There is also an online program being offered after-school or for at-home use if the students choose to take advantage of it.

Mullen said that to assist special needs students with IEPs as they prepare for their NECAPS, a CO-OP program was created to bring a special education teacher into the math classroom to provide additional support to those students.

Changes were also made to accommodate students at the Warwick Area Career and Technical Center when it was discovered students in those programs were struggling with showing proficiency.

“We hired a teacher, part-time. He is teaching the NECAP prep-course [at the Career Center],” said Mullen.

While much of the focus has been on the 253 Warwick seniors at risk of not graduating, a new crop of juniors are preparing to take the test for the first time. Mullen said the same modules and test-taking strategies are also taught to juniors, but sophomores and freshmen have been taking a special, smaller Math Lab to prepare themselves for the test in their junior year.

Mullen said the district has also prepared for the worst-case scenario – seniors failing to show proficiency after taking the test in October and again in the spring.

“The district has created a progress plan. If they still don’t pass the NECAP, RIDE is now requiring a waiver; [students] have to justify what they have done in their careers to explain why they would still be proficient [despite their test score],” said Mullen. This would include presenting to RIDE their previous report cards, senior projects, SAT scores and a variety of other possible items.

“Document exactly what they have done, what interventions we’ve offered that they took advantage of,” said Mullen. “Show us you’re proficient so we don’t have to see proficiency on this test.”

Mullen also said RIDE recently added the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB), the timed, multi-aptitude test for entrance into the military, to the list of alternative assessments to NECAP. The required score is only a 31, which Mullen said he believes is very possible.

“We’re encouraging our principals to go back to their schools and talk about ASVAB,” said Mullen. “We’re going to use every opportunity.”

While students at the high school level are facing a test to determine if they will graduate or not, Randall Holden Elementary School principal Ken Rassler is hoping to give his elementary students a very different attitude about the test-taking process.

On Thursday afternoon, Rassler has planned the second annual NECAP Pep Rally in an effort to spark interest in the exam process and keep his students motivated over what can be a tiring three-week testing period for third, fourth, fifth and sixth graders.

“They do pep rallies for sports. We did a pep rally last year for NECAP and did really well,” said Rassler.

During the fun, school-wide event, each grade will come prepared with a special cheer and all will be wearing special T-shirts. Rassler said the song “We Are The Champions” will also be featured, because Randall Holden was the only leading school in the Warwick School District.

“We want to keep that attitude going,” said Rassler.

Even though they don’t have to take a test, kindergarteners, first graders and second graders will also take part in the pep rally, chanting their own class cheers to support the older kids.


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