To the Editor:
Eva-Marie Mancuso’s recent (9/18/13) op-ed piece in the Providence Journal, “Testing helps R.I. students achieve” offers a disingenuous rational for not discussing the current NECAP testing requirement. Her piece attempts to build a case for the Board’s exit-test policy by stringing together a series of misleading statements that do not hold up to critical review. Here are some of the most blatant:
“We want to prepare all of our students for success, and we want to make Rhode Island’s public schools and higher-education institutions among the best in the country.”
No one engaged in the current debate about the exit-testing requirement disagrees with this goal. The disagreement is around the policies that determine how Rhode Island will use its scare resources and regulatory authority to achieve this goal-neither should be squandered on ineffective or counterproductive policies.
“The vote [by the Board not to discuss the graduation requirements] was not about the merits of any of our battery of state assessments; it was about starting the debate again about whether or not to have state assessments.”
In fact, the debate has been, in part, about the merits of the eleventh grade math test. This test fails almost three times as many students as the reading test. The debate is about the assessment battery’s fundamental flaws and shortcomings.
And, Mancuso does not have a united board behind her. The board voted by the slimmest 6-5 margin not to accept the petition to open the testing policy to public discussion.
“The New England Common Assessment Program [NECAP] is not the be-all, end-all - but it is one valid measure.”
I don’t know what evidence she uses to assert the NECAP is a valid measure because the NECAP technical report does not provide any credible validity study. Is it a more valid predictor of college or career readiness than family income or mother’s education? No one knows.
“[NECAP] shows us that too many students...have not attained the knowledge and skills they will need upon graduation.”
Yet, RIDE already knows this; they know, for example that many students taking the math test have not had a geometry course and, since geometry is required on the NECAP, how could these students pass the NECAP? Making sure all schools provide the curriculum necessary to pass the NECAP is a prerequisite to implementing an exit-test requirement. By rushing to implement a “high standards” exit exam, the Board is ignoring its responsibilities in this area.
“We don’t have to look far for support for a state assessment. Massachusetts implemented an even more stringent standard more than a decade ago, and, though assessments alone do not account for the improvements in Massachusetts, today Massachusetts ranks first among states in student achievement.”
I agree that assessments alone do not account for the improvements we see in Massachusetts. Massachusetts’ passage in 1993 of the Education Reform Act called for implementing the high school exit exam only following a decade of preparation, adequately financed by a state funding formula that built capacity in the poorest districts.
“Every high school in Rhode Island offered students additional instruction and support during the school year and over the summer, in a commitment to improve mathematics achievement.”
Not true. Most high schools only passed along the state sponsored “math module,” which was an online test prep course with a ‘virtual’ teacher. Most students did not receive any additional instruction from the schools last year or over the summer unless they were enrolled in those test prep courses.
“I have been moved and troubled by the concerns many students, educators and family members have raised regarding our diploma system.”
Perhaps, but Mancuso has remained steadfastly unresponsive to the concerns raised by parents and advocates for students with Individual Education Plans (IEPs). The NECAP failure rate of these students in math is astoundingly high-over 80 percent failed. Furthermore, 10 years of exit testing in Massachusetts has resulted in more students with IEPs failing to get diplomas, not fewer. These are the same performance gaps Rhode Island is having no success in reducing.
Finally, Mancuso concludes with a plea for support, “Let’s take all of the energy that has gone into opposing statewide testing and focus it where it belongs - on improving opportunities and outcomes for our students.”
Mancuso asks us to support policies of doubtful worth without a public discussion that addresses considerable relevant evidence. It will do our students no good to support Mancuso’s policies based solely on her assurances that they will work.
Mr. Richards is a retired RIDE School Improvement and Accountability Specialist.