September 14, 2014
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High stakes of high school

The arguments to eliminate high stakes tests are convincing.

- Test results don’t always accurately reflect an individual’s capabilities. There are good test takers and there are those who clam up.

- The results of a single test – in this case the NECAPs – have the ability of determining whether a student receives a high school diploma, and thus set a track that could limit future opportunities.

- A test can be a good measure of a narrow field of knowledge but not of one’s ability to learn and grow. The frequently cited example of how institutions have recognized the shortcoming of tests is how more and more colleges and universities no longer use the SAT in admitting students.

All of these arguments were cited Tuesday when a coalition of groups opposed to high stakes tests – specifically use of the NECAPs in determining whether a student should be awarded a high school diploma – rallied outside Pilgrim High School. Their message struck a chord and sounded an alarm. About 4,100 members of the high school Class of 2014 statewide are at risk of not graduating because they are less than partially proficient in one area of the tests. Most of the students have fallen short in math and unless they are able to demonstrate growth through alternative tests or achieving a partially proficient score when they take the test in October, they will not graduate.

Educators, as well as parents and students, knew this day was coming.

Deborah A. Gist, commissioner of education, set the bar more than two years ago. The standard was to have been applied for the first time to the Class of 2011. She backed off and implementation was delayed to the Class of 2014.

Now that juniors are being told there is a good chance they won’t graduate, and this looks like it really is going to happen, people are questioning if this is what we want to do.

Gist says this in not an issue of high stakes testing, but rather of math skills.

Rightfully, she observes, a certain level of math skill is needed for students to perform successfully in the workforce or to go on to higher education. She says to eliminate the testing standard would set back efforts to improve student performance.

Further, Gist reasons, there are means whereby students can achieve the standard – that they have multiple bites at the apple.

Schools have recognized the full implications of a significant portion of the Class of 2014 failing to graduate. In Warwick’s case, 2 out of 5 juniors – 38 percent – are at risk. Here, systems are being put in place to work with these students. This situation is not being taken lightly.

Nor do we think the standard of partially proficient should be taken lightly. Let’s not lose sight that we want our students to be capable of leading successful and rewarding lives. We want them to be proficient and we need to measure that capability before we say they are ready to face the world.


Comments
2 comments on this item

Excuses. Good and Bad test takers. Ha. Prove that theory! Perhaps the tests are exposing their real intelligence? Perhaps a student cheated his or her way through school and this exam exposes that.

I believe if a student gets a really bad score than they should be able to re-test. Let them keep taking it until they pass.

Kids put down the x-box controllers and read, read, read.

This is simple; Government-run schools fight every reform, every test, every measurement of student and teacher performance at every turn. The SAT may have it's drawbacks, but it remains the single best predictor of post-secondary academic success. Of course, as an alarming number of public school graduates fail to demostrate mastery of basic math concepts, colleges are forced to ignore SAT's as a matter of financial sustainability. As RI retains the distinction of having the second least educated adult population in New England, perhaps it's time to focus on measurable academic rigor instead of the prevailing fad of self-esteem.

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