Legislation introduced in the General Assembly by Rep. Eileen Naughton (D-Dist. 21, Warwick) and Sen. Harold Metts (D-Dist. 6, Providence) would prevent state standardized assessments from determining a student’s eligibility to graduate from high school.
Under current Department of Education guidelines, beginning in 2014 any student who does not pass the statewide exam would be ineligible to receive a diploma. Eligibility to graduate excludes consideration of portfolio work, grades and other factors.
“It’s about equal opportunity for students and producing an educated workforce,” Naughton said yesterday.
Naughton said she had heard various complaints from constituents against the 2014 Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) guidelines, especially from minority groups.
Scores from 2011 indicate that nearly 90 percent of special education, minority or disadvantaged students would be at risk of not graduating or being designated as “partially proficient.”
Naughton worries that these classifications of “partially proficient” will lead to workplace and employment discrimination in the future.
Naughton said she met with Dave Abbott from RIDE in June, asking for data to support the decision to make the NECAP (New England Common Assessment Program) a “high stakes” test.
“I still haven’t received any,” she said.
State Education Commissioner Deborah Gist released a statement yesterday defending the reasons for the 2014 rule and opposing Naughton’s bill.
“Our Secondary School Regulations, which the Board of Regents approved last year after months of hearings and public debate, establish multiple measures of readiness, including course-credit requirements, performance-based demonstrations of proficiency and performance on the state assessments,” said Gist. “In order to graduate, students (beginning with the Class of 2014) must attain at least the level of partial proficiency on the mathematics and reading assessments. The regulations also require that students have opportunities for retake of assessments.”
To refute this, Naughton has presented evidence from the National Research Council of the National Academies study on tests and education.
“The study shows high stakes state testing decreases the rate of graduation without increasing achievement,” she said.
“I don’t personally believe that NECAPs are a good standardized assessment for judging whether or not an individual should get a high school diploma,” said Rep. Joseph McNamara, chairman of the House Committee on Health, Education and Welfare. “It’s very general and is an indicator of how schools are doing.”
McNamara said there are other tests that would be better for determining whether individuals meet academic standards. He said he eagerly awaits the hearing of this bill.
Warwick School Committee member Eugene Nadeau was perplexed by the introduction of Naughton’s bill, saying he wonders how the General Assembly got involved.
“She’s never done anything for education before,” he said. “I’ve never even seen her in person, I don’t know where she got this.”
Gist is still in full support of the 2014 graduation requirements.
“I believe that state assessments are a valuable and appropriate element in our graduation requirements,” said Gist in a statement. “Therefore, I strongly oppose any legislation that would prohibit the use of assessments as one of the important components of our graduation requirements.”
Warwick Vets Principal Gerry Habershaw agrees with Naughton’s legislation “100 percent.”
He said he’s glad the General Assembly has stepped in to combat the Commissioner’s decision to up the stakes of standardized testing.
Habershaw said it is unfair for 12 years of work to be neglected. He also fears that, should so much weight be put on the NECAP tests, teachers will have to shift their lesson plans to focus solely on passing the exam, omitting other valuable lessons.
“We don’t want educators to ‘teach the test,’” said Naughton in a statement. “We want them to use the test as a tool for achievement.”
In addition to preventing the NECAP from dictating graduation, the new bill would use the test as a way to assess “school and district accountability” and promote improvement. It would also help to identify students who need early academic intervention.
If a student achieves a score of “significantly below proficient” on the exam, their parents or guardians would be notified.
“I therefore support many principles in the proposed legislation on assessments and graduation requirements,” said Gist. “In fact, the principles regarding support for students and communication with families are in place already in state law, and I would not want to add to the paperwork burden that districts and schools must currently manage.”
Naughton said she is unsure when the bill will be heard, as it has been deferred to the Health, Education and Welfare Committee in the House.