Raymond Rositti was doing everything right. As a junior at Warwick Veterans Memorial High School, he has earned A or B grades in every class, has his graduation portfolio almost completed and was preparing to start his senior project this summer.
Then he received the results of his NECAP test in March. He missed proficiency in math by one point and is now at risk of not graduating in June 2014.
“I think, personally, it is ridiculous,” said Raymond.
While he says the portfolio and senior projects are understandable, he doesn’t agree that one test should impact his ability to graduate.
Raymond is just one of the 96 juniors at Warwick Vets (253 at all three Warwick public high schools) who received a 1 on last October’s NECAP test and now at risk of not graduating; according to Raymond, many of his friends missed proficiency by one point like he did.
“I remember taking tests like this in elementary school, thinking ‘this is ridiculous; it’s not what I’m learning in class,’” recalled Raymond.
Despite his feelings about the test, Raymond took the time to prepare for the NECAP, as suggested. “I worked through the practice test. I went over it with my math teacher from freshman year who said he would help me.”
Raymond says all of his practice made no difference.
“I think it’s easy studying this material. I get it,” said Raymond. “But then I go to take the test and it’s different. The questions are altered.”
Raymond’s mother, Deborah, says since learning of his scores her son has been depressed, feeling a loss of achievement and low morale.
“These poor kids have this hanging over their heads, and they still have portfolios, senior projects and a full-course load,” said Deborah. “It’s going to ruin their senior year.”
Not only does Raymond have to worry about retaking the test in October, but, according to his mother, he and all other students who received a 1 on the NECAP are being placed in a remedial math class.
“They are making the kids give up their electives and sticking them in a remedial math class,” said Deborah, who adds that many of the electives are career-path electives and students have waited years for the opportunity to take them.
Dennis Mullen, director of secondary education for Warwick Public Schools, said the math class is all part of the school department’s plan to help these students graduate.
“All students who scored a 1 will be placed in an intermediate math class, currently being designed, at least for the first semester,” said Mullen in a phone call last week.
The class, which Mullen refers to as the NECAP ramp-up, will utilize the Virtual Learning Math Modules, a program purchased by Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) to assist with NECAP preparation. According to Elliot Krieger from the Office of the Commissioner, any student can access those modules, free of charge, through RIDE.
“To date, about 2,730 students have signed up for use of the modules,” said Krieger in an email message.
“If [the students] prove successful on the NECAPS in October, they would only need to stay in that class for the first semester. They could take something else for the second,” said Mullen. If not, they will stay in the math class for the entire year and retake the NECAP in February.
Based on how long it took to receive her son’s first NECAP scores, Deborah says students would need to be in the class for the whole year regardless.
“If they need to retake this test in February, they won’t graduate,” said Deborah, saying the scores wouldn’t be in on time.
Mullen is hopeful that the scores would be given out in a reasonable amount of time to help all students.
In addition to the class in the fall, Mullen said a survey was sent home to families of juniors to see if they would be interested in a summer course. Mullen said the class would run for four or five weeks, similar to the summer school schedule, starting around July 8.
“We are still collecting data [from the survey], but between 20 and 25 families have expressed interest. There will probably be something over the summer,” said Mullen.
But, according to Deborah, a summer class won’t help Raymond. He has a volunteer job at a zoo during the summer. Raymond explained that job is part of his senior project; he would like to work with animals in the future, so his senior project is about that.
Deborah has been following any and all news stories regarding NECAP scores and the status of Education Commissioner Deborah Gist’s contract renewal to find a way to help her son.
“Nothing has been positive about what [Gist] has done,” says Deborah. “The only people supporting her are the governor and the puppet [referring to Board of Education Chair Eva-Marie Mancuso]. How can you hear what everyone is saying about her and then say it’s just the union?”
Then, Deborah saw a May 9 Providence Journal article entitled “Student group disputes fairness of NECAP test.” She says in the article Gist was quoted saying that if students did not pass the NECAP, they could take an alternate assessment such as the SAT.
Since Raymond is set to take the SAT on June 1, Deborah took notice, hoping that Raymond could submit his SAT scores over the summer and be free to take the “well-earned and much anticipated” electives he originally planned this fall.
Deborah decided to write a letter to Gist asking how the SAT could serve as an alternative and how to submit scores. She sent copies of the letter to Governor Lincoln Chafee, Superintendent Richard D’Agostino, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Senator Jack Reed and others to address her concerns for her son’s future. The Beacon also received a copy.
A portion of the letter reads as follows: “You were quoted in today’s article as stating, ‘Those students who continue to struggle can take an alternative assessment such as the SAT.’ My son is already registered to take the SAT test on June 1. Above all common sense and reason, if your contract is renewed on May 23 by our governor, who is suspiciously quiet on the entire NECAP controversy, please respond back to me as soon as possible to let us all know what math grade on the SAT is acceptable to you so that he can go into his senior year of high school without a cloud of anxiety and humiliation over his head. Please tell me how you are going to justify whatever SAT score that you choose to allow my son to graduate.”
In a phone interview last Friday with the Beacon, Deborah had yet to hear a response from any of the officials she mailed her letter to.
Deborah says the rules of the SAT say no score can be used as a graduation requirement, but since Gist said the SAT could be an alternative assessment, students should be allowed to take the SAT, submit a score and graduate.
“Now that [Gist] said they could take an alternate test, I don’t care if he gets a 0; he took it.”
If he can submit SAT scores, Raymond says he will be happy. In addition to taking the test in June, he already plans to take the SAT again in the fall for good measure.
“I will be happy; I will be prepared,” he said, adding that he will follow the same strategy he did when taking the NECAP: “Just try my best and see what I get.”
While he made no mention of the SAT, Mullen said the Accuplacer, a test administered by Community College of Rhode Island and Rhode Island College prior to enrollment, could be a replacement test, and the summer class offered would cover that as well.
“Should the students reach a certain plateau, designated by RIDE, that score could be used as a replacement for a poor NECAP score,” said Mullen, although he added no acceptable score had been designated yet. “[Students] could hold onto that score in case they do badly on the NECAPs when they retake them in October.”
When asked about alternative assessments, Krieger said RIDE has determined “several other assessments and their cut scores” as another way to meet this requirement. If students have not met NECAP requirements after the October test, scores from alternative assessments can be submitted in Spring 2014. The SAT is one such alternative assessment. Students would need a 470 on the math portion and 440 on critical reading to meet the requirement. A complete list of approved assessments and cut scores can be found in a document entitled “RIDE Approved Tests” on The Rhode Island Diploma System Page of RIDE’s website.
“Students may take these other approved assessments at any time, but those who scored substantially below proficient in grade 11 will still be required to retake the NECAP in fall of their senior year,” said Krieger. “Schools and districts will decide what additional math instruction and supports these students may or may not need.”
Deborah worries that the added stress of all of these tests will only make things worse, especially for students who are in special education or low-tech programs and cannot pass a test such as the NECAP.
“They are going to have to drop out, get their GEDS and try to get a job on their own,” says Deborah, who adds that this might be the path for a large number of students. “How good will it look on the books when the dropout rates skyrocket?”
School committee member Eugene Nadeau knows these juniors have a lot of work ahead of them, but he believes they can do it.
“I don’t see a problem with anyone not graduating. They will be given every opportunity and they will take it,” said Nadeau, who believes 95 percent of Warwick students will graduate with no problems.
“No one, after 12 years of passing grades, should not graduate,” said Nadeau.
While he says he has issues with some of Gist’s policies regarding state funding, he says her desire to raise the value of a high school diploma is good and “no one should argue with that.”
“What [Gist] has tried to accomplish is the right path. A diploma has to be worth all that we can make it worth,” said Nadeau, although he added, “I don’t believe a student should be prevented from graduating because of one test.”
Deborah says she will continue to write letters and speak to anyone who will listen about this issue, but she doesn’t know what good it will do for students or teachers.
“We have a zero-tolerance policy on bullying, yet Gist can bully teachers,” said Deborah. “I think everyone is praying she doesn’t get rehired for another two years – that’s all I can do.”
Discussions regarding the renewal of Gist’s contract will continue into June at two meetings of the Board of Education. A Board work session is scheduled for June 3 and the next voting meeting is set for June 6. Gist’s contract expires on June 7.