As students across the state are in the process of taking their NECAP (New England Common Assessment Program) tests as part of our system of statewide assessment, the conversation continues about the appropriate use of NECAP assessments as one element in our diploma system. To help students, families and the public at large understand the truth about our use of assessments, to tackle misinformation head-on, to allay some public fears and concerns, and to provide students with confidence that they can earn a diploma, we have developed a short set of questions and answers about our Diploma System:
Is it true that Rhode Island students can fail to graduate on the basis of a single, standardized test?
No. The truth is that, in Rhode Island, we use multiple measures to determine whether students are ready to earn a diploma and to succeed beyond high school. The measures include course completion, performance-based demonstrations of proficiency (such as senior projects), and success on state assessments or on other approved assessments.
Is it true that students have to pass the NECAP in order to graduate?
No. The truth is that students who score partially proficient or better when they take the NECAP in grade 11 have met this graduation requirement. Those who have not yet met the graduation requirement will have two opportunities to retake the NECAP again in their senior year. If they improve their score, they have met this graduation requirement – regardless of their performance level. RIDE has also approved 10 other assessments, including the PSAT and the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery that students can use to meet this graduation requirement. In addition, waivers are available for students for whom – for any reason – tests of any kind are not a good measure of their abilities.
Is it true that the NECAP assessments are not appropriate for use as a graduation requirement?
No. The truth is that the NECAPs are high-quality assessments that we use for many purposes, including guiding instruction, informing parents about student progress, and as part of the decision-making about placement, services and graduation. The NECAPs require students to provide written responses to questions that show their thinking and reasoning. Designed on the same model as the MCAS assessments used as a graduation requirement in Massachusetts, the NECAP is an appropriate test for use as one component of a Diploma System.
Is it true that the NECAP requirement penalizes students who haven’t received an adequate education?
No. The truth is that handing diplomas to students who are not ready for success penalizes students. Although we recognize that schools cannot make up for years of poor, inadequate education with one year of instruction and support, the opportunity to graduate by showing growth ensures that our graduates are at least making progress toward proficiency. This opportunity also ensures that students aren’t penalized for something beyond their control.
Is it true that, because Rhode Island will introduce a new assessment in 2015, we should wait until then to include assessments in the Diploma System?
No. The truth is that at present, 75 percent of our recent graduates who enter the Community College of Rhode Island must take remedial courses, at their own expense, before they begin to earn credits. We cannot let this continue. We must provide all students with the education they need and deserve – while it is our responsibility and while it is their right.
Is it true that the NECAP encourages test preparation and “teaching to the test?”
No. The truth is that schools where students perform well on state assessments do not focus on test preparation. Rather, teachers in these schools provide great instruction that engages students on many levels and teaches key academic skills: Solving problems, reasoning well, writing clearly, reading with precision, thinking creatively, grappling with abstract ideas. The NECAP, unlike many typical machine-scored, fill-in-the-bubble tests, also requires students to write out responses to questions – showing what they know and how they think. Test preparation and rote memorization will not improve performance on this kind of high-quality assessment.
Deborah A. Gist is the Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education.