September 3, 2014
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We must never give up on our students
Deborah A. Gist Commissioner of Education

As Commissioner of Education, I am committed to ensuring that all of our students will graduate from high school ready for success in colleges and careers. For too long, our schools have awarded diplomas to students who have not acquired basic skills in mathematics and reading. These graduates soon learn that they are poorly prepared for college or careers. Many of these graduates enter CCRI must take remedial classes at their own expense in order pursue a degree. Many others find doors closed to them because they do not have the skills they need when they seek employment. We cannot let this happen any longer.

Today, our Rhode Island Diploma System sets reasonable expectations for all students, requires our schools to provide students with the support they need to meet these expectations, and provides students with multiple opportunities to meet all graduation requirements and earn a diploma.

You may have heard people talking recently about one aspect of our Diploma System: the expectation that students meet expectations on our statewide assessments. Success on assessments is only one of our graduation requirements. I do not believe that one test score alone should determine whether a student is ready to graduate, nor do I believe that a test score alone is a reasonable way to measure student achievement. We must measure student growth and achievement using many sources of evidence, including state assessments.

Earlier this month (February 8), we released the results of our latest (October 2012) state assessments, which showed that about 4,100 high-school students scored "substantially below proficient" on 10th-grade standards. These students have not yet met the assessment component of the graduation requirements, but they will have many opportunities to do so.

These students will take the NECAP assessment again in October and, if necessary, once again in the spring of their senior year. If their results improve, they will meet this graduation requirement, even if they do not attain the level of "partially proficient." Students also have the opportunity to submit the results of another approved test and to appeal decisions about graduation. In some limited instances, students may also seek a waiver from this graduation requirement.

To prepare students for graduation, we require that our schools provide additional, intensive support and instruction to all students who fall below "partially proficient" on the state assessments. I am confident that, with good instruction and with the will to succeed, our students can learn, improve, and earn a meaningful high-school diploma.

I encourage parents and guardians, from the time your children enter school, to keep in touch with teachers and guidance counselors about how your children are performing. When you receive from your school a report on your child's test results, read the report carefully. If your child is having difficulty in mathematics or reading, at any grade level, be sure to discuss with teachers or school leaders what steps the school will take to help your child succeed - and what you can do to help as well.

I understand that our Diploma System demands a lot of our teachers, of our students, and of their families. We must never give up on our students. Let us work together to ensure that our students succeed. Their success in school today is the key to their future success and to the future prosperity of our state.

Deborah A. Gist is the Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education. She can be reached at (401) 222-8700 or deborah.gist@ride.ri.gov


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