NECAP scores improve, but high stakes test debate continues
The highlight of Education Commissioner Deborah Gist’s State of Education address last Thursday and Friday’s release of the results from October’s New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) testing was that 73 percent of Rhode Island’s high school seniors have now met the requirement for graduation, up from 60 percent prior to the retake.
According to a press release from the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE), an additional 1,370 seniors have now met their NECAP graduation requirement: 977 by scoring partially proficient or better (a 2 or higher) on the retake and 393 by showing significant improvement over their last score, although still earning a 1.
The 1,370 students represent approximately 43 percent of those seniors who retook the test.
"I want to thank the many high school students, teachers and family members who have focused over the past year on improving achievement in math," said Governor Lincoln D. Chafee in a press release. "Today, we see that 1,370 of our high school seniors have received the good news that their hard work has paid off. Setting high expectations and holding everyone accountable for results does lead to significant advances in learning and achievement.”
In Warwick, 253 seniors were at risk of not graduating due to their NECAP math scores, however no city or school specific breakdowns of the NECAP retake results were provided by press time.
Following the Class of 2014’s initial NECAP test in October 2012, an estimated 4,100 students statewide did not score at least partial proficiency on the math assessment and therefore were at risk of not graduating this June.
"I am very proud today of our high school seniors and the adults who have supported them. They have shown all of us that it can be done: With hard work and with excellent support, students can improve their achievement and their chances for success beyond high school," said Gist in the release. "Holding students to high expectations and helping them to reach those goals is truly in the best interest of all students, and we will continue with this commitment."
The press release also acknowledges that 807 of the 4,100 students who scored substantially below proficiency did not participate in October’s retake for a variety of reasons, including transferring out of state or staying back in the 11th grade. Of the 807, 56 moved on to a GED program while 154 have dropped out of school. The release states that those GED and dropout numbers are consistent with the past four years.
So with 1,370 students finding success with a retake and 807 students not retaking the test for a variety of reasons, what about the 1,923 seniors who have still not shown partial proficiency or significant improvement on this exam?
“As you know, the remaining students have many other opportunities to improve and a variety of ways in which they can demonstrate their math accomplishments,” said Gist during her speech to the General Assembly. Students who still need to meet NECAP graduation requirements will have another opportunity to take the NECAP in the spring, can submit passing scores on one of 10 RIDE-approved assessments, including the SATs, ACTs, Accuplacer or Armed Service Vocational Aptitude Battery, or can undergo waiver processes set up by school districts, including Warwick, to show they can demonstrate academic readiness by other means.
While focus remained on the math scores, the release also announced that 95 percent of the Class of 2014 met the requirements for the NECAP reading assessment.
In addition to the results of the NECAP retake for seniors, RIDE also released results for students in grades 3 to 11. The results did provide percentages of proficiency for current juniors by district.
In math, 32 percent of Warwick juniors scored a 1, and are at risk of not graduating in June 2015. That is an improvement from the Class of 2014’s initial scores when 38 percent scored a 1. In reading, 5 percent of juniors scored substantially below proficiency. That means 95 percent of Warwick juniors have met their reading NECAP graduation requirement and 68 percent have met the math requirement. A full breakdown of NECAP results for each grade by district and school will be available on Feb. 13.
Warwick Representative Joseph McNamara said he was very pleased to hear about the improvement in NECAP scores.
“It shows that students are paying attention and some of the interventions are working,” said McNamara, who is also chair of the House Education Committee.
McNamara also believes that as time goes on and the system continues to fall into place, the number of students earning proficiency on their first attempt will improve as well.
“I think we will continue to see improvements; students are rising to the challenge,” he said.
On the other side of the issue is Warwick Representative Eileen Naughton, who says she is happy for those seniors who have reached proficiency but still believes the test is an unnecessary ordeal to put students through. Naughton says the test is being used to measure readiness to graduate high school and move on to college, but it wasn’t designed for that purpose.
“That test isn’t designed to do that; I don’t want to lose sight of that,” she said.
Naughton pointed out that the test features questions about probability, trigonometry, geometry and other subjects that are considered electives in many schools.
“You can’t possibly pass the test without answering those questions. There is not enough general math,” said Naughton. “When you put that on a test to measure readiness for high school graduation, that’s not fair.”
She added that the test is also causing the state to fall behind on the needs of special needs students because the system is too focused on scores; she is also cautious of the fact that the test is not proved to be unbiased to those of different races and social groups.
“The kids are working individually to improve their scores. I think employers are looking for people who can work in teams,” said Naughton. “It’s sterile and lacks imagination; you want everyone to have the same answer.”
Naughton believes that instead of putting money into testing and re-testing, the focus should be on providing more hands-on programs that foster a love of learning and professional development for teachers.
“I value education, and I think it’s something that is precious and can’t be measured by this test,” she said.
While he is encouraged by the improvement, McNamara acknowledged that many members of the General Assembly have concerns, specifically over the waiver policies, and a hearing before his Education Committee is scheduled for a number of bills concerning NECAP and the upcoming Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), which is associated with the Common Core Standards.
One of the bills addressed during the hearing will be Naughton’s bill to remove NECAP test results from the state’s graduation requirements.
While Gist’s State of Education address included a number of success stories, including improved graduation rates, improved NECAP scores, a chorus of young foreign language students and acknowledgements for the honors earned by many of Rhode Island’s teachers, the Warwick School District should be proud to have two of it’s programs recognized.
First, Gist acknowledged a visit she made to Warwick Neck Elementary School in December to witness a first grade class take part in the “Hour of Code” program.
“Participating schools took an hour during the week to introduce students to computer science and to show that anyone can learn the basics to be a maker, a creator, an inventor,” said Gist during her speech, before introducing Warwick Neck teacher Tracy Mollock and her student, Carter Clifton.
Then Gist acknowledged how schools are helping students to explore the STEAM subjects (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) through marine technology, calling out Warwick Career and Technical Center’s Marine Trades program, who would be showing off their skills at the Providence Boat Show along with students in similar programs at Slater Junior High, Chariho Career and Technical Center and Tiverton High School.
Gist also used the moment to acknowledge the advances made in the state’s career and technical education; she said because of new regulations on career and tech education, programs in Rhode Island have “opened opportunities for students across the state and focused our resources on fields that will drive the Rhode Island economy, a central tenet in the important plan that the Senate released last week, Rhode to Work.”
In addition to the great news about Warwick’s success, McNamara was pleased to hear about the improved graduation rates at Charles E. Shea Senior High School in Pawtucket, where he used to work. The school improved its four-year graduation rate from 57 percent in 2009 to 83 percent today; something McNamara said was “pretty remarkable.”
On Friday, RIDE also announced the state’s four-year graduation rate for the Class of 2013 is at 80 percent, a three-point improvement over the previous year.