Public high school students, teachers, and other community members staged a press conference today to protest Rhode Island’s new high-stakes testing graduation requirement, calling on Governor Chafee to end a policy they described as unjust and ineffective.
“We are here today to explain why we believe this graduation requirement will do nothing to improve the quality of our schools or our education,” said Priscilla Rivera, a member of the youth organization the Providence Student Union (PSU) and a junior at Hope High School. “Instead, it will cause real harm to the lives of many students like me.”
Starting with the class of 2014, Rhode Island’s new policy requires students to score at least “partially proficient” on the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) in order to graduate from high school. Students stressed the widespread implications this policy could have, pointing out that last year, 44 percent of all students across the state did not score high enough on the NECAP to have graduated under the current requirement. Seventy-one percent of black students and 70 percent of Latino students in Rhode Island did not score high enough last year to have graduated, and in Providence, 86 percent of students with disabilities in Individualized Education Programs and 94 percent of students with limited English proficiencies would not have graduated.
“We believe in high expectations,” said Kelvis Hernandez, another PSU member. “We believe that we should graduate with a high-quality education. But this policy is not the right way. Punishing students—particularly those who haven’t had the opportunity to receive the great education we deserve—is neither effective nor just. It is ineffective because we have spent 10, 11, or 12 years in schools that are underfunded, under-resourced, and unable to give us the support we need to do well on the NECAP. And it is unjust because the students who have received this inadequate support are the ones being put on trial.”
Speakers at the press conference also pointed to other harmful effects of high-stakes testing. “Test prep is not what we mean when we say education,” said Dawn Gioello, a family member attending the press conference in support of her niece. “I want my niece to be going to school to learn critical thinking and problem-solving skills, to become a young woman with the confidence and abilities to succeed in college and her career. I don’t want her to go to school to get really good at taking this one test so that she will be able to graduate. I don’t want her whole school experience—her curriculum, her class work, her time after school—to become dedicated to drilling for one exam when she will need so much more than that to achieve her dreams in life.”
“What’s even worse,” added Tamargejae Paris, a junior in high school and a member of PSU, “the NECAP was not designed to be used as a high-stakes test. The makers of the NECAP themselves have said that the test should not be used as a graduation requirement.”
After delivering hundreds of messages to the Governor’s office in opposition to this policy, students called on Governor Chafee to support them. “In just one week, the results of this year’s NECAP test will be released,” said Kelvis Hernandez. “It’s our hope that everyone in Rhode Island passes. But it’s more likely that thousands of students will not score high enough to pass this graduation requirement, particularly among the state’s most vulnerable populations—English Language Learners, students with disabilities, students of color, and low-income students. Will you support this policy that takes away so many of our futures? Or will you join us in calling on the Board of Education—whose members you nominate—to end this discriminatory and misguided graduation requirement? We hope you’ll make the right decision.”