Just 30 percent of high school seniors in Central Falls will get diplomas, if the other 70 percent doesn’t improve on their high-stakes standardized test scores under a controversial new state graduation requirement. In Providence and Pawtucket, two of every three students won’t graduate if they don’t do any better on the test. In Johnston, Woonsocket and North Providence, about half the senior class is at risk.
Across the Rhode Island, 40 percent of high school seniors are now in danger of not completing high school because they botched the standardized test they took as juniors. They have just two more chances to earn their diploma, regardless of what else they achieved during their high school careers.
Education Commissioner Deborah Gist, the architect of this highly controversial program, calls it “the theory of action.” She says “schools are rising to the occasion” and focusing more attention on these poor test-taking students this year. There’s evidence that this is the case: an extra-curricular online math training course the state offers to struggling students showed exponential growth after the test scores were recently released.
She calls it “the theory of action.” It’s not unlike how some people (this writer!) don’t pay utility bills until they get the one that says final notice. “I fully believe the vast majority will make improvements,” she told me.
Perhaps. But the real question should be: have these students received a better education because they learned how to improve on a single test.
In theory, a student could get all A’s throughout their high school career, but if they fail one test three times none of the rest matters. In theory, a student could reinvent the theory of relativity, write the great American novel and figure out a way to implement world peace, but fail that test three times and, according to state law, they didn’t learn enough to earn a diploma.
(Important correction: Actually, there is a waiver that is available to students who demonstrate proficiency and for some reason fail the NECAP test and fail to show improvement.)
The issue with regard to high stakes testing is not whether it lights a fire under schools or students. The issue is hat we are supplanting the system of giving students grades based on a broad range of objective and subjective criteria with a singular test.
Nobody wants to give a student a diploma they haven’t earned. Gist is right when she says that benefits no one – not the student, not the state and not the economy. But I have no reason to think that one standardized test is a better metric than four years of high school in judging whether a 17-year-old is ready for the real world or not.