High stakes for Rhode Island

Thursday, February 23, 2012


In September 2010, the Rhode Island Board of Regents decided to increase the importance of state tests as a requirement for high school graduation. Consequently, state standardized tests, which focus heavily on English and math, now count for one-third of a student’s graduation eligibility instead of ten percent. This decision was strongly opposed by parents, teachers and union leaders, and a bill was recently filed to prevent the use of standardized tests altogether in deciding whether or not a student can graduate. Given that these tests are insufficient to judge the overall potential of a student, and considering the established link between success on test scores and income, we disapprove of the disproportionate emphasis currently placed on state tests and fully support this new legislation.

The current system, known as “high-stakes testing,” is particularly problematic in Rhode Island, which has a large minority population in its schools. Studies have already demonstrated the relationship between race and income — non-whites, particularly blacks and Hispanics are more likely to belong to a lower socioeconomic status than whites — as well as the positive correlation of household income and standardized test scores. We cannot support a system, particularly in a city as diverse as Providence, that implicitly places tremendous importance on factors such as socioeconomic status and race. 

Another major point of concern is how high-stakes testing disadvantages English Language Learners, who make up roughly 20 percent of the state’s student body. These tests focus heavily on English, making them additionally challenging for those still learning the language. It is perfectly reasonable to expect students graduating from Rhode Island schools to be able to speak English — yet it is unreasonable to penalize students for the failings of their schools. As various groups such as the Rhode Island Teachers of English Language Learners, Children’s Policy Coalition and the LEP/ELL Advisory Council have noted, “the supports that have been mandated to assist struggling students towards proficiency are not in place.” 

But high-stakes testing has repercussions for all students, not only those in Rhode Island. For example, a student who succeeds in his automotive class and plans to attend a technical college may be forced to drop the class after testing below proficiency on a state test. Similarly, a cello player who is the best in her school’s orchestra may test poorly in English and therefore have to drop orchestra to make the time to study for the test again. With such a narrow focus on English and math, standardized state tests ignore the fact that the potential of many students lies in their creativity or their technical skills, rather than their knowledge of grammar or algebra.

By removing standardized tests from the graduation requirements, Rhode Island would create a more productive school environment for their disabled and minority students, as well as for students for whom English is a second language. Rhode Island ought to be investing in helping students improve, rather than imposing requirements that a huge percentage of students will unfortunately not be able to meet. The lawmakers who introduced the bill, State Rep. Eileen S. Naughton, D-Warwick, and Sen. Harold M. Metts, D-Providence, proposed for “schools to notify parents when their children fall behind and put in place interventions to help those students improve.” Naughton and Metts have a solution to the problem, and it is not high-stakes testing.


Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board. Send comments to editorials@browndailyherald.com.