Rhode Island public school students gathered yesterday to protest a new policy from the Rhode Island Department of Education that requires high school seniors to pass the New England Common Assessment Program, a state-sponsored standardized test, in order to graduate. The students, dressed and painted to resemble zombies, took up a battle cry that echoed through the streets of Providence: “No education, no life!”
The Providence Student Union, a student-led organization founded at Hope High School in 2010, led the group, which shuffled and groaned its way to the Department of Education from Burnside Park. The “undead” theme was meant to symbolize the lifelessness someone experiences without a high school diploma, said Hope High School student Bryan Varela.
“It takes our life away from us,” he said, adding that those without a high school diploma have much more limited options in the job market.
Once the protest reached the Department of Education’s building, Claudierre McKay, a Classical High School student, gave a speech outlining the intent behind the protest and the reasoning for the participants’ zombie attire.
“To take away our diploma is to take away our life,” he said, and was answered by moaning and shrieking from the crowd of “undead” students.
Varela said money spent on testing would be put to better use diversifying the curriculum. High schools should give students the option to study “what they want for a career,” Varela said. He added that supplies for the schools would also be a good use of educational funds.
The student union’s website outlines a wealth of reasons why standardized testing does not increase the quality of public education. The test does not better teaching quality, improve curriculum or give students the skills they need to succeed later in life, the website states. A disproportionate number of minority and English Language Learning students fail standardized tests, according to studies conducted over the past decades.
Union members also fear curricula will be geared toward the test, stifling student creativity, according to the student union website.
The new testing requirement goes into effect this year. It requires students to score at least “partially proficient” on the math and reading portions of the NECAP, according to a Department of Education news release. Students take the test once in their junior years, and if they receive scores below “proficient,” they must take it again in the fall of their senior years.
This year, 40 percent of juniors in Rhode Island scored “substantially below proficient” on the math exam, and only 34 percent were proficient, according to a press release from the Department of Education. In the release, Gov. Lincoln Chafee ‘75 P’14 said he was “concerned” about the math deficiencies of Rhode Island public schools but was pleased by the improvement the state had seen in the last few years.
Rhode Island’s four-year high school graduation rate last year was 77 percent.