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R.I. schools can administer new standardized test starting in March

Despite opposition and calls for delay, public officials approve the use of PARCC test this year.

Contributing Writer
Thursday, January 29, 2015

Students, parents, teachers and members of the American Civil Liberties Union expressed concern that if the bill were implemented immediately, schools would have little time to adapt to its effects.

The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, a standardized test that has been administered in the United States only in its trial phase, will be given to Rhode Island high school students in March and may be used as a graduation requirement as early as 2017.

In August, State Education Commissioner Deborah Gist, who is also a member of the PARCC Governing Board, recommended that the test become a graduation requirement in 2020 instead of 2017, the year dictated by current law. Gist issued a Jan. 16 memo to superintendents stating that “school districts can have policies requiring participation” in the test as early as this spring. Though the test will not be used as a graduation requirement this year, Gist proposed that school officials could factor PARCC test results into students’ grades.

These suggestions have raised concern among students, parents and teachers alike, in addition to inspiring action from the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island. The organization’s members oppose using PARCC in a potentially punitive way so soon and believe test results may vary dramatically among schools, said Steve Brown, executive director of the ACLU of Rhode Island.

“It’s important to give time for schools to adjust, so the curriculum matches what the test is measuring,” Brown said. Districts and students have not had enough time with the test in place to factor results into students’ grades, he said, adding that a new test with new challenges requires an adjustment period.

Elliot Krieger, public information officer for the Rhode Island Department of Education, said he disagrees with the ACLU’s stance. By law, Rhode Island schools cannot use standardized assessments to determine eligibility for graduation before 2017, Krieger said.

The decision on whether the law specifies 2017 or 2020 now stands before the Council on Elementary and Secondary Education, Krieger said. The council recently delayed voting on the issue but will take it up during its next meeting, he said.

“The PARCC assessment is an important tool for the purpose of accountability, so that student performance can be compared across different states and districts,” said Kenneth Wong, professor of education and chair of the department. By identifying schools that are consistently under performing, test results can be used to improve policy and practices at “the state, district and school level,” Wong said, adding that it is important to make sure schools have enough time to adjust to the test.

RIDE has already started implementing a transition plan to ensure that schools can meet PARCC standards. This multi-year plan focuses on supporting teachers’ professional development, Wong said, adding that a strong technology plan must be in place, since the test is administered online. Despite these challenges, he said, “the timetable for using PARCC assessment for accountability will allow teachers and students sufficient preparation time.”

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