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NECAP test results show mixed success

2013 exam scores come after release of proposed 2015 budget calling for higher education spending

About two weeks after Gov. Lincoln Chafee ’75 P’14 P’17 highlighted education as a major priority in his proposed 2015 budget, Commissioner of Education Deborah Gist announced the results of the 2013 New England Common Assessment Program exam in her annual State of Education address Jan. 30. Though 73 percent of high school seniors passed the test, almost two-thirds of 11th graders did not meet the state’s math proficiency requirements, signaling mixed results for the state’s efforts to improve standardized test scores.

Chafee’s and Gist’s announcements will affect students at all levels of the public education system through measures such as implementing the NECAP graduation requirements, increasing funding and forming new school board councils.

Chafee’s budget calls for a fourth consecutive year of complete funding for the state’s education funding formula and a second consecutive year of a tuition freeze for all public colleges and universities. Chafee recommended an expansion of the Rhode Island Board of Education with the creation of two separate councils, which will focus on K-12 education and post-secondary education, respectively.

The proposed budget allots $816 million for education spending, a $38 million increase from the 2014 budget. Education takes up 28 percent of state spending, second only to expenditures on health and human services.

Chafee’s budget proposal came just weeks before the release of the 2013 NECAP scores, a long-anticipated announcement due to Rhode Island’s decision to include proficiency on the assessment as a graduation requirement for high school students beginning with the class of 2014.

Including the students who successfully retook the exam this fall, 73 percent of 12th graders scored well enough on their NECAP exams to graduate, Gist said in her address.

While the 2013 NECAP results showed an improvement in test scores for 11th graders in both mathematics and reading, almost two-thirds did not demonstrate proficiency in math, according to results posted on the Rhode Island Department of Education’s website. This number falls far short of 60 percent math proficiency, the state’s goal for 11th graders. Just over 80 percent of 11th graders scored at least proficient in reading.

Beginning in 2015, Rhode Island will substitute the NECAP exam for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers exam.

RIDE was “really pleased” with Chafee’s recommendation, said Elliot Krieger, RIDE’s public information officer, adding that the additional funding would be directed into the most needy communities.

The formula was first put into place for the 2012 fiscal year to remedy long-existing funding inequities, in which some districts were disproportionately funded based on “arbitrary” allotments, said Tim Duffy, executive director of the Rhode Island Association of School Committees.

The formula accounts for changing factors like the number of students in a district and the community’s economic status, said Kenneth Wong, professor of education and one of the formula’s architects. Districts receiving more aid from the state based on demonstrated need will have their funding status reviewed every seven years, while districts receiving less aid will be evaluated every ten years, Wong said.

Chafee’s recommendation for an expansion of the Board of Education from 11 members to 15 emerged from a proposal developed last month by the board itself. If the budget is approved, the board will continue to operate jointly across all levels of the state’s public education apparatus while also dividing to the two proposed special councils.

The current joint board, which was put into place last year to increase communication and consistency in public education, is frequently “dominated by the issues around early and secondary education,” such as high-stakes testing or school evaluations, Duffy said.

The proposed councils will meet monthly to discuss issues of governance and regulation, while the full board will likely meet quarterly to decide on longer-term policy issues, said Clark Greene, acting executive director of the Rhode Island Office of Higher Education. If the proposal is accepted by the legislature, the governor will have to appoint four new members to the board.

The budget’s education section calls for the creation of the Office of the Postsecondary Commissioner, which would work with the Council on Postsecondary Education and Rhode Island’s three public universities: the Community College of Rhode Island, the University of Rhode Island and Rhode Island College.

Chafee also announced plans to freeze tuition for the three public institutions. He also pledged to invest an additional $10 million in the system.

“Governors across the country are starting to pay attention to college tuition,” Wong said, adding that tuition for both private and public institutions has been rising nationwide.

The state has been unable to provide the same level of financial support as in the past, leading Rhode Island’s public institutions to raise tuition for more revenue, Duffy said.

“Whether it’s sustainable in the long run depends on the state of the economy and the next governor,” Wong said of the tuition freeze.

But financial difficulties may continue to pose a problem for the state’s education agenda, Duffy said. Many of the funds tapped in the 2015 budget were designated for 2014, Duffy said, adding that this money “won’t materialize again.”

“We’re balancing a budget on last year’s surplus,” he said.


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