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State to hold hearings on whether to delay exam graduation requirement

NECAP exam draws criticism from some who question standardized tests’ influence in R.I. school districts

The Council on Elementary and Secondary Education voted Sept. 8 to hold public hearings on Rhode Island Education Commissioner Deborah Gist’s recommendation to delay the implementation of the standardized exam high school graduation requirement from 2017 to 2020. Gist’s recommendation — made in late August — came after an outcry from some parents, teachers, legislators and students who called the standardized exam requirement a misguided way to judge whether high school students are ready to graduate.

In 2008, the Rhode Island Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education — renamed the state’s Board of Education this year — approved making the New England Common Assessment Program exam a requirement for graduation from state high schools by 2012, but the implementation process has been delayed repeatedly in the face of backlash from opponents.

The NECAP is currently being phased out as an official state assessment in favor of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers exam.

In response to Gist’s recommendation, the General Assembly will decide whether or not to delay the testing for three more years.

Currently, there are no scheduled dates for the public hearings that will help determine whether or not the legislature approves Gist’s recommendation. There will be at least three hearings, said Elliot Krieger, public information officer at the Rhode Island Department of Education.

In the interim, Gist launched a new initiative called The Assessment Project earlier this month to address statewide questions about the standardized testing process.

The Assessment Project “will bring together focus groups of students, parents and educators to determine how we can improve our systems of assessment so as to meet the needs of students,” Gist wrote in a public statement last week, adding that the initiative will “provide us with specific information that supports improved teaching and learning.”

The year-long review will have a comprehensive approach with dialogue between involved stakeholders, geared toward making standardized testing more efficient, Gist wrote in the statement.

State legislators have also raised concerns about the potential financial cost for school districts incurred by each assessment.

But the state is not adding assessments, only continuing to explore different testing versions, such as the PARCC, Krieger said.

“None of us wants to test students too much,” Gist and Katherine Sipala, president of the Rhode Island School Superintendents’ Association, wrote in a joint statement to school superintendents. “We want all educators in Rhode Island to look at how we use assessments in order to see what we can do better — and to put the best ideas into action.”

Parents are worried not only about the anxiety their children might endure from overtesting, but also about the perceived likelihood that students are losing important instruction time that is replaced by testing, said Kenneth Wong, professor of education.

Wong attributed parents’ qualms to their inability to distinguish between different kinds of testing, such as formative and evaluative assessments. Formative assessments are “a way for the teachers to get the information they need so they can do their job more effectively,” he said.

In contrast, evaluative assessments like the NECAP are meant to measure students’ learning according to established standards.

Formative assessments are also meant to help teachers gain a better understanding of their students’ skill levels as they transition between grade levels, Wong said, adding that this approach is in line with the Common Core goals.


A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Rhode Island officials are considering delaying implementation of the NECAP exam graduation requirement until 2020. The state is in the process of replacing the NECAP exam with the PARCC exam. The Herald regrets the error.


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