Rhode Island Education Commissioner Deborah Gist has promised to make time in her schedule to discuss new developments at the General Assembly, including a bill that orders a halt to standardized testing as a requirement for a high school diploma.
Gist has advocated in favor of keeping the testing policy, which she says is will ensure that students graduate ready for the challenges they may face after high school. But lawmakers voted to halt the use of exit exams until at least 2017, citing concerns about students with disabilities, among other issues.
In a move that seemed almost unthinkable before a change in leadership at the House of Representatives, Rhode Island lawmakers have suspended the use of standardized test scores as part of a high school diploma until at least 2017. Lawmakers have also approved legislation that limits the frequency of teacher evaluations for most teachers.
The General Assembly is expected to wrap up the session today, with two key education issues still under discussion.
House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello has indicated he may bring a vote on a move to stop the use of standardized testing as a requirement for high school graduation. The measure was considered dead in the water under former House Speaker Gordon Fox, but Mattiello says he is concerned about the impact of the testing requirement on students with special needs. One compromise could involve suspending the testing rule for students with special needs.
The State Department of Education says roughly 95 percent of this year's high school seniors have met a controversial new graduation requirement involving test scores. Nearly 500 students met the requirement by getting a waiver from their school districts.
Most high schools have already held graduations, but RIDE says it does not have a final number for how many students were prevented from receiving diplomas because of the testing requirement. Education Commissioner Deborah Gist told RIPR students can still appeal graduation decisions.
Rhode Island's Board of Education has selected former Louisiana Commissioner of Higher Education Jim Purcell to lead the state's college system.
The board voted unanimously at its Monday meeting to appoint Purcell as the new commissioner of higher education. Details of his contract remain under negotiation, but Purcell is expected to earn between $135,000 and $175,000, which is considerably less than his $275,000 contract in Louisiana.
Schools in Rhode Island spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year on special education, a broad category that includes physical and learning disabilities, emotional problems and autism.
Right now, the students needing the most attention are often sent to special schools, but a growing program from Bradley Hospital shows promise in reducing the cost of special education by keeping more students in their own school districts, in their own schools.
The Rhode Island Senate has passed a measure aimed at easing the cost of the high school equivalency test known as the G.E.D.
The bill directs the State Board of Education to consider alternatives to the G.E.D. for students looking to earn a high school equivalency. It also calls for the reinstatement of a fee waiver for low income residents taking the G.E.D.
The testing company that administers the G.E.D. recently introduced a more difficult test and raised its rates to $120.