Divided Board Votes Against Reconsidering Graduation Rules

Sep 10, 2013

The Rhode Island Board of Education has voted not to take up a state policy tying test scores to a high school diploma. In a 6-5 vote, the board ruled against a petition critical of the rule, which takes effect for the current senior class. The policy requires students to achieve a score of at least partially proficient on standardized state testing or improve on a retake to earn a diploma.

Several community and advocacy groups  have protested the testing policy, saying it is unfair to students with disabilities and students of color. A Providence activist group called the Providence Student Union submitted a petition asking the board to re-visit the requirement and later sued the board for failing to vote on the petition.

In response to the vote, the Providence Student Union says its members are "disappointed that the board voted against an open, transparent discussion." The group is now appealing to Governor Lincoln Chafee to join their push for reconsidering the policy.

The Rhode Island Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the lawsuit for PSU, had this response:

“Needless to say, we are extremely concerned about the Board’s vote to deny this petition. It is unconscionable that thousands of high school seniors may soon face their loss of a diploma based on an arbitrary test score, and will do so pursuant to a policy that the Board of Education itself has never directly considered.

Even worse, just weeks after being chided by a court for seeking to hold a discussion of high stakes testing in secret at a ‘private’ retreat, the Board tonight once again showed its disdain for the open meetings law by discussing this petition in complete secrecy. The public has no idea whatsoever why the Board took the action it did last night, and that is the antithesis of what the open meetings law is all about. We will be considering next steps, as this fight is far from over.”

In the past two months, the Board has been the subject of two lawsuits by the ACLU over its handling of the high stakes testing dispute. The first, referenced above, involving suing the Board when it initially planned to hold a private retreat to discuss the high stakes testing issue and other educational matters. A judge ordered that the discussion be held in public. The second suit was prompted by the Board’s failure to consider in a timely manner the petition that was the subject of last night’s vote – and that had prompted its placement on last night’s agenda. While the Board had the right to meet in private to discuss its response to the lawsuit’s claims that it violated the Administrative Procedures Act by refusing to consider the petition promptly, it had no right to discuss the merits of the petition itself in secret."