Gist Declines Debate with Students

May 28, 2013

Rhode Island Education Commissioner Deborah Gist has turned down a request from students for a public debate over high stakes testing. The invitation came from the Providence Student Union, a student advocacy group operating in Providence Public Schools.

The group plans to hold a protest vigil at the Department of Education with candles, dirges and other symbols of mourning. Organizers say the demonstration is meant as a “tongue in cheek display of mourning for the expected ‘death’ of Education Commissioner Gist’s reputation.”

The Providence Student Union has been pushing the state to reconsider a new graduation policy, which requires students to score a two or better on standardized state tests to earn a diploma. The students complain the policy has led to a heavy focus on test preparation in their classrooms and has a disproportionate impact on urban, low-income schools.

Providence school leaders and Mayor Angel Taveras, among others, have also voiced concerns about the testing requirement.

State officials defend the policy, saying students will have several opportunities to show improvement in their test scores. They also argue that students in Rhode Island high schools should be able to demonstrate basic skills in math and English before they are allowed to graduate.