Rhode Island Education Commissioner Deborah Gist plans to deliver her annual State of Education address Thursday at the Statehouse. The speech comes just hours before the state is slated to release the latest round of standardized test scores, which are due out Friday morning.
The scores on the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) have special significance this year because for the first time they are tied to a high school diploma. Roughly 4,000 high school seniors had to retake the test and will find out whether they did well enough to graduate. All of this year’s high school juniors will also find out whether they scored high enough to avoid a re-take.
A group of students protested the testing graduation requirement Wednesday at the statehouse, arriving dressed as lab rats and guinea pigs. The students say they feel the state is using them for an experiment in education policy.
State officials have been defending the test-based graduation requirement, arguing that students have several opportunities to show improvement or submit alternative tests. The goal of the policy, according to State Education Commissioner Gist, is to make sure schools are working harder to give students the skills they need in mathematics, reading and writing.
Gist has advised school districts that they can waive the testing requirement for students accepted at competitive colleges. But the move failed to mollify opponents of the high stakes testing policy, who say the waiver proves there are flaws in the requirement and is unfair to students planning to attend community college or go straight into the workplace.
The State Board of Education has so far backed the test-linked portion of the state’s diploma system, although some of it's members oppose the policy. The board has scheduled a special session to discuss NECAP results on Friday.