School officials say they plan to keep up their efforts to help high school students improve their test scores, even if the test scores won’t count towards a high school diploma.
A signature from Governor Lincoln Chafee is the last thing standing between students and a bill that would delay the use of high school exit exams until at least 2017.
Tim Ryan, head of the Rhode Island Association of School Superintendents, says most districts will maintain the programs they added in the run up to a testing requirement that was supposed to take effect this year. Ryan believes the effort has made a difference.
“We have learned more about how to reach kids. We’ve done a better effort about finding out individual specific needs, and I think we just have to keep that process up,” Ryan said.
Rhode Island Association of School Committees Director Tim Duffy agrees that the race to meet the challenge of a test-linked diploma system has changed the culture in many schools. Some students and some districts were not taking the testing seriously until the deadline forced them to make changes.
“Money was spent,” Duffy said, although there is no current estimate for just how much money.
Both Duffy and Ryan believe this is not the end of Rhode Island’s debate over high stakes testing. Duffy points out that even without a graduation requirement, the State Department of Education can still require schools to submit plans for improving student proficiency.
Ryan points to Massachusetts, which uses exit exams and has achieved impressive results when compared to other states across the country. Ryan says Massachusetts is a model for Rhode Island to follow, although he admits superintendents are divided about whether they believe high stakes testing is the right way forward.
“We as teachers have to be accountable, districts and the kids have to be accountable,” Ryan said. “But we have to give kids a fair shake at making sure they can demonstrate that, and we haven’t fully aligned our curricula and instruction for kids to adequately demonstrate their proficiency.”
Cranston Superintendent Judith Lundsten says she plans to keep programs Cranston has instituted to help students who have fallen behind, and she adds those programs have only become more important as schools make the switch to new standards, known as the Common Core. Rhode Island is also about to begin using a new standardized test designed to match up with the Common Core.
But Lundsten remains skeptical about linking test scores to a high school diploma.
“If there is a proven test,” she said, adding of the new PARCC exam, “we haven’t seen it yet.”