Students to Gist: We’re Sorry

May 30, 2013

Members of the student advocacy group Providence Student Union have issued an apology to Rhode Island Education Commissioner Deborah Gist for making comments about her reputation. The students said they regretted the tone of a press release that said they planned to mourn the “expected ‘death’ of Commissioner Gist’s reputation.”

The comments came after Gist refused the group’s invitation of a public debate about the state’s use of standardized test scores. The Providence Student Union called it a mistake to make the issue personal.

“The Providence Student Union is all about education and learning experiences for members,” the group’s organizers wrote to Gist, adding, “we are taking this as a lesson for the right way to go about advocacy. We want to take responsibility for this mistake, and apologize.”

Gist met with the students in mid-May to discuss their concerns, although she turned down their request for a public debate. In an email following that meeting, Gist told the students she shared their distaste for classes that focus on test preparation. 

“Though we disagree on the significance and use of standardized assessments, we do agree that worksheet overload and uninspired test preparation is not the most effective way to advance student knowledge and skills in mathematics, or in any subject,” Gist wrote.

The State Department of Education provided Rhode Island Public Radio with the full text of the email Gist sent to the Providence Student Union. She went on to tell the students she did not believe it would be useful to publicly debate a state policy adding standardized test scores as a requirement for a high school diploma. 

“The Board of Regents approved the Diploma System and the graduation requirements in 2008, and again in their current form in 2011, following a process of extensive public debate and a series of public hearings,” Gist wrote. “The Diploma System has been in place now for several years, and a debate on its merits would serve no public purpose at this time.”