A vote Monday at the State Board of Education may create a leadership void at a key moment for opponents of a new test-based high school graduation requirement.
Those opponents have lined up some 20 people from the state’s higher education community to testify at Monday’s meeting, but they may be overshadowed by a vote to turn State Education Board Chair Eva-Marie Mancuso into the state’s Interim Commissioner of Higher Education. Governor Lincoln Chafee announced Mancuso as his choice for the post on Friday.
State Education Board Chair Eva-Marie Mancuso says she remains firm in her support for test-based graduation requirements. Mancuso says she wants the board to study whether the standardized test known as the New England Common Assessment Program, or NECAP, is the best test to use, but she denies backing away from high-stakes testing.
"We haven't backed off from that at all," Mancuso said. "We're just looking to see if there's a measure that's better to show proficiency, other than just the NECAP."
All this month, high schools across Rhode Island are holding graduation ceremonies, and there are many students who defied the odds to get to their graduation day. One of them is 18-year-old Rosa Ramos of Providence, who just got her diploma from the Juanita Sanchez Education Complex.
The State Board of Education will reconsider a graduation requirement that says students must score partially proficient or better on a state test to get a diploma. Several advocacy groups have filed a formal petition with the board asking it to rescind the testing policy. The petition triggers a 30-day deadline for the board to respond.
The groups joining the petition include the Providence Student Union and local chapters of the ACLU and NAACP. They argue that high stakes testing is unfair, putting some 4,000 students at risk of not graduating.
The Rhode Island Department of Education is preparing for a large number of next year's senior class to fail their second attempt at meeting a new test-based graduation requirement.
According to a state contract with testing company Measured Progress, RIDE has ordered 3,500 versions of a retest for seniors. That represents a majority of the roughly 4,000 seniors who will attempt the test for a second time this fall.
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.”
Rhode Island Education Commissioner Deborah Gist urged lawmakers to pass a series of bills aimed at improving school safety in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting during her State of Education speech on Tuesday. She also urged passage of the governor’s budget which increases funding for public schools, colleges and universities.
Schools close as budgets stretch and buildings age
East Providence is closing Oldham Elementary School citing the high cost of upgrading the building. The district has faced serious deficits in the past, contributing to municipal financial woes. The Providence Journal reports that district officials Oldham would have needed an estimated $2 million in renovations to stay open. As a result of the closure, some students will be shifted to other schools.