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8/7/2014 Amore, Satchell: High-stakes testing moratorium achieved its goals, will serve education better in long-run
STATE HOUSE – In response to an article entitled, “Moratorium on NECAP found to have little impact,” in Wednesday’s Providence Journal, Rep. Gregg Amore (D-Dist. 65, East Providence) and Sen. Adam J. Satchell (D-Dist. 9, West Warwick) said today they are deeply concerned about some of the misleading comments that were made regarding the General Assembly’s passage of the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) moratorium.
“The rhetoric featured in The Providence Journal this week regarding the moratorium is highly disconcerting to me. Not only were those comments unprofessional and insulting to the educators who work hard to engage our students every day, but they aren’t rooted in fact,” Representative Amore said. “This article did not include the number of students who had already dropped out due to the RIDE policy, among other factors. But I would like to remain focused on the issue, and that is that we need a system where we really are elevating the learning and support of our students.

“The bill the General Assembly overwhelmingly passed continues to focus on student support and it places a moratorium on high stakes testing until there is definitive evidence that the testing is valid, the standards are aligned to the testing and that students and teachers are fully supported.  There should be no mystery as to whether or not the test has been designed to effectively gauge student achievement. Passing the moratorium bill was about putting the brakes on bad policy and giving our teachers time to prepare to effectively implement a new set of standards. As I have repeated many times before, no one is saying we are permanently doing away with high-stakes testing – this is the type of issue that warrants a long, thorough study. We all want students to succeed.”

Senator Satchell, who sponsored the moratorium legislation in the Senate, said the new law moves far beyond the students who received diplomas through a hasty and increasingly inconsistent waiver process.

“I was surprised by Chair Mancuso’s comments in The Providence Journal this week,” Senator Satchell said. “She conveniently declines to mention the large number of waivers that would have been given to students to help them graduate.  These waivers were only introduced because the NECAP graduation requirement was fraught with issues in the first place. Are those students who would have graduated because of waivers technically proficient and ready to move on to bigger and better things? Are the tests used in the waiver process really measuring if students are ready to graduate?  It’s difficult to discern that now and I have repeatedly asked to see those numbers and not been privy to the information. It’s also surprising to me that members of the Board of Education have chosen to take a defensive position after all we have been through. It’s time for the Board and RIDE to start listening to and including all the stakeholders involved so we can move forward and ensure that our students are getting the education that they deserve and the education that will make them ready for life, post-graduation.”

Representative Amore added, “The waiver policies, in essence, bring the system back to the Proficiency-Based Graduation policy (PBGR), which existed before Commissioner Gist arrived. The PBGR took into consideration classroom performance, end-of-course exams, student portfolios and senior projects with a mandate that the NECAP be used as a diagnostic tool to guide instruction and curriculum decisions. This policy produced consistent improvement in student outcomes and test scores.” Representative Amore, who sponsored the House moratorium legislation, said he worries the state and districts wasted countless hours and money on testing, re-testing and remediation in order for students to gain a few extra points on a test that does not predict future academic or workplace success.

“The only goal the NECAP graduation requirement managed to achieve,” he said, “is putting valuable student electives in the bargain bin, suffocating what’s left of engaging teacher techniques in the classroom and distracting us from real reform that addresses the underlying problems inherent in our urban and urban ring school districts. The statistics from the article imply victory for no one and a focus on the number of students who were affected, which seems now to be in question, misses the bigger point entirely.  What we are looking for is a way to improve our education system without destroying what we have already built. It is difficult to believe that Chairwoman Mancuso has actually had conversations with the professionals in the classrooms around the state who have consistently questioned the wisdom of the policy.”

Senator Satchell pointed out that RIDE’s high-stakes testing policy was especially brutal on urban schools, students with disabilities, and English Language Learners. He doesn’t feel that a plan was in place to fully address those issues.

“Everyone wants higher graduation rates, but using waivers to inflate those numbers shouldn’t be our way of saying that the system is working” Senator Satchell said. “We all have a shared goal. We want to see high standards.  In order to do that, we need to make sure that students, parents and teachers know about what the graduation requirements are and what will be done for a student that is not achieving proficiency. We also need to make sure that we are including everyone in the process. RIDE and the Board were not listening to the concerns of parents, teachers, students or the General Assembly; nor were they properly addressing the numerous concerns surrounding the use of NECAP as a graduation requirement. These issues have been going on for years, this isn’t something that popped up on the last day of session.”

“What is perhaps most disturbing is that while concentrating on the NECAP and remediation for students to pass that test, districts may not have been giving the attention necessary to fully implement curriculum based on the Common Core Standards and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) this coming school year.  Another issue is that many districts don’t have the capacity to deliver the PARCC test via computer and online, as it is designed to be taken,” said Senator Satchell.  “People need to know this bill wasn’t passed to get rid of the NECAP or standardized testing for that matter.  The true intention of this moratorium is to use the data from the first few PARCC examinations to design district-wide and individual remediation to help students reach proficiency and we need make sure that they are getting the help they need before their junior year of high school.  We also need to make sure that our students, parents and teachers have everything they need to be successful before we attach high stakes to the PARCC or any other future assessment.” 

For more information, contact:
Brenna McCabe, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903
(401) 222-2457