PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – New graduation standards that require students to show partial proficiency in math and reading on a statewide standardized test has Providence school officials scrambling to address the city's historically low test scores, according to a memo obtained by WPRI.com.
Beginning with the class of 2014, a student's diploma will be tied in part to their performance on the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) test, which is administered in the fall of their junior year. Students must achieve a "level 2" score (partial proficiency) or show substantial progress when retaking the test during the senior year.
In the 15-page document that was sent to senior school officials, Paula Shannon, the district's chief academic officer, and Dr. Marco Andrade, the department's director of research, planning and accountability, explain that 69.4% of Providence juniors failed to show proficiency on one or both portions of the test in 2011, which would leave them at risk of not graduating if the requirements were in place for this year's graduating class.
NECAP scores from 2012 are expected to be released next week.
"Students are given multiple opportunities to attain a level 2 on NECAP," the memo states. "They initially test as juniors, but have two opportunities to test against as seniors: once by taking the full length test in the fall, and again by taking a shortened version in the spring. Most students that obtain a level 1 need to correctly answer an additional 5-8 questions to achieve a level 2."
The memo goes on to explain how a summer intervention program as well as options to take alternative tests such as the SAT or AP exams could help boost graduation numbers, but the new requirements have caught the attention of Mayor Angel Taveras, who said he is concerned about using the NECAP to assess students.
"I believe in high standards and I also believe in testing, but the NECAP was never designed for this," Taveras said following his State of the City address Tuesday.
"I do have a problem deciding we're going to take a test that was not designed for this and using it for it," he said. "I do have an issue with that."
But Education Commissioner Deborah Gist said the state has been moving toward more stringent graduation regulations for a decade. She said too many graduates are unprepared for college or entering the workforce.
"I think the notion that giving a student a diploma when they're not truly ready for what's next is somehow helping them is really misguided," Gist said.
Gist's comments came following a State House press conference Wednesday where members of the Providence Student Union called on Gov. Lincoln Chafee to intervene and remove the NECAP component of the state's graduation requirements.
Gist said she has no expectation that changes will be made to the requirements.
"Our expectation is that students are at least partially proficient on tenth grade standards by the time they graduate from high school their senior year, two years later," Gist said. "So that in and of itself, being partially proficient on tenth grade standards, I think is a bar that is the bare minimum of what we should expect our students to be able to do for their own best interests."
But other officials point the finger at Gist for not providing adequate support to school districts. Providence Teachers Union Steve Smith told WPRI.com that city students are entering school behind the curve and that without addressing those problems, success on the NECAP will be difficult.
"The Department of Education is very high on accountability, but very low on support," Smith said.
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