PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island is considering new “readiness-based” requirements for students to graduate high school, in an effort to ensure students who earn a diploma also meet the admission requirements for Rhode Island’s public colleges.

The R.I. Department of Education has focused on the admissions requirements at the University of Rhode Island and Rhode Island College when crafting the new graduation rules. (The Community College of Rhode Island has open admission.) But state officials also looked at the requirements at about a dozen other colleges and universities most commonly attended by Rhode Island graduates.

The draft proposal passed the R.I. Council on Elementary and Secondary Education in February, but can still be changed following a public comment process that kicks off this month.

You can read the full regulation online. Here are some key things to know:

Math and science get more specific

High school students will still have to take four English, four math, three science and three history/social studies classes under this plan, but some of those core classes get more specific in order to line up with requirements to get into local colleges. The new proposal would require students to take Algebra I, Algebra II and geometry, and at least two of the science classes would need to be lab sciences.

Two world language, one more college prep class

One of the more significant changes is that all students would need to take two world language classes (in the same language) in order to graduate, which is not currently required. The requirement lines up with admission requirements at URI and RIC, but leaves school administrators worried about staffing the classes amid a teacher shortage.

“It’s difficult enough to find world language teachers,” noted Bob Littlefield, executive director of the Rhode Island Association of School Principals.

“We hear that concern and we are actively working with our higher education institutions and the Office of the Postsecondary Commissioner to address the issue,” said Victor Morente, a spokesperson for RIDE. “It’s deeply important that we find a solution that prepares our students to go to college if they choose to, and both Rhode Island College and the University of Rhode Island require that incoming students have credits in world language.”

The new regulations would also require one additional “college prep” class, would could be a third year of world language or another English, math, science or social studies course outside of the baseline requirements.

The number of unspecified credits shrinks

The current requirements only specify what 14 out of the 20 required courses have to be, leaving six to be used for a variety of options including world language, computer science, physical education, arts and health. With the new world language and college prep requirement (above), that leaves just three required credits left unassigned by the state.

The R.I. Music Education Association has raised concerns about this, pointing out it could be more difficult for students to fit arts courses into their schedules amid the new mandated classes. More than 2,500 people have signed a petition asking that a mandatory arts credit be added to the plan.

“There is a tendency by school leaders to view the arts as not important enough to include in local regulations in the same way as other academic subjects, clearly evidenced in the secondary school requirements,” said Patricia Kammerer, co-chair of the music education group R.I.  “PreK-12 education must include a comprehensive, standards-based arts education for every child in every school. Our students deserve nothing less.”

Most students take more than the minimum 20 credits, and districts can set their own additional course requirements beyond what the state requires including in the arts.

Civics, computer science and financial literacy

The new graduation requirements will require students to demonstrate proficiency in computer science, civics and financial literacy, the latter two of which are required by recent state laws. These don’t all have to be standalone courses — civics could be included in an existing social studies class, for example — but the mandates leave administrators concerned that students will have to forgo electives they’re passionate about in order to fit a financial literacy or computer science class into their schedule.

“We fear this will diminish the invaluable incentive to attend school regularly that visual and performing arts provide for our students,” Littlefield wrote in a letter to the K-12 Council.

Morente said financial literacy proficiency could be met “through a course requirement or through the completion of projects.”

Current 7th-graders would be the first class impacted

In response to concerns from administrators, RIDE has already pushed the new graduation requirements from the graduating class of 2026 to the class of 2027 (meaning students who are currently in 7th grade). But there are still concerns about districts implementing the requirements in time for those fall 2023 freshmen, especially if new teachers need to be hired and school budgets need to be reworked.

“I think the biggest concern that we have is there’s not any money attached to any of these new initiatives,” said Tim Duffy, the executive director of the R.I. Association of School Committees.

Some changes to local control

The plan renames the 20 required “courses” as “credits,” which appears to allow more flexibility at the district and school level. Credits are “not bound to seat time or instructional minute requirements,” according to the new plan, and principals could create “flex credits” that combine multiple subject areas to meet the new credit requirements.

The regulations would remove the option for districts to require that students pass the RICAS (or another standardized test) in order to graduate.

A slide shown to the R.I. Council on Elementary and Secondary Education comparing the current graduation requirements, proposed requirements and admission requirements at URI and RIC.

There is still time for the proposal to be changed before it’s expected to be finalized in the spring, according to RIDE, which is why input is being sought from the public for the next two months.

The Education Department is also working on fine-tuning some issues, including how the world language requirement would interact with students learning English as a Second Language, also known as multilingual learners.

“Multilingual learners would have to meet this requirement,” Morente said. “We are working with our state’s public higher education institutions and the Office of the Postsecondary Commissioner to come up with creative solutions, including competency-based approaches,  to ensure that the language skills of our MLLs in recognized and valued in the college admission process.”

People who want to weigh in on the new requirements can attend one of seven hearings starting on March 22, or can submit written comments to Olivia Smith at Olivia.Smith@RIDE.RI.Gov until May 3.

Hearing Dates and Locations:

  • March 22, 4 to 6 p.m. at CCRI Knight Campus in Warwick, 400 East Ave, Warwick, RI 02886 or register HERE to access the virtual (Zoom) meeting link. 
  • March 31, 4 to 6 p.m. at Kingston Free Library (Potter Hall), 2605 Kingstown Rd, Kingston, RI 02881  
  • April 4, 4 to 6 p.m. at Woonsocket Public Library, 303 Clinton St, Woonsocket, RI 02895  
  • April 6, 4 to 6 p.m. at Rogers Public Library in Bristol, 525 Hope St, Bristol, RI 02809  
  • April 12, 4 to 6 p.m. at Providence Public Library, 150 Empire St, Providence, RI 02903  
  • April 14, 4 to 6 p.m. at Adams Public Library in Central Falls, 205 Central St, Central Falls, RI 02863  
  • April 26, 4 to 6 p.m. at Newport Public Library (Program Room), 300 Spring St, Newport, RI 02840 

Steph Machado (smachado@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter covering Providence, politics and more for 12 News. Connect with her on Twitter and on Facebook.