Providence superintendent concerned about grad requirement

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The superintendent of Rhode Island’s largest school district said Friday she will advise school officials to automatically begin a high school graduation waiver process for students who have failed to show partial proficiency on the state’s standardized test.

Providence Schools Superintendent Dr. Susan Lusi said she expects to have a “huge list” of high school students still at risk of not graduating after the second round of testing and rather than forcing students to apply for a waiver individually, she wants administrators kick start the process.

“It’s now the very end of January,” Lusi said on a phone call with reporters. “Graduation is in June. Kids are trying to figure out what they’re going to do in the future.”

Lusi’s comment came on the same day the state reported that more than 1,800 current high school seniors remain in danger of not receiving after retaking the NECAP exam in October. The majority of 12th graders first took the test in Oct. 2012. District by district results for 12th grade students were not released.

Beginning with the class of 2014, high school seniors must score at least a 2 on the math and English portions of the NECAP in order to be eligible to graduate. Students who fail to earn a qualifying score during their junior year have the opportunity to retake the exam twice during their senior years and are eligible to use scores from other tests – such as an AP exam, the SAT or the Accuplacer – in order to meet the requirement.

Students only need to show improvement when they retake the exam, meaning they could still graduate without showing partial proficiency on the test. Gist has also recommended that school districts adopt graduation waivers for students who are accepted to a four-year college even if they do not earn a qualifying score on the NECAP.

In addition to the NECAP component of the graduation requirements, students are also required to complete course work, as well as performance assessments such as a portfolio or senior project, to prove they are qualified to receive a diploma.

Lusi said Providence has not yet made current 12th graders aware that they still do not meet the graduation requirements because they are still “cleaning the data” to make sure they know exactly which students are at risk of not receiving a diploma.

“Yes I am still concerned,” Lusi said. “While there are students that will make that threshold, we know that a significant number of 12th graders will continue to need supports.”

It remains unclear exactly how the graduation waiver process will unfold in each school district, but Lusi said it will likely involves administrators reviewing every “student profile” to look for reasons why a student should be eligible to graduate.

“When in doubt, we are going to give the benefit of the doubt to the students,” Lusi said.

When asked if she thought the state should put the testing component of the graduation requirements on hold, Lusi said she supports raising standards and “having diplomas that count,” but argued that the NECAP was not designed to be tied to a diploma. The state will transition to the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness and College and Careers (PARCC) exam next year.

She pointed out that Massachusetts implemented its testing requirement over the course of a decade while Rhode Island has only known the NECAP would be used for its graduation requirement since 2011.

“I am worried that we attempted to ‘be like Massachusetts’ by introducing stakes to a test, but we didn’t do it like Massachusetts,” Lusi said.

Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Twitter: @danmcgowan

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