Powerful teachers’ union wants to end NECAP

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Rhode Island’s largest teachers’ union is calling for the “immediate end to the use of the NECAP testing” for the state’s high school graduation requirements.

The National Education Association Rhode Island voted unanimously last week to publicly oppose the standardized test that has been administered by the state for the past nine years. The union also called for a moratorium on the use of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, a new test that students across state will begin taking next year.

“Now that [the Rhode Island Department of Education] has given the test three times, offered 10 alternative tests, and created a waiver system, it is quite clear that NECAP has lost any real educational purpose,” Larry Purtill, president of NEARI, said in a statement. “At what cost, both to students and taxpayers, have we instituted such relentless testing?”

In addition, the union is calling for a “thoughtful, collaborative approach to the development of curriculum to meet Common Core State Standards,” a set of uniform academic standards that has been adopted by 45 states.

The teachers’ union isn’t the only group that hopes to halt standardized testing as a graduation policy.

Students, politicians and activists have been calling for changes to the state’s graduation requirements since last year when test results showed that 40% of the class of 2014 was at risk of not graduating based on their performance on the NECAP.

All told, more than 1,800 students who did not reach the requirement last year and are still enrolled in school remain at risk of not graduating after retaking the exam in October, according to the Rhode Island Department of Education. Those students were also allowed to take a shortened version of the NECAP within the past month.

Current state policy requires students to score at least a 2 (of 4) on the math and English sections of the NECAP in order to be eligible for a diploma. Those who fail to earn a qualifying score during their junior year have the opportunity to retake the exam twice during their senior year and are eligible to take several alternate tests 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. Education Commissioner Deborah Gist has also recommended that school districts adopt graduation waiver policies for students who are accepted to a four-year college even if they do not earn a qualifying score on the NECAP.

In order be eligible for a diploma, students are also required to complete course work and submit a senior project or portfolio, but the NECAP component of the graduation requirements is considered the most controversial.

Earlier this month, four of the five major Democratic and Republican candidates for governor all called for the state to put a hold on the NECAP requirement. Only Republican businessman Ken Block supports tying the test to graduation.

As it stands now, the test will be used as a high school graduation requirement through the class of 2016.

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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