PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Rhode Island has moved one step closer to tabling its controversial high school graduation requirement, but House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said Wednesday he opposes making any changes to the policy.
Mattiello’s comments came shortly before the state Senate voted 29-5 to approve a moratorium on the use of standardized testing when determining a student’s graduation eligibility until 2017, a bill that would effectively end the use of the NECAP exam for that purpose.
“The speaker doesn’t believe it is necessary to pass a NECAP bill considering the broad range of waivers available at the superintendents’ discretion,” House spokesman Larry Berman told WPRI.com.
Education Commissioner Deborah Gist and state Board of Education Chairwoman Eva-Marie Mancuso also oppose the moratorium.
Beginning with the current crop of high school seniors, students are required to score at least a 2 (of 4) on the math and English sections of the NECAP – short for New England Common Assessment Program – 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. 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.
As it stands now, 93% of the class of 2014 has either met the NECAP requirement, passed an alternate test or received a graduation waiver, according to the Rhode Island Department of Education.
But critics say any number of students deemed ineligible to receive a diploma based on the results of a standardized test is too many. Providence mayor and gubernatorial candidate Angel Taveras, Superintendent Dr. Susan Lusi and School Board President Keith Oliveira have all publicly opposed the graduation requirement. The presidents of the state’s two major teachers’ unions have also advocated for the moratorium.
Rhode Island has had a graduation policy in place for 11 years, but the testing component of the requirements has been in place since 2008.
In 2003, the board of regents approved regulations that required students to complete course work as well as performance assessments such as a portfolio or senior project and take the state’s standardized test. In 2008, the board revised its policy to require that students score at least a 2 on the math and English NECAP assessments beginning with the class of 2012.
Three years later, the board approved the state’s current graduation policy, establishing a provision that allows individual school districts to grant waivers to students who prove they should be eligible to graduate even if they haven’t improved their NECAP score. The board also moved the start date for the requirement back to the class of 2014.
Beginning next year, Rhode Island will move to the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), a standardized test that has been adopted by 17 states and Washington D.C. The PARCC won’t be used toward the state’s high school graduation policy until the class of 2017.
Mattiello’s decision to oppose the testing moratorium is a major blow for supporters of the bill, particularly considering he was among 53 House members who backed a resolution asking the Board of Education to reconsider the graduation requirement on the final day of the legislative session in 2013.
Without the speaker’s endorsement, it is unlikely the legislation will make it to the House floor for a vote.
Dan McGowan ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Twitter: @danmcgowan.