Gov. Raimondo ‘open’ to using SAT as high school exit exam

Photo by Dan McGowan/WPRI 12

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo said she is open to eventually using the SAT as an exit exam for high school students, but indicated she wants to ensure kids aren’t over-tested each year.

In a wide-ranging interview on Rhode Island’s schools, Raimondo said the widely used college admissions exam is “a better test than it used to be” because it is aligned to the Common Core State Standards, a nationally recognized set of expectations for what students should learn at each grade level.

“There is a chance. I’m open to that,” Raimondo said. “And I know that [Education Commissioner Ken Wagner] is open to that. We’re looking at it.”

High school students across the state will have the opportunity to take the PSAT and SATs for free for the first time this school year as part of Raimondo’s plan to raise participation rates on the exam. While the tests have not been made mandatory at this point, the state has decided to allow students to take them in school rather than on the weekend.

At the same time, the state Board of Education is currently mulling a proposal that would recognize students who reach certain scores on an array of standardized exams, but would stop short of tying a high school diploma directly to the results of a test. That plan, along with a separate proposal to reward students who excel in a specific subject in the classroom, would be in place for the class of 2021.

“I feel very strongly we have to keep our standards high,” Raimondo said. “The world has high standards. To get a job, you have to have high standards and every kid deserves a chance.”

Raimondo, a first-term Democrat, has made education a central theme of her second year in office, part of a broader goal to bring jobs to the state. In addition to offering free PSAT and SAT exams, she touts universal all-day kindergarten, expanded pre-K classrooms and a plan to require every school in Rhode Island to offer computer science courses as her top education accomplishments since taking office.

The state is also allowing more high school students to earn college credits for free and enhancing career and technical education programs, Raimondo said.

The governor said she regularly hears from business owners who say they enjoy Rhode Island, but they’re concerned the state doesn’t yet have enough workers with the skills they’re looking for. She points to Massachusetts as a state that has invested in education and is reaping the rewards.

“The pressure’s on us,” Raimondo said. “I feel the pressure is on us to deliver the pipeline of skilled employees.”

Raimondo said she is also excited about Commissioner Wagner’s plan to create “empowerment schools” across the state, an initiative designed to give individual schools more autonomy. The initial proposal would have allowed schools to accept students from outside their district, but that was scrapped by the General Assembly.

The current school year will be a planning and design year for the program, but Wagner has said he hopes a handful of schools will seek to become empowerment schools by next year. (Teachers in individual schools must vote to become an empowerment school.)

“We want every principal in every school to feel like to own their school and to feel that they’re going to come up with special programs,” Raimondo said.

Still, Raimondo acknowledges she remains concerned about student outcomes, particularly on the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exam. Scores released last week showed only 38% of students statewide were proficient in English language arts (ELA) and 30% were proficient in math.

Raimondo said “it’s just not fair” that students in Seekonk, Massachusetts, vastly outperform students in neighboring East Providence, but she’s confident her initiatives can give Rhode Island students a boost.

“It is good for the economy, but it’s right for those kids,” Raimondo said.

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

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