State House Speaker Nick Mattiello discusses use of the NECAP standardized test as a graduation requirement with Molly Coffey, left, and her mother, Terry Coffey, in his office on June 20, 2014. Molly fell two points shy of the math NECAP requirement and was denied a diploma from Barrington High School. In chairs against the wall were, from left, James Guilano (Class of 2015), Bob Houghtaling, and Jean Ann Guliano. Credit: General Assembly
For years, teachers, school administrators and, eventually, members of the Class of 2014 were aware of the role the NECAP standardized test would play in graduation. The state had made achieving “partial proficiency” a graduation requirement that went into effect this year, which prompted protests from parents and some educators.
But the General Assembly passed a bill June 20 postponing the high-stakes test graduation requirement to 2017 and last week Governor Lincoln Chafee let the bill pass into law without his signature.
The bill postpones using the NECAP (the New England Common Assessment Program) as a high school graduation requirement until 2017, when a new test will be introduced for high school students, effectively closing the door on the NECAP as a graduation requirement.
For some in East Greenwich, the news was more than welcome – it was a validation of the work they had done to raise up what they said were flaws in using the NECAP for graduation.
“I truly believe this is a great victory for students, families and local communities – and for fairness,” said Jean Ann Guilano, former School Committee chairwoman and a parent of a child with autism who is a member of the Class of 2015. “I opposed the policy from the start because it did not provide adequate safety nets for students with disabilities.”
Guilano and another parent, Tina Egan, whose daughter did graduate in June after finally achieving partial proficiency on the NECAPs, had been vocal opponents to the use of the NECAP. Egan brought suit in August 2013 against the state Department of Education to stop the NECAP graduation requirement.
Another EG resident who believed using the NECAP for graduation was wrong was Susan Lusi, superintendent of Providence public schools, who spoke out against the policy in March. By then, East Greenwich had fewer than five students at risk of not graduating in June because of the policy, whereas Providence had 605 students.
The EG School Committee endorsed the use of the NECAP graduation requirement.
For Guliano, the policy was a political move that hurt children.
“Those of us who opposed the policy could not stand by and let our most vulnerable students – those with disabilities, limited English or limited economic means – suffer in a political struggle over accountability,” she said. While she is grateful for the postponement, Guliano said Monday the fight is not over.
“The Common Core and PARCC assessments will bring a completely new set of challenges with regard to the use of standardized testing in our schools,” she said, referring to curriculum changes (the Common Core) and the NECAP replacement tests (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers).
“Parents need to be aware of how testing is affecting their children – particularly students in the elementary grades.”
In a statement released last week, Education Commissioner Deborah Gist said, “We will remain constant in our commitment to setting high expectations for students and to providing students with the instruction, support, and resources they need to meet these expectations.”