Rhode Island education commissioner wants to delay high school graduation test requirement

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PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island — The state education commissioner recommended that a required graduation test for high school seniors be delayed by another three years, making the class of 2020 the first to have to pass.

Deborah Gist on Monday urged the state Board of Education's Council on Elementary and Secondary Education to hold public hearings on her plan to delay the testing requirement from 2017 to 2020. Gov. Lincoln Chafee said Tuesday he supports Gist's recommendation.

Gist says she has considered numerous objections to the testing requirement by school administrators, teachers, community leaders and students. She also wants to give schools and students enough time to prepare for a new standardized test the state is adopting this year and to adjust to the new Common Core academic standards.

The General Assembly had already intervened in June, passing 11th-hour legislation imposing a three-year moratorium on the use of the NECAP, or New England Common Assessment Program, or any so-called "high stakes" test as a graduation requirement until at least 2017. Last school year's seniors were the first that were supposed to meet the requirement.

Opposition to the use of the NECAP — the test that's being replaced — to earn a diploma was fierce. Critics said students who are poor, have special needs or are learning English as a second language would be disproportionately affected by the requirement because they hadn't been adequately prepared to pass. Critics also said a system allowing superintendents to give students waivers was applied unfairly and inconsistently.

Gist was critical of the delay when the General Assembly passed the legislation and said she would continue to work with districts to prepare high-achieving students. The former Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education had previously delayed the requirement from 2012 to 2014.

Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said Tuesday the General Assembly "sent a clear message" to Gist.

"I am pleased she is showing a willingness to work with us and all the interested parties to ensure a brighter future for education in our state," he said in a statement.

Mattiello was initially opposed to the NECAP moratorium. He said he didn't think the delay was needed because of the range of waivers but later reconsidered after learning about a Barrington High School senior with disabilities who was denied a diploma because she didn't meet the NECAP math requirement.

Several of the gubernatorial hopefuls weighed in Tuesday. On the Democratic side, Treasurer Gina Raimondo supports taking the necessary time to effectively transition so the test won't be used as graduation requirement until 2020. Providence Mayor Angel Taveras said he agrees with the decision to further delay the use of testing because tests should be used to assess students rather than penalize them. Political newcomer Clay Pell wants to eliminate use of standardized test scores as a graduation requirement.

Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, a Republican, supports the changes planned for 2017 but said a delay could be acceptable if it would make the implementation more effective.

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