High-Stakes Testing May Mean Some EG Students Won't Get Diplomas
For the Class of 2014, a score of 2 (out of 4) is required on the reading and math NECAP tests, regardless of GPA and other work; some parents are frustrated.
The Class of 2014 – this year's juniors – must meet four requirements to graduate: they must have enough credits, they must pass their comprehensive course assessments, they must complete a senior project, and they must score at least a 2 on the reading and math NECAP tests.
That fourth requirement is giving high schools and some students and parents quite a hurdle to overcome now that the NECAP scores for the Class of 2014 have been released.
While East Greenwich may be one of the highest performing districts in the state when it comes to results from NECAP tests taken in October, there are 14 juniors who scored 1 on the math NECAP and 3 who scored 1 on the reading NECAP, according to EGHS Principal Michael Podraza.
That's where "high stakes" comes into play. Without a 2 (or marked improvement), those students will not be walking across the stage come June 2014. The School Committee will be taking up the issue at their meeting tonight at Cole at 7 p.m.
Those students who didn't score a 2 will take the test again next October, in their senior year, after having received some extra math and/or reading help. This time, students must either earn a 2, or they must show "statistical improvement," according to state Education Commissioner Deborah Gist.
If a student fails to do that on the second test, the student will have one more opportunity to take the test in February of senior year.
All of this is accompanied by lots of additional help, officials said. Each district is designing their support differently. In East Greenwich, the high school gained a half-time math teacher this year, and added "math lab" to its course offerings, an elective course meant to supplement math instruction for those students who have done poorly on the NECAPs or are considered at risk to do poorly on them.
"We do targeted interventions and work on the areas that are of greatest concern and that will help that student ultimately achieve that 2 or achieve that statistically significant growth," said EGHS Principal Michael Podraza.
Podraza acknowledged this puts a lot of pressure on the student and the school, but added, "It’s very difficult to argue against a minimum level of proficiency."
But he added, "At the same time, if I had my preference, it would be that some of those things that we do so well – the local assessments, the senior projects, the courses that you’ve taken – those are things that I could weigh, that students could do three of the four. That’s not the reality."
Some parents are chaffing against that reality.
"I really applaud RIDE for what they’re doing for trying to raise us all up," said a parent of a junior with a developmental disability who scored 1s on both math and reading. But, she added, "I don't think they thought it through for the 2014 kids."
According to the parent, who asked to remain anonymous, her daughter receives A's, B's, and C's in her classes and will be completing a senior project.
"But she has a learning disability and she just can’t make it through a standardized math test," said the mom. "She can do a lot of math. And we’re all about it. She loves the challenge."
But, she said, "asking her to get that score on NECAP is like asking me to tightrope between two buildings."
Gist countered, "Why are we determining, more than a year in advance, what our students are capable of going?"
For the parent, however, the question was, at what cost? How much of her daughter's regular high school life will have to be altered to make room for all the additional instruction.
The parent takes pains to say the burden is not just on students like her daughter, but rather on the system as a whole. "I feel the EG schools have done a magnificent job, and it’s unfair to them too."
Jean Ann Guliano, former School Committee chair as well as a parent, said her frustration was that the NECAP tests were never meant to be a graduation benchmark.
She referred to a 2010 statement from Measured Progress, the company that created the NECAP: "No testing expert, company, or user manual has ever failed to warn consumers that major decisions should not be based on the results of a single test."
Supt. Victor Mercurio agreed that the NECAP was not designed as a graduation test, as opposed to the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS), which was developed specifically as a graduation-requirement test.
The big question for Mercurio is about how to judge a student's improvement. If a student taking the test for the second time again fails to score a 2, that student could use the test for graduation if he showed growth.
"So the question is, how much is good enough when it comes to growth? What does that look like?" Mercurio said.
According to Gist, it would be “any growth that’s not by random chance – any growth at all that’s meaningful."
She said specific score targets are available now for every child but did not explain exactly how each target was calculated.
"The goal score will vary," she said via Twitter Monday night, "however, the calculation of growth is the same."
If the NECAP needs to be taken a third time, Gist said, the hardest questions would be culled from the test, with the idea of making it less intimidating. "But it doesn’t mean that it’s easier for them to get the score that they need to graduate."
When asked why that version of the test wasn't used for the second go-around, Gist said, "The range of why those students didn’t score a 2 varies really wildly – everything from they did their very best and they didn’t do very well, to they got really nervous and they didn’t do very well, to they just flat out didn’t try because they didn’t think it counted or it mattered. So there no need for us to make that determination until we’ve at least given it a second try."
EGHS Principal Podraza remains optimistic.
"I think our students are going be able to attain the 2 or demonstrate the growth. If I wasn’t confident in their abilities, in our teachers’ abilities, with additional instruction and some targeted interventions, we wouldn’t be doing that. I would be calling for something else or asking for something else, with the budget process just going through."