Written by Bob Houghtaling.
While Jean Ann Guiliano says it in more eloquent terms, the Rhode Island Department of Education’s continued advocacy for standardized testing as a graduation policy is far more than a well-intended mistake. I sincerely believe that politics, money, stubbornness, perpetual motion, elitism and a failure to recognize learning styles also play major roles.
It has been detailed over and over again just how unfair the present graduation requirements are for English language learners, kids with special needs and young people with socio-economic disadvantages. Still, the requirements persist (now with a one-year respite for teachers only). It has also been detailed that the NECAPs were never intended to be used in the present fashion. Still, the Department of Education cannot be swayed.
If fairness, common sense, the opinions of those who create such tests as the NECAP and significant public input cannot stem the tide of testing what on earth will? The Department of Education is filled with very bright people. The Board of Education also has members with outstanding backgrounds. What’s up? Why are these folks hanging on to measures that do more damage than good?
There is much invested in the NECAPs. Some of it is financial. Some of it is ego. Some of it is detachment from those most negatively impacted. This boils down to (again) politics, stubbornness, perpetual motion, elitism and not recognizing learning styles. Let us face facts – Race To The Top dollars are involved. Reputations are involved as well. Folks who have advocated for these measures over the last few years are in it for the long haul. It will be difficult for them to acknowledge being wrong.
So, now it is face-saving time. Let us delay the NECAP graduation requirement for a year. Unfortunately, despite a few modifications, not much else appears to have changed. Business as usual it seems.
At a time when we recognize Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights movement, perhaps we might want to consider just how unfair the NECAP requirements are. Look at who is most negatively impacted. Consider what not graduating from high school means to a young person. It seems as though those in power struggle to hear the voices of the many calling out for understanding. We are not talking about differences of opinion here. What we are talking about is different views of the world.
We need to listen to the Providence Student Union. We should be paying more attention to Tina Egan. While a battle of words, philosophies and will takes place, real human beings are impacted by the outcome. For some contestants it appears as though their strive to be right supersedes doing the right thing. Can anyone say "pyrrhic victory"? Is this worth "racing" for?
Those who call for accountability are justified in doing so. Those who call for the best education possible are equally justified. An overreliance on testing merely hints at accountability and quality. True measures must include critical thinking, applicability, growth, respect for learning, different styles and fairness. Used in the present fashion, standardized tests are a lazy and ineffective means of determining progress. They should not be used to keep kids from graduating.
Jean Ann Guliano summed things up best when she wrote, “Perhaps it is teachers, parents and students that need to stand shoulder-to-shoulder and demand more from our education system.” In March of this year I suggested that a boycott of the NECAPs might send a powerful message. I called this movement "Bring a book for the NECAPs." Having test takers read a favorite book would replace their using a Number 2 pencil. A great lesson in civics; a powerful message concerning what constitutes education. Perhaps such a measure would get the attention of those who need to hear it. A dysfunction in motion will remain in motion unless impeded by an outside force.