The forum last Wednesday night at Warwick City Hall, featuring educators, administrators and child advocates, illustrated just how emotional the use of the NECAP as a graduation requirement is for parents, students and educators.
One parent, nearly in tears, pleaded with the representative on the panel from the Rhode Island Department of Education, "What do I tell my son?" Despite what she said was his constant effort, he has not yet scored partially proficient and if he cannot by graduation in June, he will not get a diploma. (A part of their exchange is featured in the video, attached.)
Panelist Joanne Quinn, director of the Autism Project and herself a mother of a son with autism, spoke about the need for the test to better reflect what children know.
"Our kids may know the point of the story but we don't know that because of the way the question is being asked," Quinn said. "It's the question, it's not the information."
RIDE's Andrea Castaneda, the only panelist who spoke in defense of the NECAP graduation requirement, was equally passionate.
"We have to have the solution now," she said. "And it may not be the solution with which we all agree. But starting from kindergarten and having another 150,000 kids go through the system [while we're trying to figure it out], that's unacceptable."
In fall of junior year (right now for many high schools in Rhode Island), students take the reading and math NECAP tests. The test is scored one through four:
- 1 – substantially below proficient
- 2 – partially proficient
- 3 – proficient
- 4 – proficient with distinction
Students must score "partially proficient" to receive a diploma. If, as a junior, a student does not, the student and his or her parents are notified and the student is offered extra help in the spring and summer. It is optional. Those students are then re-tested in the fall and they must show "measurable growth."
If they still come up short, they can re-take the test a third time in the spring, again being offered extra help in advance, or there are 11 other tests they could take. If after that third test-taking, a student fails to achieve "measurable growth," that student could be eligible for a waiver.
"The waiver is there for the students who have mastered the content and the test doesn't show it," said Castaneda. "It is a big safety net."
Each school district is developing its own waiver system, but it must follow RIDE criteria. According to North Kingstown High School principal Tom Kenworthy, the waiver is not a silver bullet.
"I don’t think the waiver is going to apply to many students," he said last week. "It’s a very rare exception."
Tomorrow we'll hear from a parent who attended the forum who had a different frustration with the NECAP.