Assembly backs Amore bill for three-year moratorium on high-stakes testing

Rep. Gregg Amore Rep. Gregg Amore

PROVIDENCE — The General Assembly Friday evening, June 20, backed a bill sponsored in the House by East Providence Representative Gregg Amore, placing a moratorium on so-called “high-stakes testing.”

Bills (2014-S 2059Aaa, 2014-H 8363aa), sponsored by Sen. Adam J. Satchell (D-Dist. 9, West Warwick) and Rep. Amore (D-Dist. 65, East Providence), state that no standardized assessment can be used to determine a student’s ability to graduate from high school prior to the Class of 2017.

In essence, the legislation puts a quick end to the use of the New England Common Assessment Program test as a graduation requirement.

The NECAP was tied to graduation requirements for this year’s graduating class as part of the Rhode Island Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s (RIDE) efforts to boost college preparedness and raise education standards.

Next year, the state’s public schools are set to introduce the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exam, a computer-based standardized test. Sen. Satchell said there are a number of districts that do not have the technology or infrastructure to properly implement PARCC.

Friday night, Rep. Amore exchanged in a spirited debate with a couple of his colleagues as the bill came to the House floor. He has a particularly pointed conversation with pro-reform Rep. Michael Marcello (D-Dist. 41, Cranston, Scituate), who said the the NECAP has a 95 percent pass rate.

Rep. Amore challenged that figure, asking Rep. Marcello where he came up with the number. Rep. Amore, a two-decade tenured history teacher at East Providence High School, countered that assertion by claiming the 95 percent figure actually is the graduation rate of those students who actually complete four years of high school. Rep. Amore also questioned the validity of statistics on the topic produced by RIDE and Education Commissioner Deborah Gist.

Rep. Amore added the public school system in Rhode Island has made so many transformations in such a short period of time that no one – including the students – has been afforded enough time to catch up.

“When a state’s education system goes through a complete upheaval in a matter of just a few years, realistic expectations of our administrators, educators and students need to be set,” Rep. Amore said. “That’s not what happened here when RIDE implemented the high-stakes testing policy with a tool that was not intended for such a use.

“Outside of the practical implications of our legislation, I strongly believe we will improve our ability to retain our most prized education professionals and institute highly effective target remediation. When high-stakes testing finally steps back onto the scene, our students will be better prepared. Our system will never be perfect – nothing ever is. However, the past decade has been overwrought with policy changes, some of which were in direct conflict with each other. Three years of consistency will make a difference for these kids.”

Both legislators added this policy will prompt comprehensive discussions about placing more support in the classroom for English Language Learners (ELL) and other students grappling with learning disabilities, poverty and other factors that may impede a child’s ability to learn.

Upon the governor’s signature into law, the legislation would require that data obtained from standardized assessments be used to promote school improvement and create better programs to fill learning gaps for both individuals and groups of students. The commissioner of elementary and secondary education would also be required to submit an annual report disaggregating performance by race, poverty, native language and gender.

Senators Harold M. Metts (D-Dist. 6, Providence), James C. Sheehan (D-Dist. 36, North Kingstown, Narragansett), Juan M. Pichardo (D-Dist. 2, Providence) and Joshua Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Providence) cosponsor the Senate bill. Representatives William W. O’Brien (D-Dist. 54, North Providence), Kenneth A. Marshall (D-Dist. 68, Bristol, Warren), John G. Edwards (D-Dist. 70, Portsmouth, Tiverton), and Jeremiah T. O’Grady (D-Dist. 46, Lincoln, Pawtucket) serve as cosponsors of the House bill.

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