Violet: Education commissioner is correct to use a testing tool

I think that Education Commissioner, Deborah Gist, is a sterling leader and a credit to the state. I am also a firm believer in tests, like the NYC Board of Regents exam, as a gauge of academic proficiency for graduation.  Commissioner Gist is right-on in requiring that students pass a credible test to show proficiency in subjects needed to earn their diplomas. Of course, underlying the award of a “sheepskin” is the conviction that the students can succeed in the world by virtue of the diploma as an attestation of academic skills. The credibility of that diploma is the Commissioner’s goal.
If the rest of society were to perceive that R.I. diplomas are the result of a gin mill, every graduate would be hurt. Further, there are numerous studies proving that a lack of basic knowledge in academics impedes success at college, so there is no value in promoting students to a future of failure. Our schools must churn out students as credible scholars and employees.
A serious question has arisen, however, as to whether the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) is the instrument to evaluate this proficiency. I think that the Commissioner has made a compelling argument as to its use as one factor in the graduation matrix.
The argument against its use is this:  Tom Sgouros on the website,, a self-described progressive web site, has argued that the NECAP was constructed to rank students and schools to ensure that a certain number of students (and schools) will flunk. Rankings inherently need to show a statistical difference so chance is not a factor. This type of test, were it true of NECAP,  is not geared toward testing proficiency per se, since a skills test can have many students passing, as opposed to a ranking where only one student or school fills a slot. Somebody is going to be at the top and somebody at the bottom in a ranking model.  The real test needed, as everyone would agree, is to evaluate students’ skills for graduation.
The Commissioner, however, made a compelling argument during the March 21 broadcast of “Lively Experiment” on channel 36 that the NECAP is, in fact, a proficiency test. Further, Commissioner Gist noted that there are other optional assessment tools on the State Education website for alternate use at the discretion of the school district, a feature that is left out of  Mr. Sgouros’ argument.
Commissioner Gist also noted that when Massachusetts implemented its testing protocol a decade ago, 32 percent of students flunked (vs. 40 percent in RI). Today, the Massachusetts students’ failure rate has been reduced to 5 percent.
After evaluating the competing claims, I side with Commissioner Gist. Teacher unions want to avoid responsibility for the results in the classroom by blaming her and blaming the NECAP. Parents can either badmouth the Commissioner—who is trying to provide Rhode Island students with an education—or demand accountability of teachers.
Money spent on education is referred to as “per pupil cost”. Talk about a con game. The money is really per teacher cost, given their entitlement contracts that have nothing to do with the education of children.  Isn’t it time to swallow the bitter pill and demand a real diploma? Commissioner Gist should not be in the crosshairs for wanting Rhode Island’s students to graduate with diplomas that are actually meaningful.


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