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Community Organizations Appeal to Governor Ahead of Board of Education’s Vote on High Stakes Testing

Posted: September 06, 2013|Category: Students' Rights

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A coalition of 15 organizations representing youth, parents, the disability community, civil rights activists, college access organizations and other constituencies delivered a letter to Governor Chafee’s office this morning, urging the Governor to speak with members of the Board of Education prior to their meeting Monday, at which the Board will vote on whether to initiate a public rule-making process over a proposal to rescind Rhode Island’s controversial new high-stakes testing graduation requirement.

“The clock is ticking, and the future of literally thousands of Rhode Island teens are hanging in the balance,” said Steven Brown, ACLU of RI Executive Director. “The new Board of Education has never had the opportunity to fully hear from the public, much less take a position on, the actions of its predecessor – the Board of Regents – in approving high stakes testing. We are hopeful that, as a principled leader who has shown his commitment to governing with careful consideration, Governor Chafee will support an official rule-making process where all members of the public can provide testimony so that the Board can consider in a deliberate manner whether to change the policy. Whatever the Governor’s position on this controversial issue, we hope he agrees it is at least worthy of a full examination. That is why we are calling on him to urge the Board of Education to do the right thing - the transparent thing - and vote on Monday for an open, public process.”

Questions about the validity of high stakes testing as a graduation requirement have been a source of great concern and debate in recent months. A long list of organizations filed a petition at the beginning of the summer requiring the Board of Education to vote on whether to initiate rule-making proceedings to amend the state’s high school graduation regulations, which currently place 4,000 students at risk of not graduating based solely on their scores on the state assessment. The organizations echoed the views of many students and teachers that, rather than educating students, the policy has led to too much time being spent teaching to the test.                                                                                                                                                                                      

RIDE has repeatedly assured worried parents that many students at risk of not graduating need not fear the testing requirement. But the signatories, like many citizens across the state, remain concerned – especially for the significant cohort of ELL and special education students who face the greatest risk of not graduating solely because of the test.

“Use of high-stakes testing has a disproportionate impact on students with disabilities and is counter to what we know works best for these students,” said Anne Mulready, supervising attorney at the RI Disability Law Center. “Governor Chafee has always demonstrated he has a place in his heart for our state’s most vulnerable students, and so - on their behalf - we are appealing to the Governor to urge the Board to vote to give this issue the public discussion it deserves.”

As Hector Perea, a member of the Providence Student Union noted, “This vote does not make the Board take a stand on high-stakes testing. It just asks the Board to start a public process where they have to, at the very least, debate the issue. We think the thousands of concerned students and parents of Rhode Island deserve at least that.”

Jean Ann Guliano, an East Greenwich parent of a child with special needs, agreed. “There needs to be some process whereby the Board can at least hear another side,” she said. “I know Governor Chafee values honest debate, and so I hope he will urge the Board to do the right thing on Monday.”

Among the groups calling on the Governor to speak up are The Autism Project, Children’s Policy Coalition, College Visions, NAACP Providence Branch, Providence Student Union, ACLU of Rhode Island, Rhode Island Disability Law Center, Rhode Island Teachers Of English Language Learners, Urban League of Rhode Island, Young Voices, and Youth in Action.

In the past two months, the Board has been the subject of two lawsuits over its handling of the high stakes testing dispute. The Board initially refused to consider the community petition in a timely manner, prompting an ACLU lawsuit that has led to its placement on Monday’s agenda. The ACLU also sued the Board when it initially planned to hold a private retreat last month to discuss the high stakes testing issue and other educational matters. A judge ordered that the discussion be held in public.

 A copy of the groups’ letter to the Governor and a list of the signatories can be found online at www.riaclu.org.

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