The ACLU of Rhode Island today filed an open meetings lawsuit against the R.I. Board of Education over its plans later this month to meet in a private retreat, closed to the public and the media, in order to hear from invited “experts” on the issue of its “high stakes testing” requirement for high school seniors. The ACLU argues that allowing such a private meeting would significantly undermine the open meetings law’s purpose.
The lawsuit, filed in R.I. Superior Court by ACLU volunteer attorneys Miriam Weizenbaum and Amato DeLuca, argues that the planned retreat is clearly a “meeting” under the Open Meetings Act and therefore must be open to the public. The suit seeks a court order barring the Board from holding the retreat unless it is open to the public.
In questioning the Board’s plans to discuss the issue “in a closed meeting outside all public view,” the lawsuit cites the “extraordinary public attention” the high stakes testing issue has received in recent months. The Board of Education has been in existence for over seven months, and while members of the public have insistently called for an examination of the testing issue throughout that period, the scheduled retreat is the first time it has been placed on the Board’s agenda.
As a result of the high stakes testing requirement, which is scheduled to take effect in 2014, approximately 4,000 students face the risk of not graduating next year because of their scores on the current test, known as the NECAP.
This is the second time in less than two weeks that the ACLU has sued the Board over the way it is addressing its controversial “high stakes testing” requirement. Last week’s suit was filed under another state law, the Administrative Procedures Act, and challenges the Board’s failure to properly respond to a formal petition signed by 17 organizations seeking repeal of the regulations mandating high stakes testing. That suit argues that the Board had a statutory obligation, which it ignored, to consider the petition and either reject it or initiate a formal rule-making process to consider its adoption.
In response to that petition, Chair Eva-Marie Mancuso indicated that the Board would be holding a retreat on August 24 and 25, at which it would be receiving “from RIDE staff members and from national experts an in-depth informational briefing on the relationship between large-scale assessments and graduation requirements.” News stories since then have indicated the Board’s plans to hold that retreat in private, prompting today’s legal action.
The three plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Christine Egan, the parent of an East Greenwich high school student; Edward Benson, a member of the Coalition to Defend Public Education, a group which has been lobbying against the testing requirement; and Rick Richards, a former employee in the Department of Education’s office of testing and outspoken critic of the NECAP.
Numerous questions have been raised about the validity of the NECAP test as a high stakes testing tool. When the NECAP was introduced in Rhode Island, the Department of Education specifically acknowledged that it should not be used for making graduation decisions. A comprehensive 2011 study by the National Research Council concluded more generally that “high school exit exam programs, as currently implemented in the United States, decrease the rate of high school graduation without increasing achievement.”
Last month, the General Assembly entered the fray by approving a resolution calling on the Board to delay implementation of the high stakes testing requirement. Providence Mayor Angel Taveras made a similar request a month earlier.
The ACLU hopes to have a court hearing sometime next week on its request for a restraining order.