State education Commissioner Deborah Gist has decided to push back the timeline for proposed high school graduation requirements that the ACLU had argued would stigmatize 90% of at-risk students and essentially create a caste system in Rhode Island’s schools.  The decision is an important victory for the ACLU and numerous civil rights, community and advocacy groups which had been extremely critical of the proposal ever since it was raised last fall.

Under the graduation requirements that are now on hold, at least half of the class of 2012, a group disproportionately comprised of African American, Hispanic, special education, limited English proficient and economically disadvantaged students, would have been at risk of either receiving no diploma at all or one designating them only as “partially proficient,” effectively announcing their lack of proficiency to all potential employers and colleges.  Gist has delayed the date of these requirements by two years, to begin with the class of 2014.

Commissioner Gist is also withdrawing her previous plan for a three-tiered diploma system that is tied to students’ scores on a standardized test known as NECAP which the test makers acknowledged was never intended for use as a high stakes test.  Instead, she said she now favors the return to a single diploma, but that higher accolades could be attached to diplomas of honor students.

Gist states that she took the results of the three highly attended public hearings concerning the matter into consideration when coming to her decision.  Thousands of parents, students, advocates, and concerned citizens, including the ACLU, showed up to the hearings to voice their concerns over high stakes testing and the proposed three-tiered diploma system.

The ACLU will be continuing to monitor the Commissioner and Board of Regents’ actions on the issue.