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Great Futures for All Rhode Island Students

This article is one in a series on the National Week of Action for Public Education. Please click here for more.

It is a concern that lawmakers across the states are continuing to hear from families and teachers: their youngest constituents are over-tested, forced into focusing heavily on high-stakes test scores at the expense of gaining high-order thinking skills, building complex reasoning abilities, and enjoying a well-rounded education.

Rhode Island is no stranger to the concerns. In fact, with a new testing graduation requirement implemented by the Rhode Island Department of Elementary and Secondary Education this year, the stakes have soared for the state's students. Specifically, the new policy ties receiving a high school diploma to performance on the controversial New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) exam, which was never intended to be a graduation requirement. As a result of the new requirement, approximately 4000 students are at risk of not graduating next year.

After hearing from Rhode Island families about the new policy, Representatives Frank Ferri, Maria Cimini, Teresa Tanzi, and Art Handy held a community forum on September 30 to discuss the concerns.

The forum featured a panel of teachers, legislators, and students, with parents, advocates, and other community stakeholders in attendance. As these forum participants entered the room, they were given the opportunity to air their concerns about the new graduation requirement on a white board:

Many of the additional concerns aired during the forum focused on equity issues, such as the new requirement's disproportionate impact on English language learners, students with special needs, and schools that serve impoverished communities. But as the community conversation continued, a consensus emerged: everyone in attendance shares the belief in the power of strong Rhode Island public schools and the commitment to making them work for every child. The question remains whether using a single exam as a make-or-break requirement to graduation will bring Rhode Island students closer to that shared goal -- an issue that the state lawmakers will continue working to resolve.