Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Voices from Last Night's Regents' Diploma Hearing

As I mentioned yesterday, I wasn't able to be at the Rhode Island Board of Regents hearing on the proposed changes for Rhode Island's high school graduation system. I'm gratified to post a report on the evening from Aaron Regunberg. Aaron, a junior at Brown, is a force for good in politics and education. He recently worked as an organizer on Angel Taveras' campaign and is actively supporting Hope High School students as they fight to maintain the schedules and structures that allowed them favorable conditions for learning. Here's his report:
What I saw at the hearing tonight was at the same time one of the most beautiful and the most frustrating spectacles I've experienced in a long time. On the one hand, it was absolutely inspiring to see so many different Rhode Islanders come together to fight for the type of education system they believed in. The PCTA auditorium was completely packed--there were students, parents, teachers, administrators, concerned citizens, black and white and brown, all protesting with one voice. That in itself should be pretty powerful evidence; one speaker said that he had never seen such a consensus, that he was there fighting next to people he had never agreed with before. And of course, it was particularly powerful to hear so many students committed enough to their education to come out on a freezing night like tonight to speak truth to power.

But as beautiful as the protest was, it was also immensely frustrating, because I had seen it all before. This was the third such hearing, not counting the initial mass protest in Narragansett at the beginning of the month. And none of these outpourings of anger, none of the valid and rationally articulated criticism had seemed to have any effect on any of the decision-makers. I was at the Regents' work session last Thursday, and listened as the Commissioner told the Board that nothing any of these different stakeholders had been saying was valid because it was all based on a belief that minority students are not able to achieve.

This shockingly ignorant statement allows these people to dismiss all of the arguments that students, parents, and educators are making--that tying graduation to a single test is horrifying; that even if it weren't horrifying in general, the NECAP is a horrifyingly bad test to use as it was designed specifically to not be used to test individual achievement; and that creating a tiered diploma system is inequality incarnate.

That's what everyone was saying. I just don't think the Regents particularly heard.
Thanks, Aaron (and happy birthday!).

The other big news story from last night's hearing--the first, as Aaron reported, was the powerful presence of young people, parents, and concerned citizens speaking out--was Providence Public Schools Superintendent Tom Brady's statement opposing the imposition of NECAP partial proficiency as a graduation requirement. Click here for Brady's entire testimony (in PDF form); here's a part:
I would also like to address the proposed proficiency measures for high school graduation and the dire consequences for many Providence students who are currently in their junior year.  Our current graduation policy was written to comply with RIDE’s 2008 Regulations Guidance which clearly states “that districts will evaluate the results of the state assessments in those areas in conjunction with the other components of the proficiency...”  RIDE staff on more than one occasion made public comments confirming that the NECAP was only one component of this conjunctive system, and that failure to achieve partial proficiency would not result in a failure to graduate.
With this mid-stream change from what has been consistently communicated by RIDE, students in the class of 2012 are at-risk of not graduating and would be afforded limited opportunity to improve.  While we are already implementing intensive interventions and supports to continually improve student achievement, there is not sufficient time, resources and direction from RIDE to create a comprehensive, personalized support system to ensure the type of growth students will need to graduate.  Also of note, is that Rhode Island, unlike other states, can only administer its standardized assessment once per year, affording students only one “re-take.”  
The ProJo's story on the hearing, "Students say diploma plan is unfair," is here.

P.S.: So far, there's school in Providence tomorrow. No snow day (yet). As I just said to my kids as I sent them up to bed, "Sorry, kids."

P.P.S.: And now, in news just delivered in a Facebook post from Mayor Angel Taveras, no school tomorrow. Snow day. Sleep in, kids!


  1. I must say, as a Regent who attended last night's public forum, we were listening. I was. I don't understand the comment, "I just don't think the Regents particularly heard".....Again, this was a wonderful assembly of young people, educators, parents and advocates rallying around public education. I am more than "hearing" about a myriad of issues having to do with student achievement. On the way out of the forum a reporter asked me how it made me feel to see such a large crowd. I said, (quote) "This is democracy and nothing heartens me more to see the public involved in public education (as a public servant)." Just like broad brushes should not be used on students, neither should they be used on those that advocate for them. I hope we keep this discussion alive and I hope that every person who has testified on these regulations commits to helping RI reach for the Gold for all students. Respectfully, Anna Cano Morales

  2. Thanks so much for your perspective, Ms. Morales, and for your service to improving life for Rhode Island's young people. Your point that we can't know what you or your fellow Regents are thinking now about this matter is well taken. While I cannot speak for those who were there on Monday, I think that they and many more are with you, determined and committed to helping Rhode Island's students reach for the gold. We're all supporting all of Rhode Island's young people to aim for the same goal, and we're all working to create the conditions that will make that possible. It's the means, not the goal, about which many are disagreeing. This particular use of the NECAP is disruptive, not supportive. It will arrest many students' academic development and achievement, and it will disrupt the work that many parents/family members, educators, and administrators are doing to help them build their skills and use their minds well.