To the Editor:
As a coalition of education advocates, we are concerned by a recent letter from Steve Frias, the Rhode Island’s Republican National Committeeman (“The highest stakes: Our children’s education,” Feb. 14) advocating that Rhode Island, once again, attempt to implement the failed policy of high stakes testing, attributing Massachusetts’ success in education reform in part to such testing and in part to high educational standards.
Because our state has already adopted high standards, his assertion creates the fallacious and harmful impression that improving our state’s education system is a simple matter of adopting a high-stakes testing program – that is, requiring all students to pass a test like the RICAS to graduate. We note that the RICAS, like all standardized tests, is specifically designed so that at least some students must fail.
We object to using the RICAS, or any other test, as a graduation requirement on the ground of moral fairness: withholding diplomas from students whose schools have inadequately prepared them punishes children and youth for the shortfalls of our education system. We object more generally to blame-and-punish strategies, including high-stakes testing, on policy grounds: these approaches simply don’t work.
Indeed, the National Research Council has concluded “high-stakes exit exam programs, as currently implemented in the United States, decrease the rate of high school graduation without increasing achievement.” Moreover, such testing disproportionately fails low-income students, students of color, students with disabilities and English language learners – the very children that educational reform should be helping to overcome achievement gaps.
Instead, Rhode Island should carefully consider those steps that Massachusetts took over the past 25 years that actually do account for improvements in educational achievement. These include 1) reforming the state funding formula (doubling spending on education just between 1993 and 2003); 2) targeting spending by investing in teacher expertise (especially the ability to educate students using standards and frameworks); and 3) defining a system of intervention and accountability that was gradually activated as the impact of funding and professional development kicked in.
Mr. Frias downplays the role of increased funding in Massachusetts reform, ignoring the fact that even a few hundred additional dollars for every pupil adds up to tens of millions of dollars of annual education spending, which would represent a very significant boost to Rhode Island’s education system.
Even the current Massachusetts level of funding may be inadequate. The governor of Massachusetts recently proposed a $1 billion increase in educational funding to target gaps in educational attainment by students with barriers to learning, including poverty. Although Massachusetts already spends more per pupil than Rhode Island, it now recognizes that more funding is required to close equity gaps in student achievement.
Massachusetts committed, in law, to a long-term vision and invested heavily in practices that have known impact on student success: universal pre-kindergarten, smaller classes (especially in urban schools), and ongoing teacher and administrator professional development, to name a few. There are no “silver bullets” or “easy fixes.” Learning from what Massachusetts did, and is doing, means committing to a funding formula that 1) creates adequate resources and personnel in every school; 2) invests those resources in research-proven practices, strategies and programs similar to those Massachusetts began implementing 25 years ago; and 3) targets stubborn achievement gaps, as Massachusetts is now doing, by investing additional resources to support at-risk students.
If we do this, as did our neighboring state, we can ensure that meaningful, relevant learning takes place for every student in every class, every day, from pre-school through 12th grade, giving each student a real chance to succeed. It’s not an “easy fix” and it’s not cheap, but it’s the only proven method. We have a moral obligation to our children to use proven methods, not ineffective and punitive “quick fixes.” We must build our education policy on that imperative.
Anne Mulready, Rhode Island Disability
Nick Figueroa, College Visions
Alliance of RI Southeast Asians for Education
Zack Mezera, Providence Student Union
Sarah Suong, Providence Youth Student Movement
The EL Advisory
Veronika Kot, Esq., Rhode Island
Legal Services Inc.
Steven Brown, ACLU
of Rhode Island