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Setting the Record Straight

Posted by: Commissioner Deborah A. Gist on 11/13/2013
This week, let’s look at another question that many people have asked about our statewide assessments and the Rhode Island Diploma System: 

Is it true that the NECAP assessments are not appropriate for use as a graduation requirement?

No. Although we use NECAP results as one way to measure growth and achievement at the state, district, and school level, the NECAP assessments are also designed for use at the individual student level. The truth is that the NECAPs are high-quality assessments that we use to help individual students in many ways, including guiding instruction, informing parents about student progress, and as part of the decision-making about placement, services, and graduation.  

Some people have expressed concern about the use of any standardized test as part of a Diploma System. I’d like to explain something about the NECAP design that speaks to this concern. Before the NECAP was designed, Rhode Island educators identified what students need to know and be able to do at each grade level in order to succeed in school and beyond. The NECAP was then designed to assess whether students have learned this critical material. 

Although some standardized assessments are simply machine-scored, fill-in-the-bubble, multiple-choice exams, the NECAP assessments also require students to respond to some questions in writing so that students can show their thinking and reasoning. During the design phase of the NECAP assessments, teams of educators review and approve each of the potential questions, and teams of trained educators also score the written responses and the mathematics problem-solving responses on each of assessments – a much more sophisticated and precise way to determine whether students have met the standards at each grade level. 

Designed on the same model (and by the same testing company) as the MCAS assessments that Massachusetts has used as a graduation requirement for more than a decade, the NECAP is an appropriate test for use as one component of our Diploma System. But for those who think, for  whatever reason, that the NECAP is the wrong assessment for Rhode Island, I have some good news! Students can take any of 10 other approved assessments to satisfy this graduation requirement. The other approved assessments are the ACCESS for English Language Learners, Accuplacer, ACT, Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, Compass, International Baccalaureate, PSAT, SAT, and SAT Subject Tests. And remember: School districts may provide waivers for students who are unable to demonstrate their true achievement level through standardized assessments.

Assessment results are one way by which we determine whether our students are ready to graduate – or whether they need more instruction and support. We must ensure that all of our graduates have the knowledge and skills they will need for success beyond high school, and the NECAP assessment helps us to do so. Our goal as a state is to increase our graduation rate while also preparing our graduates for college and for challenging careers.  

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