More than a Score
ENDING HIGH-STAKES TESTING IN RHODE ISLAND
How it started
Before the campaign, up to 40% of high school students in Providence were at risk of not graduating due to the system of high-stakes testing, a standardized test that students needed to pass at the end of their senior year. Students who were at risk of not graduating, including some youth leaders from PSU, knew that despite the results of their standardized tests, they had the talent and intelligence to do well in college and beyond.
They identified the NECAP, which stands for New England Common Assessment Program, as causing educational inequalities in the classroom by marginalizing students of color and low-income students. These standardized tests were not designed for students who spoke English as a second language, and they only tested a student’s competency of some subjects in school, which excluded many of the talents and skill sets Providence student posses. The students felt that their education was being restricted to only the subjects NECAP deemed necessary. So, PSU decided to tackle this issue and eliminate the high-stakes testing system.
PSU students identified several strategies that would help them win the case. The first task was to create public awareness, so people knew the issues. Second was bringing the issue to the attention of the school board through things like sit-ins and demonstrations. Since the ultimate goal was to get a bill passed, students knew the final strategy they needed to use was directly communicating with congresspeople and canvassing to encourage people to vote on a three year ban on high stakes testing.
The first step was to bring this problem to the public. PSU students worked to inform parents and neighbors in Providence about the ways in which NECAP negatively affected their students. This was a crucial step since with a wide, public audience, PSU could also attract the attention of then Chairwoman of Rhode Island Board of Education, Eva Mancuso, and then Commissioner of Education in Rhode Island, Deborah Gist, who were both a part of implementing NECAP and standardized test graduation requirements in Providence. PSU felt that Eva Mancuso and Deborah Gist held the power to make decisions regarding public school education, and thus became some of the main targets in this campaign.
At that time, Sam Foer, a student at The Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center-or The Met- read of the work PSU was doing to end high stakes testing. As a student who was potentially at risk of not graduating due to NECAP, Sam decided to turn his anger toward the unfair system that would jeopardize students across Providence into actions. He was a part of forming a Providence Student Union chapter at The Met, which focused on changing laws around high stakes testing. After joining PSU, he attended one of several sit-ins at a Providence School board meeting to discuss the topic of banning high stakes testing; in that meeting, the board decided that standardized testing would not go under review.
Not feeling deterred by that result, PSU youth leaders organized a talent show in downtown Providence. The purpose of this talent show was to feature the many creative skills and show off the immense knowledge and passion students in Providence have. This was a call to the public, and especially Eva Mancuso, Deborah Gist, and other legislators, to see how high stakes testing restricts our students’ talent and that these students are more than a score.
Following this talent show, PSU youth leaders began to communicate with congressional members in Rhode Island, who were in the process of introducing a three year moratorium to ban high stakes testing in Rhode Island schools. Our youth leaders canvassed in nearby cities Cranston and Warwick to urge voters to call their congress member to vote for the three year moratorium bill.
As a final push towards getting the bill passed in congress, youth leaders and Providence high school students organized a protest, called Operation Guinea Pig. To demonstrate how students are experimented on like guinea pigs because of high stakes testing, students dressed up as guinea pigs by drawing on their faces and wearing costumes. Students performed a skit showing what it is like to be experimented on while Deborah Gist and congressional members observed. Operation Guinea Pig gained immense attention, and prompted congressional members to look more deeply into the problem with high stakes testing.
A few months after our protests and efforts, and after Congress had voted on the bill, Sam and other students found out with joy that the three year moratorium had been passed! Providence Student Union had succeeded in making sure high stakes testing would no longer be used as a graduation requirement in Providence, at least for a few years.
Finally, in 2016, the requirement to pass a final test in order to graduate was completely eliminated on the state level!
In the media
Coverage of this campaign has been extensive in the local media, with the Providence Journal covering the campaign's protests and successes, as well as coverage from RI Future, WPRI, WPRO, GoLocal Prov, and RI Public Radio.
We were even covered by non-local media! Rethinking Schools, an education publication, wrote extensively about the PSU campaign in an article on testing assumptions that later even appeared in a book titled "More Than A Score: The New Uprising Against High-Stakes Testing." Plus, the "Take the Test" event was even covered by the Washington Post!