Dr. Susan Lusi is the former Superintendent of the Providence Public School District.
She has served as Superintendent of Portsmouth, Rhode Island, Chief of Staff for the Providence Public Schools and as Assistant Commissioner at the Rhode Island Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Prior to these appointments, Dr. Lusi worked as Director of Policy for the Annenberg Institute for School Reform and Visiting Assistant Professor at Brown University and also for the Coalition of Essential Schools. In addition, she has consulted for numerous state and national organizations including the Rhode Island Department of Education, The LAB at Brown, Education Resource Strategies, The Council of Chief State School Officers, and the Learning First Alliance.
Dr. Lusi is a member of the National Advisory Board for the Alliance for Excellent Education based in Washington, DC; Providence After School Alliance (PASA) Board of Directors; the Providence Plan Board of Directors; the Providence Children & Youth Cabinet District Chair; the New England School Development Council’s (NESDEC) Board of Directors; and the Governing Board for the American Association of School Administrators (AASA). She was also a fellow in the Broad Foundation’s Urban Superintendents Academy. She is the author of The Role of State Departments of Education in Complex School Reform (Teachers College Press, 1997) and holds a Ph.D. and Master’s in public policy from Harvard University, as well as a MAT in social studies and an AB in economics from Brown University.
S. Lusi, PPSD, Superintendent of Schools
Testimony on H7146
Thank you for the opportunity.
Want to be clear at the outset that I firmly believe in 3 things relevant to this discussion:
- High standards for all students;
- Diplomas that mean something;
- That Providence Schools has enormous work to do in improving student achievement, despite the tireless work of our many dedicated educators.
Because of these beliefs and because of the success of our neighbor to the north – Massachusetts – attaching stakes to NECAP by making it a requirement for graduation, did not initially seem like a bad idea. As we all know, Massachusetts is the highest performing state in the nation, and MCAS is a high stakes test.
As I have researched this further, however, I’ve realized that in RI, we took only a very small sliver of the sustained 20 year reform agenda that has resulted in Massachusetts’ success.
The differences in approach that our two states have taken in the introduction, development and administration of our testing systems are substantial, and most importantly, these differences really matter for our kids.
In short, I have concluded that the way NECAP is administered disadvantages the very students in our state who are already the most disadvantaged – those who are poor and those who have special learning needs including English Language Learners and students with IEPs.
I have further concluded that our attempts to attach stakes to an already problematic assessment system, and one that is by the way going away after next year, are a deterrent to school systems focusing on what is now most important – aligning our curriculum, teaching practices and educational supports – in the ways that will help our students achieve the Common Core Standards – the standards we are moving to and that will be reflected in the PARCC assessment that students will start taking next year.
MCAS was designed from the outset to be a high stakes test. It was first implemented in 1993, and stakes were attached in 2003. Massachusetts took a full 10 years to work on its test construction and administration and to build the understanding of the field and the public before adding stakes.
NECAP was originally designed for school and system, as opposed to individual student, accountability. The current RI Diploma system was passed by the Board of Regents in 2011, and the Class of 2014 has to meet the NECAP requirement to graduate.
RI is the only state in the NECAP consortium attempting to use the test in this way, and the test and its administration timelines were not adjusted for this new purpose.
MCAS is administered in the spring, as a test of the current year’s learning. NECAP is administered in the fall and tests what was learned the prior year minus summer learning loss.
Summer learning loss is well documented to have a disproportionately negative effect on poor children. The detrimental impacts of summer learning loss on English Language Learners
(ELLs) and students with IEPs is less thoroughly documented, but existing research also supports negative effects. This matters because the 605 Providence Seniors currently ineligible to graduate due to NECAP are disproportionately poor, disproportionately ELLs, and disproportionately students with IEPs. (See table.)
NECAP also penalizes Spanish speaking ELLs (the majority of ELLs in Rhode Island) in ways MCAS does not. ELL students are allowed to use word-to-word dictionaries on the English portion of MCAS, but not on NECAP. In math, ELL students can use either an English or Spanish version of the MCAS test and may respond in either language. On the math portion of NECAP, students can use the word-to-word dictionary and have directions read in Spanish, but test questions themselves are only available in English.
In addition, NECAP covers two years’ worth of standards – ninth and tenth grade – while MCAS covers only Grade 10. Finally, students who do not initially pass MCAS have four additional opportunities to take the test, while students who don’t pass NECAP have only two.
Implementing NECAP as a high stakes test is time consuming and distracts from the larger educational purpose of our schools. It is also hard to understand the value-add because Rhode Island is implementing NECAP only for the short-term – the graduating classes of 2014, ’15 and ’16. And at the same time, Rhode Island is transitioning to the still-in-development PARCC assessments, aligned to the Common Core. I fully support the move to the Common Core, but it will be a heavy lift and most particularly for districts such as Providence.
We should be fully focused on this transition, rather than focusing on testing and retesting both with NECAP and alternative assessments and on a waiver process that is cumbersome at best.
Rhode Island has made some notable progress in student achievement of late and this has been accomplished without a high stakes graduation test. Removing the NECAP requirement for graduation will not threaten our state’s improvement trajectory. It will restore greater fairness for our state’s neediest students and also allow our educators to focus on what is most important – improving teaching and learning in our classrooms.