NARRAGANSETT - At the Dec. 19 meeting, the school committee heard a presentation from Narragansett High School Principal Daniel Warner regarding graduation requirements for 2014 seniors. Although the framework remains the same, the Rhode Island Department of Education has stipulated a few new changes.
Warner and social studies teacher John O’Brien listed the basic requirements that NHS students are expected to fill, such as 26 credits of coursework, six more than the state requirement, and 30 hours of community service.
O’Brien touched upon an additional change which RIDE has implemented that requires students to achieve a level 2, or ‘partially proficient’ score on their New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) testing.
“Reading is not a challenge [for students] to get past level two,” said O’Brien. “In math, it is a struggle. We are about 54 percent of last year’s NECAP scores of students scoring partially proficient.”
“Last year, had 21 kids who scored a one in mathematics,” he added. “We will have to provide a program for those students in order to get up to that level.”
If a student does not meet the ‘partially proficient’ requirement on the October NECAP testing, RIDE has established a mediation process for schools to follow. Partially proficient students will attend a meeting with their parents, a school guidance counselor and a so-called Proficiency-Based Graduation Requirement Coordinator.
Once the meeting is conducted, a plan to achieve a passing mark will be communicated to the student and parents, at the end of which the student will re-take the Grade 11 NECAP test in October 2013. If they fail once more, they become eligible to take an alternative test in order to pass, or will remain in school.
“We immediately set up a meeting with parents, but the big thing is we have to develop a progress plan as soon as we get [a student’s] scores back,” said Warner. “We need to develop a plan for how to get that student up and over the bar.”
School Committee President Tammy McNeiece expressed concern that parents might fear that their child will not graduate if they receive less than a partially proficient score on their NECAP testing.
O’Brien and Superintendent of School Katherine Sipala both stated that, although RIDE does not have all the details laid out for the progress plan, the Narragansett school district is already prepared to help students pass through established school programs offered during the school day and after hours.
“We haven’t done this before, giving the NECAP again,” said Sipala. “It is a very directed approach and we don’t have all the guidelines yet because [through RIDE], it is stated without the details.”
“Our school system is providing more mathematics instruction already, and I can’t imagine that this is not going to help the school level of the kids coming to the high school.”
“No offense to RIDE, but they are working on this thing and in a lot of the literature I have seen, they say that they will provide this and that,” said O’Brien. “They are busy and a lot of the support they are talking about already exists and is in place here. I think we will be in very good shape even though this is new to everybody and we don’t know what is going to happen.”
Sipala further hopes that RIDE will allow students who have trouble taking standardized tests to use their graduation portfolios as proof of a partially proficient grade. O’Brien also stressed that, even if the student does not pass, if they can provide evidence that they progressed sufficiently enough from their previous NECAP score, they will graduate.
The school committee also discussed the senior project, which is required for all graduating students to complete. The project consists of a product or portfolio along with a class presentation, and an associated paper. Projects can range anywhere from doing a community-based project or research paper, to creating a documentary or writing a song.
McNeiece offered one criticism about the presentation portion of the senior project. Students, who are judged by panels of outside educators, do not have the opportunity to receive feedback on the score they received and may not a chance to learn more about their strengths and weaknesses in completing their projects.
“The seniors put so much time and effort into this project the ratings that we give the students, and then we come back and say they are proficient,” said McNeice. “The students are not getting any information about their presentation and how they are scored.”
“I would think that feedback would be meaningful to them,” she added.
O’Brien stated that, although such feed back might be helpful, administrators at NHS are hesitant to give feedback on scores because they don’t want students to compare and criticize each other’s grades.
“Not all projects are the same and learning stretches are not the same, so the concern is if you share the results, students will share with others and there are some students who will feel that they didn’t do a good job compared to this person or that person,” said O’Brien.
“I would like to find time to give the students feedback on the substance of their project and presentation, but it is a cost-benefit analysis. In the end, we feel if we share those scores, it might lead to more issues.”
O’Brien further noted that many students are more relieved to have finished their senior project than care about the specific grade, and according to Sipala, the rigorousness of the process is more important to a student’s educational and life development.
“It is a struggle and frustrating, but the vast majority of students come back from their first year of college after Thanksgiving break and say it really was a terrific experience,” said O’Brien. “They are learning not only academic but life skills.”
“Students are getting a great deal of satisfaction out of [their projects],” said Sipala. “They can take this project and talk about it at a higher level, such as in the college application process. The students are not calling for a grade, whereas they used to.”