High stakes testing graduation requirements in Rhode Island


Protecting Civil Liberties in Rhode Island for Over 50 Years


Current Campaign: High Stakes Testing

November 18, 2014: The ACLU of Rhode Island testified before the Council on Elementary and Secondary Education regarding regulations governing high stakes testing. The ACLU urged that the regulations eliminate high stakes testing altogether rather than simply delaying the requirement until 2020.

October 30, 2014: Molly Coffey, the Barrington High School senior whose plight led to the General Assembly’s passage of a law establishing a moratorium on the state’s “high stakes testing” requirement for graduation received her diploma.

July 14, 2014: The ACLU of RI and eight other organizations that pushed for the new law imposing a three-year moratorium on “high stakes testing” as a condition of high school graduation have sent an “urgent request” to state Department of Education Commissioner Deborah Gist, calling on her to ensure that the law is being implemented by school departments. In a letter to the Commissioner, the groups have asked her to send an advisory to all school district superintendents about the new law and the obligation it imposes on them to ensure that no student has been unlawfully denied a diploma in their district. The letter expresses concern that, because the law was passed after June graduations had already taken place, “some districts may not have taken the necessary steps to rectify those situations where a student might have been initially denied a diploma because of his or her NECAP score." Learn more about this request here.

July 2, 2014: On the last day of the 2014 Legislative Session, the Rhode Island House of Representatives approved a three-year moratorium on the use of high stakes testing as a zero-sum graduation requirement. Governor Chafee allowed the bill to become law without his signature in July. This victory will ensure that all students who have earned their high school diploma, including those in the class of 2014, receive it, regardless of a few points on the NECAP test.

Molly Coffey, right, a senior at Barrington High School, fell two points shy of passing the math portion of the NECAP exam. Despite passing all of her classes and meeting all other requirements, she was not granted a waiver. Her story in the Providence Journal helped show how arbitrary the NECAP graduation policy is and led to the House vote on the bill. 

The ACLU of RI is working with student and education groups to stop high-stakes testing from keeping otherwise qualified students from graduating. In 2014, Rhode Island is scheduled to begin using standardized testing as a zero-sum graduation requirement. The statewide scores for the NECAP showed that two in five of Rhode Island 11th graders are in jeopardy of not graduating from high school next year. The ACLU is calling for the elimination of the test as the sole determinant of graduation eligibility and the institution of responsible, fair and indiscriminate graduation requirements.


The ACLU of RI has successfully challenged open government violations by the Rhode Island Board of Education in two instances related to the "high stakes testing" requirement.

In Providence Student Union v. RI Board of Education, the ACLU of RI challenged the Board's closed-door debate and vote in September 2013 to reject a petition by seventeen organizations for a public hearing on repealing the “high stakes testing” graduation requirement. The ACLU argued the Board had an obligation under state law, which it ignored, to consider a petition to do away with the Board’s “high stakes testing” graduation requirement and either reject it or initiate a formal rule-making process to consider its adoption.

In April, Rhode Island Superior Court Judge Luis Matos ruled that the Board did violate the Open Meetings Act when it held its secret meeting. In his ruling, Judge Matos declared the Board's 6-5 vote against the petition null and void and gave the Board 30 days to publicly discuss and vote on the petition at a Board meeting. The Board of Education voted 7 to 4 in May to deny the petition.

Judge Luis Matos also ruled in February that the R.I. Board of Education violated the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) when it failed to properly respond to the petition in writing.

The second case, Egan v. RI Board of Education, was an open meetings lawsuit against the R.I. Board of Education over its plans in August to meet in a private retreat, closed to the public and the media, in order to hear from invited “experts” on the issue of its “high stakes testing” requirement for high school seniors. The ACLU argued that allowing such a private meeting would significantly undermine the open meetings law’s purpose.  In issuing a preliminary injunction against the planned private discussion of the issue, R.I. Superior Court Judge Daniel Procaccini agreed with the ACLU that allowing such a discussion to take place in private would significantly undermine the open meetings law’s purpose.

Legislative Activity

In 2014, the General Assembly passed legislation imposing a three-year moratorium on the use of high-stakes testing for high school students. After passing the Senate in May, the bill was approved by the House on the last day of the legislative session. The Class of 2014 now looks to Governor Chafee to ensure that all students who have earned their high school diploma receive it, regardless of a few points on the NECAP test.

As the ACLU has testified, using a standardized testing as a graduation requirement only serves to arbitrarily prevent students from graduating high school, diverts scarce school resources to a focus on test preparation, and has a significant adverse impact on vulnerable student populations, including special education, limited English proficient, economically disadvantaged, and Latino and African-American students.

The General Assembly also considered legislation banning the use of standardized tests as a high-stakes graduation requirement. In February, the ACLU, parent and student groups, and national education experts testified before the House Health, Education and Welfare committee in support of legislation sponsored by Representative Eileen Naughton (H 7672) to prohibit the use of standardized testing in evaluating a student’s eligibility to graduate. In March, the Senate Education committee recommended the Senate version of the legislation, sponsored by Senator Harold Metts (S 2185), for a full Senate vote.

On the last day of the session in 2013, the General Assembly also approved a joint resolution requesting the Board of Education to delay implementation of the high stakes testing requirement and instead consider a weighted compilation of state assessment (H 5277A, S 1047).  The Board of Education has thus far refused.

The city of Providence and dozens of advocacy groups have also expressed opposition to the current RIDE policy. 

Related Documents

Related News Releases

  • October 30, 2014 - Barrington’s Molly Coffey Receives Diploma
  • October 23, 2014 - Groups Question Barrington Schools’ Refusal To Grant A Diploma To High Stakes Testing Critic
  • July 14, 2014 - Groups Call on Department of Education to Ensure High Stakes Testing Moratorium is Implemented
  • May 7, 2014 - ACLU Applauds Senate Education Committee for Approving Moratorium on High Stakes Testing
  • April 25, 2014 - Court Orders Board of Education to Publicly Discuss High Stakes Testing Requirement
  • February 26, 2014 - National Experts Submit Legislative Testimony Against “High Stakes Testing”
  • February 14, 2014 - Court Rules R.I. Board of Education Again Violated Open Government Laws
  • February 13, 2014 - Groups Challenge RI Dept. of Education’s “Rosy” View of NECAP Results for Seniors
  • January 23, 2014 - ACLU Claims High Stakes Testing “Waiver” Policy for High School Seniors is in Disarray
  • January 9, 2014 - Department of Education Acknowledges that High Stakes Testing Does Not Measure College Readiness
  • September 24, 2013 - ACLU Asks Court to Order Board of Education to Reconsider High Stakes Testing Issue in Public
  • September 16, 2013 - Again, ACLU Goes to Court Over State Board of Education Secrecy in High Stakes Testing Debate
  • September 6, 2013 - Community Organizations Appeal to Governor Ahead of Board of Education's Vote on High Stakes Testing
  • August 6, 2013 -Judge Bars State Board of Education from Discussing “High Stakes Testing” in Secret 
  • August 2, 2013 -Statements on Filing of Egan v. RI Board of Education
  • August 2, 2013 - ACLU Sues State Board of Education Over Plans to Discuss “High Stakes Testing” in Secret
  • July 24, 2013 - ACLU Sues State Board of Education for Failing to Address High Stakes Testing Policy
  • June 24, 2013 - Community Organizations File Formal Petition to Amend High School Graduation Regulations
  • May 21, 2013 - Groups Continue to Push for End of "High Stakes Testing"
  • Feb 26, 2013 – 4,200 Students in Jeopardy of Not Graduating from High School Due to High Stakes Test
  • Oct 05, 2012 - Dozens Call for an End to “High Stakes Testing”
  • Feb 23, 2012 - Standardized Test Results Show That “High Stakes Testing” Would Have “Devastating Consequences”
  • Feb 23, 2012 - Comments from Participants in the High Stakes Testing News Conference
  • Feb 08, 2012 - Advocacy Groups Supporting Legislation to Halt Use of “High Stakes Testing” On Rhode Island Students
  • Mar 03, 2011 - Groups Call on Board of Regents to Postpone Vote on High Stakes Testing Graduation Regulations
  • Feb 04, 2011 - Proposed Graduation Requirements Pushed Back to 2014
  • Jan 24, 2011 - New High School Diploma Requirements Likely to Create a “Caste System,” Stigmatize At-Risk Students