Both chambers collaborated to put forth a package of bills intended to provide a comprehensive overhaul of the public education system in Rhode Island. Ranging from teacher and principal certification to reporting requirements for the schools, this legislation (H 5008, H 6084, H 6098, H 6100, H 6099, H 6085) (S 863, S 864, S 865, S 866, S 867, S 868, S 869) contained both good provisions and room for improvement.

H 6098, H 6100, S 866, and S 867 all contained a provision stipulating that aspiring teachers be of “sound moral character.” We expressed concern about the value-laden and open-ended nature of this requirement, which would be a new statutory criterion. All four of these bills ultimately died. 

H 6100 and S 867 would have additionally required the applicant to take and pass a standardized written test. The ACLU has long expressed concerns about the imposition of a statutory requirement for teacher standardized testing. Not only do we believe that such testing is flawed as a method for determining teacher competency and skills, but that it will have a significant and adverse impact on racial minorities. For these reasons, the state banned this practice until 2003 and the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act. 

Positively, however, H 6098, introduced by Representative Karen Alzate, and S 866 Sub A, introduced by Senator James Sheehan, contained a provision which would explicitly bar a teacher certification applicant from being disqualified solely by their performance on a standardized test. Standardized written tests for teacher certification have been shown to have a particular negative impact on test-takers of color, and do not show the full spectrum of an applicant’s strengths. We supported this important language, but this bill unfortunately died in the House. 

We also noted that both S 865 and H 6084 could benefit from minor amendments which would add benchmarks such as race, gender, and disability to the reporting requirements mandated by the legislation. Both of these pieces of legislation passed without any of our suggested amendments. 

S 863 Sub A and S 869 Sub A, as well as their companion bills H 5008 Sub A and H 6085 Sub A, passed both the House and the Senate. S 864 Sub A died.