As questions swirl around the rationale behind certain aspects of the RI Department of Education’s required “waiver” process that is supposed to be available to students who do not “pass” the NECAP test, the ACLU of Rhode Island has sent a letter to the Board of Education raising serious concerns about the implementation of the entire “waiver” process itself. That process, claimed the ACLU, is in many instances “a completely arbitrary hodgepodge of inconsistent, incomplete, and poorly advertised policies that can only leave students and parents understandably anxious and perplexed.”

Approximately two and a half months ago, the ACLU filed an open records request with all school districts to obtain a copy of their waiver policy – required by RIDE regulations – as well as any documents related to its implementation. The ACLU learned that a number of school districts had not yet finalized a policy, some had not even started one, and those that did had policies failed to address key issues. While districts have made some progress since then, the ACLU letter claims that some “still fail to provide adequate notice to students and parents about the process and what will need to be demonstrated to qualify for a waiver.” For example, there are school districts that have simply adopted verbatim a model “waiver process” prepared by RIDE without filling in any details, leaving parents with generic information but no definite guidance about the waiver process. The ACLU’s letter also cited RIDE’s ever-changing policies, such as the disclosure this month that students accepted into non- open-enrollment colleges or certain community service programs like AmeriCorps do not need to pass the NECAP. The letter added:

“The ACLU has objected for some time to the state’s use of the NECAP as a high stakes requirement, but as long as it is in place, the waiver process can provide a critical opportunity for youth who would not otherwise graduate to do so. Any expansion to that opportunity is welcome if it promotes a fair and equitable pathway for more young people to avoid being judged by a single test score. However, our concerns with the waiver process highlight the lack of readiness on both a statewide and local level to implement it, the confusion that exists over it, and the increasingly jerry-rigged nature of that process.”

With NECAP test results coming out next week for high school seniors who took the test in the fall after “failing” it in their junior year, the ACLU called the situation “intolerable,” stating: “The difference between those students who did not get a partially proficient score and will graduate, and those who do not get a partially proficient score and will not graduate has become utterly capricious.” The letter therefore urged the Board to eliminate the NECAP as a high stakes test.