We are pleased to present the first annual State of the Student Address by the Providence Student Union. Their protest in front of the Rhode Island Department of Education was aimed at the state’s education commissioner, Deborah Gist, and ensures that students—the people most affected by our education system—are heard in offering their own vision for the schools that Rhode Island’s young people deserve.
Please consider supporting these brave students and their drive to end poor standardized testing and replace it with meaningful instruction and assessment. Use the DONATE button on the group’s website.
The speech below was given just before Commissioner Gist gave her State of the Schools speech a few weeks ago. I’ve used boldface where I found sections moving, but all the words were those of Cauldierre McKay, a leader in the Providence Student Union organization.
Hi, I’m Cauldierre McKay, a junior at Classical [High School] and a leader of the Providence Student Union. We hold this State of the Student Address because we think it’s important for you to understand what is really happening in our education system, to see what adults at RIDE can’t see from their “10,000 feet above the ground” perspective. This is all they care about, this right here [points to something off-screen].
We are the eyewitnesses to everything that goes down, and we are the affected. We know what we need to learn. We know how students want to learn. We know the most about students because we are indeed students.
Currently, the state of the student is in an elevator that just had the strings snapped. We are in trouble. Our buildings are in need of repairs. Our classes are boring and disengaging and too big.
We need better funding for schools across districts. We need a better curriculum and teaching that actually interests and supports students. And we need an assessment system that challenges us to really learn, not to just fill in bubbles, and that grades our core skills in math, history, science, literature, and the arts.
We should look for inspiration at successful systems, like the New York Performance Standard Consortium. These schools require students to complete four performance-based assessments that show oral and written skill, including an analytic literary essay, a social studies research paper with valid arguments and evidence, a science experiment that shows understanding of the scientific method, and an applied math problem. These schools outperform schools using high-stakes testing, and we can see why.
These are our recommendations. Listen to the students for once, and you won’t be disappointed. We are taught about the founding fathers starting a revolution. Well, 237 years later, we are in need of another revolution, a learning revolution, because we are the Rhode Island students, and we won’t tolerate this failing education any longer.
In a few minutes, you’re going to hear from Commissioner Gist. The commissioner’s job is to lead the Department of Education and make our schools work better for students. But that is not what she is doing. Instead of taking responsibility for the issues we are pointing out today, she has chosen to point a finger at us with the NECAP graduation requirement, to say that if we’d only try a little harder, everything will be magically OK like unicorns and rainbows.
But how does the NECAP help with anything mentioned in our address? How does the NECAP give us the comfortable, safe buildings and supplies we need? How does it ensure students can actually get to school in the first place? How does it make our classes more relevant and engaging? Does the NECAP help students overcome learning disabilities? Or provide the emotional and social support we need? Or decrease the high school dropout rate?
Nope, it doesn’t. In fact, it makes things worse, sucking all the creativity and joy we have left out of school and replacing it with test prep, test prep, and—test prep.
That’s why we have a few questions for RIDE. As you prepare to leave our State of the Student Address and go inside to listen to the commissioner’s speech, please keep these questions in mind.
One, RIDE has not reached any of its goals this year for closing achievement gaps between low-income students and their luckier peers. So, how does it make sense to hold us accountable to high-stakes tests when the adults have failed to bring about promised change?
Two, the commissioner has repeatedly stated that partial proficiency on the NECAP is necessary for meaningful diplomas. But when faced with over 4,000 students not graduating, the commissioner is now saying that students need only improve about 5 to 8 questions in order to graduate. How does squeezing out an arbitrary number of extra questions on a math test make a diploma more meaningful or improve a student’s post-score outcome?
Three, research has proven that programs like high-quality preschool, enriched curriculum, and greater out-of-school supports help overcome barriers to learning, like poverty and disability. Yet these interventions and others are all underfunded and only implemented here and there. Why are we spending resources on taking and retaking standardized tests when all the research shows that high-stakes tests do nothing to improve student outcomes?
Thank you for coming today and listening to us. Now it’s up to all of us to work together to turn these ideals from words into real changes, to convince the commissioner to give us an education instead of a test. And since the commissioner could not be outside to join us, we would like to make sure that our voices are heard.
[leads chant] Money for schools and education, not for NECAP preparation.