- Associated Press - Friday, January 31, 2014

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - Forty-three percent of Rhode Island students who retook the NECAP math test last fall after performing poorly as juniors in 2012 improved enough to meet a new graduation requirement, state education officials said Friday.

The state Department of Education said that 1,370 students who scored “substantially below proficient” in math their junior year have now met the requirement by scoring at least partially proficient or by showing significant improvement over their 2012 score.

School officials stressed that those who have not met the requirement have additional opportunities to do so, and won’t necessarily be denied a diploma, even if they still fall short on the test.

Students may retake the New England Common Assessment Program test again in February or March or get a passing score on other approved assessments. Some may also obtain a waiver from their district if they demonstrate what officials called “academic readiness” by other means.

Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Deborah Gist called the class of 2014 - the first for which the new graduation requirements apply - “trailblazers.”

“Holding our students to high expectations is really important. We cannot lower our expectations,” she said at a news conference at department headquarters. “Our message to the students is: Don’t give up - you can do it.”

Some have criticized use of the NECAP as a requirement for graduation and charged there is too much emphasis on standardized testing. But state school officials defended the requirement and said they would stay the course. They said the requirements are not about test scores but rather ensuring students are prepared for higher education or work.

“No student will be denied a diploma based on one examination, period,” Education Board Chairman Eva-Marie Mancuso said.

Overall, 40 percent of the 10,434 students who took the math NECAP in 2012 didn’t meet the requirement, officials said. Most retook the assessment, but 8 percent of the original cohort transferred, dropped out, moved into GED programs or were held back.

School officials initially released incorrect data Friday morning for the percentage of current high school seniors who haven’t yet met the requirement. They planned to release a new figure but spokesman Elliot Krieger said later the department would not immediately be able to do so.

In the class of 2015 - this year’s juniors - 64 percent have met the graduation requirement in math and 93 percent have met it in reading.

School officials also reported Friday the four-year graduation rate for 2013 was 80 percent, up 3 points from the year before.

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