“And a little child should lead them.”

The Providence Student Union had the audacity to ask successful adults to take the math section of the test that will determine whether they graduate from high school. Three dozen brave souls accepted their invitation to take a test made up of released items.

The results will be released today.

Some Warwick, RI, students sent some angry, possibly tasteless tweets to State Commissioner Gist. None of these students are part of the Providence Student Union. They were threatened with disciplinary action. The ACLU defended the students’ freedom of speech.

Question: who in the state department of education is paid to read student tweets? Who does surveillance?

We will get the scores later today.

The latest from Rhode Island:

“Gist irked by mock NECAP
‘It’s deeply irresponsible on the part of the adults’ who participated, commissioner says”


PROVIDENCE — The state Board of Education chairwoman called Saturday’s mock test a publicity stunt; the state education commissioner said the adult participants were irresponsible; and a few students got nasty.

The debate over linking the New England Common Assessment Program — or NE-CAP — to high school graduation has risen to a new level in the wake of an exercise Saturday in which about 35 adults took a segment of the math test.

The test left numerous participants shaking their heads over the difficulty of the questions, which ranged from geometry to probability, and more than a few suggested abandoning the test as a graduation requirement.

That provoked heated words from state Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist, who called participants’ response to the test “an outrageous act of irresponsibility.”

“It’s deeply irresponsible on the part of the adults, especially those who are highly educated,” she said. “They’re sending a message that it can’t be done or that it doesn’t matter.”

Gist said once she saw the story, she realized how damaging it was.

“I spent a lot of time [this weekend] trying to convince students why it matters,” she said. “We need all of the adults rallying around these students rather than getting caught up in arguments that don’t have any substance.”

Eva-Marie Mancuso, the chairwoman of the new Rhode Island Board of Education, called the mock test a publicity stunt and said it was diverting attention from the real issue: preparing students to be successful in college and in the workplace.

“We don’t just give this test without any preparation,” Mancuso said. “If I was to take the bar exam tomorrow, I have no idea if I’d pass or not.”

Students aren’t given the NECAP without any preparation, she said. Schools have known about the graduation requirement for several years and they have been told to develop elaborate plans to bring students up to speed.

Then, Mancuso issued her own challenge:

“I would ask the commissioner to offer these adults exactly what’s been offered to the students. The adults better be able to put in the time. If they want to highlight the test and how difficult it is, we should be able to highlight how to make it doable.”

This year’s high school juniors already have access to math problems and tutors online. In addition, many districts are offering remedial help after school or during the summer.

And students can retake the NECAP in October. They only have to show modest progress on the test in order to graduate.

Meanwhile, several students from Warwick posted profane comments about the commissioner on Twitter, which boiled over on talk radio. Gist tweeted back, saying she understood the students’ frustration and asking what she could do to help.

The two or three students who posted inappropriate comments during the school day face short suspensions, according to Warwick Supt. Richard D’Agostino, who said they violated the student code of conduct. Those students who tweeted from home were sent to the principal’s office and their parents will be notified.

No more than five students in total were involved.

“Freedom of speech is wonderful,” D’Agostino said. “It’s unfortunate these students used inappropriate language.”

Warwick’s student code of ethics says students can be suspended for profanity.

One of those students, Nate Colicci,17, of Veterans Memorial High School, acknowledged that he shouldn’t have used profane language but said he stands by his criticism of the NECAP.

“It’s like if you’re never going to use this stuff,” he said, “why test us on it?”

But the Rhode Island Affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union said that the Warwick schools have over-reacted.

“Some of the tweets we have seen were immature and tasteless,” said the ACLU’s Steven Brown. “But they remain an exercise in free speech. We commend Gist for trying to engage in a dialogue with these students … rather than seeking to punish them for expressing, in admittedly very juvenile ways, their frustration with state policy.”

The mock test’s organizers, a group of activist students called the Providence Student Union, said the test punishes students, who say the school system hasn’t prepared them for the NECAP.

“The real issue here should be giving every student a high-quality education, not ensuring every student can pass an arbitrary test,” said Aaron Regunberg, one of the mock test organizers. “We have a lot of work to do to substantially improve our schools and we would argue that this policy is a distraction.”