Tom Sgouros has written repeatedly about the inappropriateness of using NECAP as a graduation requirement for students in Rhode Island.

This is the same issue that produced the activism of the Providence Student Union.

Commissioner Deborah Gist insists that the critics don’t know what they are talking about.

In this post, Sgouros points out that the test-makers say clearly that the NECAP is not intended for graduation. He cited this sentence:

“NECAP is only one indicator of student performance and results of a single NECAP test administration should not be used for referring students to special education or for making promotion and/or graduation decisions.” (page 6)

Gist immediately pounced on the word “single” to defend her insistence on NECAP, saying that students who failed could take it again.

Get the importance of that word “single”? It is huge.

Then Sgouros made an amazing discovery. He did some internet digging and learned that the word “single” was added in 2011. It still does not appear in the guide for NECAP science.

Until sometime in 2011, the guide for NECAP said: “NECAP is only one indicator of student performance and should not be used for referring students to special education or for making promotion and/or graduation decisions.”

That seems straightforward and clear. But it was changed with the addition of that one word.

Sgouros concludes in a warning we should all heed:

“What we’re talking about here is dishonesty. This isn’t the same as simple dishonesty, or lying. This is intellectual dishonesty, and here’s the problem with that. The world is what it is. The facts of the world do not care about your opinion, or your triumph in some argument. Intellectual honesty is important in science because it’s the only way to get our understanding of the world to approach the world. Fudge your results, and you’ll find that your cure for cancer doesn’t work, that your miracle glue is really an explosive, or that your economic policy just makes things worse. This is why science is supposed to progress by scientists checking and criticizing each others results: that’s how you maintain intellectual honesty. Sometimes the disputes get personal or political and distract from the real aim, but the real aim is to get at the truth via intellectual honesty, enforced by the scientific community.

“The truth is that the NECAP wasn’t designed to be a graduation test, and this was obvious from the very beginning. It has been coerced into the role not because it was good for kids, but because it was cheaper than designing a dedicated graduation test. The features that make it a bad graduation test are objectively true facts about the test and its design. Neither editing technical documentation, committee-hearing filibusters, or cutting off public comment at Board of Education meetings will change those facts.

“I have no doubt at all that the commissioner can fend off challenges from the public over these matters, indefinitely. But reality will — as it usually does — have the last word. And children will pay the price. The question for Board of Education members, legislators, school administrators, teachers, and parents is which side they want to be on.”

Sgouros got a response from RIDE, but it was as nonsensical as the department’s claim that taking the same test again and again is the same as “multiple measures.” Sgouros is right. When people use the term multiple measures, they mean essays, projects, teacher recommendations, other evidence of satisfactory work, not a chance to take the same test many times.