PROVIDENCE – State and city education leaders were grilled by the Senate Oversight Committee on Monday night about a Providence grading policy that turns failing grades into incompletes.
Senators also sharply criticized another policy that prevents any student from receiving a grade lower than 50 on a 1-100 scale even when the student has skipped most of the quarter or failed to turn in any work.
Students who flunk a class in Providence don’t earn an F, they receive an “incomplete” and have until Nov. 15 of the following school year to make up the credit. If the student doesn’t complete the assignments, he or she gets a final grade of F.
Sen. Stephen Archambault of Smithfield said teachers are resigning because they are being forced to give students credit for work they haven’t completed. He pointed to a teacher in a Providence Journal story who said he was quitting because he felt the policies were unethical.
“If it’s a problem, why haven’t you gotten rid of it” Archambault said during the meeting on the Providence school takeover. “It’s not fair. Can’t you see it’s not fair?”
Pass-fail policy to be dropped
State education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green said a statewide pass-fail policy, adopted during the height of the pandemic, will be dropped this year.
But that wasn’t what Archambault was asking about.
When questioned further, Infante-Green and Supt. Javier Montañez said the district is looking into whether the Providence grading policies should be revisited.
“My phone hasn’t stopped ringing about the grading policy,” Archambault said.
Teachers say the policy was created in 2016 but not implemented until last November, when an email was sent from a district administrator reminding faculty of the rule.
The summer-school email uproar
Another hot topic was an email urging principals to recruit higher-performing students to the district’s summer-school programs. The email, sent last month by the School Department’s office of elementary transformation, recommended that principals “choose students who are close to proficient (on standardized tests) and would benefit from the summer enrichment.”
The email told principals to avoid recruiting students with attendance or behavior issues, along with those who have struggled academically due to lack of engagement.
The email ended by saying, “We should focus on maximizing our efforts. If successful, and we target the right students, we could increase our proficiency levels which could impact our Star rating.”
Every public school in Rhode Island is rated on its academic performance, with schools earning anywhere from one to five stars.
Monday night, Montañez called the directive “poorly worded.”
“It wasn’t the way it was supposed to be presented,” he told the committee. “I don’t want that memo to tarnish the work we have been doing.”
Montañez said the district has summer programs for every student, from those who are struggling academically to those who are gifted.
When the story broke last week, the leader of one parent organization called the memo deeply offensive while another said it further marginalizes the most vulnerable students.
DiPalma: ‘It shouldn’t work that way’
Senate oversight committee Chairman Louis DiPalma scrutinized nearly every component of the state’s turnaround plan for Providence, which was taken over by the state in 2019 after a scathing report from Johns Hopkins University.
DiPalma, who has been highly critical of the takeover, questioned education leaders about teacher vacancies, exit interviews for departing staff, teacher absenteeism and the rate of teacher turnover.
DiPalma said a young teacher, a family acquaintance, told him she was leaving the Providence schools because she had five buckets of rainwater in her classroom. He said he called someone and the problem was fixed.
It shouldn’t work that way, he said.
Montañez said, “I no longer want teachers to think of (the central office) as us versus them. I have
to trust and believe in my teachers.”
Linda Borg covers education for the Journal.
This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: RI education leaders grilled over Providence schools ‘F’ grade policy