Providence School Board member calls for investigation of bogus high school credits

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PROVIDENCE — Ty’Relle Stephens, a Providence School Board member, is calling on the state education commissioner to conduct an independent investigation into allegations that students did not earn credits that were included in their high school transcripts.

In response to inquiries from The Journal this week, Victor Morente, a spokesman for the Rhode Island Department of Education, said both RIDE and the Providence school department are “investigating the matter. We will not be commenting further as there is an ongoing investigation.”

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The Department of Education would not provide any details on the school in question, the number of students or how the credits were obtained.

When he was asked the same questions, Kinzel Thomas, president of the Providence School Board, said on Tuesday that he “became aware of allegations of inappropriate credits awards on July 20. My colleague and I went directly to the commissioner with our concerns, and are awaiting the results of RIDE's internal investigation.”

In his letter, Stephens wrote that a serious matter involving high school credits and graduation was brought to the school board’s attention, “specifically, students who may have not earned credits that were placed on their transcripts."

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Stephens said Thomas met with both Providence School Supt. Javier Montanez and the commissioner of the state Education Department, Angelica Infante-Green, on July 21 to discuss his concerns.

“Graduation inflation misrepresents data and directly harms students,” Thomaswrote. “We are Rhode Island’s capital and we should have a school system that we should be proud of. Given the lack of transparency and clarity around this process, I earnestly request that you carry out the following. ...”

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Stephens is calling for an independent investigation to avoid a conflict of interest and make “sure that there is integrity throughout the process.”

He also is requesting that any administrators who failed to disclose information related to the alleged credit inflation be placed on administrative leave, pending the outcome of these investigations.

The letter also was sent to Gov. Daniel McKee, Sen. Louis DiPalma, chairman of the Senate Oversight Committee, and Patricia DiCenso, chairwoman of the Council on Elementary and Secondary Education.

What are the credit requirements for high school students to graduate?

Students need 20 credits to graduate, but there are opportunities for students who are not on track to make up credits either virtually or face-to-face, both after school and during the summer. Several years ago, a separate program was established to help over-aged and under-credited youth catch up.

Here is what you need to earn a diploma:

Four years of English and math, and at least three of science and social studies/history.

The regulations were last revised six years ago when there was more of an emphasis placed on students showing proficiency on standardized tests.

The Department of Education, however, is in the process of revising its high school graduation requirements.

Those regulations won't take effect until the Class of 2027.

The proposed regulations would shift graduation requirements away from standardized tests to an emphasis on college preparation.

Instead of four math courses, the new regulations state that students must take Algebra 1, Algebra 2 and geometry.

The regulations still call for three science courses, but they now must include two lab sciences — again, to prepare students for college.

The proposed changes are designed to allow students to dig deeper into areas about which they are passionate and make sure they leave high school prepared for college or a career.

New subjects also would be required, including world languages.

Students also will be required to demonstrate proficiency in civics and computer science, beginning with the Class of 2027, and financial literacy, beginning with the Class of 2024.

Students currently have to take an additional college prep credit that can be in any subject. The new regulations say the course must be in one of the following subjects — computer sciences, health, physical education or the arts.

Linda Borg covers education for the Journal.

This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: Providence school credit allegations spur call for investigation