Summary of 2019 Education Bills & Education Package that Passed General Assembly, 0620 SCBJ, RIBJ, 68 RI Bar J., No. 6, Pg. 25

AuthorWilliam J. Connell, Esq. M.Ed.
PositionVol. 68 6 Pg. 25

Summary of 2019 Education Bills and Education Package that Passed General Assembly

No. Vol. 68 No. 6 Pg. 25

Rhode Island Bar Journal

June, 2020

May, 2020

William J. Connell, Esq. M.Ed.

Attorney at Law, North Smithfield, North Smithfield School Committee Member

Education is always a significant topic of focus for the Rhode Island General Assembly. The 2019 legislative session saw a significant number of education-related initiatives pass regarding K-12 education. This article will highlight some of that legislation, specifically laws in regard to requiring high-quality curriculum across all of the state’s school districts, providing increased focus and resources in regard to the teaching of students with dyslexia and related disorders, and providing greater management of the day-to-day and long-term management of public schools at the school level, also known as school-based management. This article will reference both the public laws that passed and the General Laws that were amended. Note that in many cases, two separate public laws were passed that make substantially the same amendments to the same General Law(s), one bill originating in the House of Representatives and one bill originating in the Senate. All the public laws and the statutes that were amended during the session can be accessed through the State of Rhode Island General Assembly’s Legislative Information website, found at rilegislature. gov/pages/legislation.aspx. Unless otherwise indicated, these bills took effect upon passage and are currently state law; however, some of these laws have established future dates by which certain actions need to be taken.

CURRICULUM

Statewide academic standards and curriculum were the focus of both 2019 R.I. Pub. Law Ch. 89, entitled “A n Act Relating to Education – Curriculum Alignment and Standards For All Students,” and 2019 R.I. Pub. Law Ch. 150, entitled “A n Act Relating to Education–Curriculum.” These bills established four new sections of the General Laws, R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 16-22-30, 16-22-31, 16-22-32, and 16-22-33.

Section 16-22-30 is entitled “Statewide academic standards.” This section provides that the Council on Elementary and Secondary Education (the “Council”) will direct the Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education (the “Commissioner”) to “develop statewide academic standards for the core subjects of mathematics, English language arts, science and technology, history and social studies, world languages, and the arts.”[1] The law includes several points as to how the academic standards are to be developed. In addition, the law provides these standards are to be used to develop the Rhode Island comprehensive assessment system, also known as “RICAS,” which will be the standardized statewide tests administered in mathematics, English language arts, and science and technology. The law provides that RICAS is to “be in place no fewer than ten (10) years” and shall help to draw comparisons between students in Rhode Island and those from other states and nations.[2] The act also provides that the Council shall develop a process to update and refine these standards, and that there shall be a review of the standards by the Council every four (4) years, beginning in 2025.[3]

Section 16-22-31 is entitled “Curriculum frameworks.” This new section provides the Council will direct the Commissioner “to develop curriculum frameworks for mathematics, English language arts, science and technology, history and social studies, world languages, and the arts.”[4] These frameworks are to be developed by September 1, 2021. Similar to the requirements for standards set forth in § 16-22-30, this section includes language about the process to develop the curriculum frameworks and sets forth some of what the curriculum frameworks should accomplish.[5] It also includes a four (4) year review cycle of the frameworks, to be conducted by the Council, beginning in 2025.[6]

Section 16-22-32 is entitled “High quality curriculum and materials.” As the title suggests, this section focuses on a process for reviewing and identifying actual curriculum. To clarify, the term “curriculum” is frequently used in education, but sometimes there can be different interpretations of exactly what “curriculum” is. In a slide deck posted on the Rhode Island Department of Education’s website, curriculum is defined as “a standards-based sequence of planned experiences where students practice & achieve proficiency in content and applied learning skills”; as “what is essential for teaching & learning so that every student has access to rigorous academic experiences”; and as “the necessary goals, methods, materials, and assessments to effectively support instruction and learning.”[7] To put it another way, curriculum refers to what is actually taught in the classroom and the materials used to teach it.

The new law directs the Commissioner to identify at least five (5) high quality curriculum in mathematics, English language arts, and science and technology. This curriculum is to be aligned with the academic standards referred to in § 16-22-30 and the curriculum frameworks referred to in § 16-22-31,[8] as well as the RICAS exams.[9] Local education agencies,[10] which include traditional public school districts and charter schools, must select from one of five (5) high...

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