PROVIDENCE — Republican gubernatorial candidate Ashley Kalus vowed to not seek reelection in 2026 if statewide test scores don’t improve to pre-pandemic levels, but then said she would seek to move away from the Rhode Island Comprehensive Assessment System (RICAS) exam in favor of multiple assessments over the course of the school year.
In a press conference in downtown Providence Wednesday, Kalus said her vision for being the “education governor” also includes funding universal pre-kindergarten, revising the state’s school funding formula, and giving students who attend failing schools the option to attend better ones in neighboring districts.
“I am not content with quality of education for our kids,” Kalus said. “I want to provide them with a world class education. Education is [the] civil rights issue of our time. Education is the great equalizer. It is what allows you access to opportunity.”
Kalus is running against incumbent Democratic Governor Dan McKee in the Nov. 8 general election. Libertarian Elijah Gizzarelli and independent candidates Zachary Hurwitz and Paul Rianna Jr. are also running for the state’s top job.
On testing, Kalus said she favors offering multiple tests during the school year that can track progress rather than a single exam near the end of the school year. Each school district already conducts multiple interim tests each year, and federal law requires students in grades three through eight to be tested annually in math and reading/language arts, as well as once in high school.
Kalus said she would make the same commitment as Democratic primary runner-up Helena Foulkes, who promised to not seek re-election if test scores don’t improve.
Rhode Island has toggled through multiple statewide exams in recent years, moving from the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) to the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) before finally settling on the RICAS exam in 2018. The test is similar to the one administered in Massachusetts.
During the 2020-2021 school year, only 33 percent of students in grades three through eight were considered proficient in English language arts and 20 percent were doing math at grade level. Results for the last school year are expected to be released before Christmas.
Kalus said she would favor an exam that can be taken over the course of the school year to track progress, but it’s unclear if that would qualify under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.
Kalus also didn’t offer a price tag for her larger proposals — universal pre-kindergarten and expanded school choice — but it could be costly. State leaders have estimated that pre-kindergarten for every 3- and 4-year-old in Rhode Island could cost $140 million a year, although that includes local, state, and federal funding.
As Rhode Island politicians — including McKee — often say, Kalus said she wants to model the state’s education plans after Massachusetts, which has some of the best public schools in the country. She acknowledged that it would require working with the predominately Democratic legislature and teachers’ unions.
When it comes to state Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green, Kalus said she would expect all department directors to submit their resignations and reapply if she is elected, but she also said that she hasn’t been pleased with the progress of the state takeover of Providence schools. Infante-Green’s contract doesn’t expire until 2025.
McKee was considered one of the most education-focused politicians in Rhode Island when he was mayor of Cumberland, helping to launch mayoral-controlled charter schools that have been highly successful in the Blackstone Valley, Providence, and Woonsocket.
McKee used to clash with teachers’ unions over his support for charter schools, but the National Education Association Rhode Island endorsed him in the Democratic primary for governor. He also helped to resolve the state’s contentious contract negotiation with the Providence Teachers Union in 2021.
Dan McGowan can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @danmcgowan.