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Florida's education system is failing to serve black students at all levels, according to a hard-hitting report by an advisory committee to the state board of education.

The study, conducted by a panel of educators, found that black students are disproportionately placed in special-education programs, forced to repeat grades, and suspended or expelled from school.

They also noted that black youngsters drop out of school at higher rates than do whites and continue to lag behind their white peers on statewide achievement tests.

The study charges that the "thrust toward excellence" in Florida has "dealt a telling blow" to the education of black students, because new standards for performance have not been accompanied by an emphasis on better instruction.

It argues that tracking youngsters into separate programs for high and low achievers heightens the disparity in achievement between black and white students after the 3rd grade. Moreover, it asserts, teachers are not trained to make maximum use of students' individual differences in delivering instruction and have "minimal training" on how to teach in multi-ethnic and multi-racial schools.

The state board has endorsed committee recommendations to: require existing state-recognition programs to include outcome measures of "at risk" students' performance; create a competitive grant program to improve the recruitment and retention of black teachers, with half of the funds going to predominantly black colleges and universities; and establish a fund that would provide early childhood programs for the children of low-income families, beginning at age 2 or 3.

The New York State Board of Regents has voted to require all pupils being educated at home to take the state's standardized pupil-evaluation tests. The new rule, effective this month, is intended to ensure that home instruction is basically equivalent to that offered in New York's public schools. The tests are normally administered in the 3rd, 5th, 6th, and 8th or 9th grades.

The Louisiana High School Athletic Association has voted to change its rules to permit girls to participate in contact sports with boys.

The decision last week was spurred in part by a federal district court's injunction permitting Melanie Dube, a 17-year-old high-school student, to play on her school's male soccer team.

Ms. Dube filed suit challenging an association rule barring girls from playing on boys' teams after the girls' soccer program at her school had been eliminated. The student, who hopes to win a college scholarship, argued that the rule deprived her of the opportunity to be seen by college recruiters.

The association, which represents about 400 schools across the state, will continue to bar boys from girls' teams when all-male teams in the same sport are not offered.

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