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The Alabama Board of Education last month cleared the way for the implementation of a performance-based system of school accreditation in the state.

The board's unanimous vote came nearly three years after it passed a resolution requiring the state superintendent to establish such a system. The program will be phased in over three years, beginning this fall, officials said.

State officials hailed the move as a significant step toward improving educational quality statewide.

For the first time, the state will have a comprehensive procedure for assessing schools on the basis of how well they prepare students and how well students actually learn.

Several tests will be used to assess student performance beginning at the elementary level, including the Stanford Achievement Test and the Alabama high-school graduation exam, said Martha Barton, assistant state superintendent for instruction.

About one-third of the freshmen enrolling in Southeastern colleges need remediation in reading, writing, or mathematics, according to a survey of 15 states by the Southern Regional Education Board.

The study found that students enrolling in the colleges most often need remedial help in math. Over all, nearly 40 percent of the students surveyed were not prepared for college-level math; in Arkansas and Florida, the figure was more than 50 percent. The regional averages for remedition in writing and reading were just over 25 percent.

The survey found that the need for remediation at private colleges was similar to that at public institutions. Remedial-enrollment rates for Hispanic and black students were nearly twice that for white students.

Sreb officials noted that the remediation rates are similar to those in other regions as reported by the National Center for Education Statistics.

Ansley A. Abraham, an sreb researcher and the study's author, said that about 90 percent of Southern colleges now offer remedial courses.

The findings, from a 1989 survey of 606 two- and four-year colleges, show little change from a similar survey conducted three years earlier.

Mr. Abraham said the findings show that drastic changes in schooling are needed to meet the sreb's goal of ensuring by the end of the decade that 80 percent of all college freshmen are prepared for college-level work.

A federal judge has ruled that the Virginia Military Institute can continue its practice of admitting only men.

The U.S. Justice Department has not yet decided on whether it will appeal the decision.

U.S. District Judge Jackson L. Kiser rejected the department's claim that vmi's policy of excluding women was unconstitutional for a school partially supported by public funds. Instead, Judge Kiser held that the school adds diversity to Virginia's higher-education system.

The government sued the Lexington, Va., school 16 months ago after receiving a complaint from an unidentified woman. The school has denied admission to women since its founding in 1839.

Judge Kiser's ruling was handed down June 17. The department had 60 days to file an appeal.

The New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled that the state's landmark "drug-free school zone" law is enforceable even when the offense is committed on property that is owned by a school district but not used for instruction.

Last month's ruling came in a case in which a Red Bank man was arrested in 1988 and charged with intent to distribute drugs in Count Basie Park, a piece of land owned by the Red Bank School Board but leased to the borough. The suspect was charged under the drug-free school zone law.

New Jersey was the first state in the nation to impose special penalties for the sale or possession of drugs on or within 1,000 feet of school property. Violators of the law face a mandatory three-year jail term and a fine.

Portfolios prepared by 4th and 8th graders participating in a pilot project in Vermont showed strong writing performance but relatively weak mathematics performance, according to the first set of results from the pioneering project.

"It produced a very rich picture of performance ... and a very powerful instructional tool," said Richard P. Mills, commissioner of education. "This approach allows students to see their own growth. They can see areas where they aren't growing."

Vermont's effort is the first statewide assessment to use portfolios to measure student abilities.

Their proponents say that portfolios gauge student strengths and weaknesses better than conventional tests. Mr. Mills said it was possible, for example, to ascertain that a student performed well in grammar and word usage but displayed little competence in organization or voice quality.

The portfolios indicated that a large majority of students understood the task in math problem-solving. A smaller percentage, but still a majority, demonstrated workable approaches to problem-solving. Fewer than one-fourth of the students, however, showed evidence of reasoned decision making.

Despite the weak scores overall, 4th graders tended to perform better than did 8th graders, suggesting that math instruction must change, Mr. Mills said.

The state intends to offer additional professional-development opportunities to teachers. This summer, it is running about six writing and math institutes for teachers.

The results also indicate that students and teachers should be better trained in the process. For the math assessment, 17 percent of the 4th-grade portfolios were not ratable; at the 8th-grade level, 42 percent were not ratable.

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