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In Cleveland, State Reaches $1 Million Accord To Keep Ohio Test

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While federal civil-rights investigators continue their review of Ohio's graduation test, state officials have reached a settlement with a Cleveland group that had challenged the exam.

Members of the class of 1994 will be the first to be denied diplomas if they do not pass 9th-grade-proficiency tests covering reading, writing, mathematics, and citizenship.

Plaintiffs in an ongoing desegregation case in Cleveland had moved in U.S. District Court to make the test an issue in the case. But two days of talks between the plaintiffs' lawyers and state officials yielded a settlement.

However, the U.S. Education Department's office for civil rights is continuing its probe, a spokesman said last week, adding that the investigation may not be complete before graduation exercises begin around Ohio in the next few weeks.

The O.C.R. began reviewing the test and the curriculum of Ohio's schools in March, seeking to determine if the test violates the civil rights of minority students, who fail it in disproportionate numbers.

By focusing on whether those students have been adequately prepared by their schools for the test--and thereby treating school-quality disparities as a potential civil-rights violation--the agency is breaking new ground. Some observers say the O.C.R. stance could endanger the movement to set tougher academic standards. (See Education Week, April 6, 1994.)

Republican members of the U.S. House Education and Labor Committee noted last week in a letter to Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley that many lawmakers backed the Goals 2000: Educate America Act after being assured that "opportunity to learn'' standards for school services would be voluntary.

'Intimate' Federal Role

The letter said that the O.C.R. probe "appears to intimately involve the federal government in the day-to-day operations of school systems'' and "raises the question of whether or not the department will allow any high-stakes standards and assessment provisions to ever be implemented.''

Under the Cleveland settlement, the state will set aside $1 million for tutoring students who have failed the tests. Students will also be given two additional chances to take the test this summer, and an oral version will be available.

The agreement also stipulates that as long as a student continues to take the test and has fulfilled other graduation requirements, he will be allowed to enroll in an Ohio postsecondary institution.

Cleveland officials had sought to postopone the exams for a year, arguing both that they discriminate against minority students and that it is unfair to give private school students until 1999 to pass the test.

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