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Capital Update: Standards, Deregulation Highlight N.C. Proposal

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The North Carolina board of education has issued a broad school-reform plan, calling for decentralization of the state's education bureaucracy and high standards for students.

The plan, released this month, emphasizes high achievement standards and a focus on such basics as reading, writing, and mathematics. It also calls for a major decentralization and deregulation effort. The board recommended that the state reduce the education department by more than a third, from 788 to 485 employees. It estimated that such cuts would save about $20.9 million a year.

The state board also proposed a new accountability plan, which would set annual improvement goals for each of the state's nearly 2,000 schools. Schools that met the goals could receive teacher bonuses and greater flexibility in decisionmaking, while those that did not could be subject to sanctions and loss of control.

The board's plan now goes to the legislature, which has been considering various bills that would shuffle the state's education power structure. (See Education Week, 3/8/95.)

One More Chance: Nearly 15,000 Texas high school seniors were awaiting the results of the final administration of the state assessment of academic skills last week, with graduation riding on the outcome.

State officials said that about 92 percent of the state's seniors had passed the test heading into the last-chance round of the tests. Students in this year's class began taking the test as sophomores.

The test is meant to back up diplomas by making sure that students demonstrate mastery of basic skills. But it has been criticized by some parents and teachers as harsh and unfair. (See Education Week, 6/15/94.)

As some members of the Class of 1995 were holding their breath, lawmakers were considering revamping the state's system for insuring the competency of its graduates. Lawmakers are considering switching the current assessment to exit tests for individual core high school courses that would be tied to earning graduation credits.

Back in Gear: Florida lawmakers have ended the gridlock that had stalled their overtime legislative session by agreeing to a school-spending measure that will pay for smaller 1st-grade classes.

The $40 million program was the key to a compromise that House and Senate lawmakers reached on the state's $39 billion budget after marathon weekend sessions. The legislature was scheduled to reconvene late last week to vote on the budget bill.

Republican Senate leaders had opposed the move to 20-student 1st-grade classes, arguing that schools did not have the facilities to create more 1st-grade classrooms and would end up crowding other elementary students. The Democrats who control the House had pushed for the measure and said they hoped to expand the class-size reductions each year.

The budget plan, for the fiscal year that begins in July, also includes $100 million to pay for prekindergarten classes for children from poor families.

A charter-school bill died in the waning hours of the session.

Va. Set To Fine Parents: Under a law signed by Gov. George F. Allen of Virginia this month, parents of disruptive students could be fined up to $500 if they failed to make efforts to improve their children's behavior in school.

If a student caused a serious disruption, a judge could order his parents to meet with school officials to outline a behavior-modification strategy.

"It's unfortunate that we're at the point that society has allowed parents to have the freedom to walk away from children," said Beverly H. Sgro, the state education secretary. Holding parents accountable for the actions of their children will help curtail undisciplined behavior and improve education, she said.

Indiana Assessments: Efforts to replace Indiana's testing system with a controversial new assessment program were derailed during the final days of the 1995 legislative session.

Most of the elements of the current testing system, the Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress exam, or istep, will remain the same, but fewer students will be required to take the test. Testing for students in grades 2, 4, and 8 will be dropped, and only students in grades 3, 6, and 10 will take the test.

In addition, educators will redesign the existing test to include essay questions, a key feature of the Indiana Performance Assessment for Student Success. Ipass, signed into law three years ago by Democratic Gov. Evan Bayh, has been struggling for life in the Republican-controlled Senate.(See Education Week, 4/12/95.)

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