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Head of Minn. Graduation-Standards Project Quits

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A leading figure in Minnesota's long-running effort to create tougher graduation standards has resigned, charging that Gov. Arne Carlson is retreating from key parts of the idea.

Iris McGinnis, the director of the state's graduation-standards project, announced her resignation last month in a letter to school officials working on the standards. In the letter, Ms. McGinnis charged that the governor and Bruce H. Johnson, the state's commissioner of children, families, and learning, no longer supported the development of the performance assessments that are central to the system.

"While the governor and commissioner state they support the graduation standards, their definition of what that means is very different from the project we have been working on," the letter says.

For more than a decade, the state has been working to devise standards that would require students to demonstrate proficiency in mathematics, science, reading comprehension, writing, and other subjects to receive a high school diploma. The requirements would include both basic-skills tests and performance assessments, which are tasks intended to let students show what they know and can do.

But, Ms. McGinnis says in her letter, the basic-skills tests in reading and mathematics are "the only common piece" on which she, the governor, and Mr. Johnson agree.

In an interview last week, Ms. McGinnis said that the governor and Mr. Johnson have responded to her criticisms, although she refused to say how.

Her letter came at a critical juncture in the standards-setting process, she said.

"The state either picks it up and moves forward, or it lets it die," she said. "The decision has been made to pick it up."

Ms. McGinnis said she will continue to work on the project, but probably not as a full-time employee of the state.

Task Force Formed

A spokeswoman for Mr. Johnson, who took office in October as the head of the new agency that replaced the state education department, said the commissioner has put together a task force in the wake of Ms. McGinnis' resignation to map out the state's course on standards. It should issue a plan by next month that will clear up any confusion about that course, Barbara Shlafer, Mr. Johnson's communications director, said.

"It's clear that [Ms. McGinnis] had a perception that the commissioner and the governor were not committed to the standards," Ms. Shlafer said. "It was not an accurate perception."

"Everybody's unclear about what the heck's going on and what everybody is committed to politically," she said.

Education officials in the state have been slow to draft the proposed graduation standards. They were to be phased in beginning with students who would graduate from high school in 2000.

But of the seven basic-skills tests planned, only two--the reading and math tests--are completed. And only 16 of the 240 planned performance-assessment packages are ready.

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