Published Online: June 17, 1998
Published in Print: June 17, 1998, as State Journal

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Under fire

Illinois state schools Superintendent Joseph A. Spagnolo is on the hot seat again.

Just a little more than a year after a state audit found instances of sloppy accounting and mismanagement in the Illinois education department, legislators are again raising questions about the schools chief's ability to get a handle on happenings at the 800-employee agency.

The latest flap began last month when 61 high schools received copies of a department-administered pilot test on health and physical development that included sexually explicit questions dealing with prevention methods for sexually transmitted diseases. About 55 schools ended up giving students the tests.

Joseph A. Spagnola

The tests were sent to schools prematurely when, in a breach of agency protocol, they went out the door before they were screened by a content-advisory committee, said Kim E. Knauer, a spokeswoman for the department.

Responses to four of the exam's 49 multiple-choice questions, which were pulled from a data bank of test items available to members of a consortium sponsored by the Washington-based Council of Chief State School Officers, included references to anal and oral sex and to condom use. One question asked students to identify the most effective way to avoid contracting a sexually transmitted disease, but did not list abstinence as a possible answer.

Mr. Spagnolo issued a letter of apology June 3 to the local superintendents and principals whose schools were affected. He said he was "as shocked and dismayed as anyone that questions as insensitive as these would be used in any kind of assessment of Illinois students."

Three agency employees, including two administrators, were also disciplined when the test questions were brought to the attention of department officials.

But some state legislators, including Rep. Gerald Mitchell, a Republican, said such after-the-fact actions ring hollow.

Mr. Mitchell recently sent a letter to legislators and state board members asking that Mr. Spagnolo's contract with the education department, which expires next year and is up for review this month, not be renewed.

--JESSICA L. SANDHAM jsandham@epe.org

Vol. 17, Issue 40, Page 25

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