News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
Calif. to Dole Out Bonuses to Teachers, Despite Suit
The California Department of Education is moving forward with the distribution of bonuses to teachers that range from $5,000 to $25,000, despite a continued legal challenge to the reward program.
A memo the department sent to districts last month indicated that they would likely start to see the bonus checks late this month. The $100 million bonus program—through which the state will grant $25,000 bonuses to 1,000 certified staff members, $10,000 each to 3,750 staff members, and $5,000 to 7,500 employees—is designed to reward teachers at the schools that logged the greatest improvements on state tests between 1999 and last year.
Distribution of the bonuses had been delayed by a lawsuit filed last fall by a group of teachers at a Sacramento elementary school. The teachers challenged the state's requirement that schools record at least two consecutive years of improvement on state tests to be eligible for the bonuses.
Although the legal challenge against the bonus program remains unresolved, the state department of finance said earlier last month that the education department would not be held fiscally responsible should the state lose in court. That decision cleared the way for distribution of the bonuses.
—Jessica L. Sandham
Mich. Ends Cheating Probe
Fewer than a third of the 71 Michigan schools originally flagged for possible cheating on state tests remained on the list when officials completed their two-month investigation—and even those will not be penalized.
A report released late last month on testing "irregularities" pointed to probable instances of "inappropriate" teaching, test preparation, or test administration in 20 schools. One school admitted to "teacher interference" with results.
The report cleared 46 other schools of wrongdoing. Four schools were dropped from the list earlier when it was found they had been included by mistake. ("Dozens of Mich. Schools Under Suspicion For Cheating," June 20, 2001.)
Test officials said they did not intend to punish any of the schools for the instances of identical phrasing that had caught reviewers' attention on the elementary and middle school tests.
Rather, they asked the schools with problems to examine whether teachers were overemphasizing memorization, using "live" test items for practice, or in other ways violating the rule or the spirit of the Michigan Educational Assessment Program.
"It's far more productive to look at the large trends we identified and not get on one school's particular case," said Michael A. Bolus, the deputy secretary of the Michigan Department of Treasury, which oversees the MEAP.
"We probably haven't done a good enough job in communicating that some schools are spending too much time on test preparation, rather than the regular curriculum," Mr. Bolus said.
Calif. Test Challenges Students
Fewer than a third of California students in grades 2-11 reached the state's proficiency goal on a new assessment designed to measure whether students are meeting the state's English and language arts standards, according to recently released test scores.
Among the 4.5 million students who took the test, the proportion of students the state considered "proficient" ranged from a low of 29 percent in the 5th, 9th, and 11th grades to a high of 33 percent in the 4th grade.
The standards-based assessment was administered for the first time last spring, and the results were disclosed last month. It is designed to supplement the norm-referenced Stanford Achievement Test-9th Edition, which has been used in the state for four years and is not linked to the state's academic standards. This year also marks the first time the scores from the standards-based assessment will be used as a factor in school ratings.
California schools Superintendent Delaine Eastin called the goal of having all students reach the "proficient" level on the standards-based test "rigorous and ambitious," but suggested it is reachable.
"Overall, scores are up, and that's good news," Ms. Eastin said in a statement announcing this year's results from the state's Standardized Testing and Reporting, or STAR, program. "However, the performance on the new California Standards Tests reveals that we still have much work to do to achieve world-class results."
N.Y. Sued Over Test Mandate
A group of 28 schools in New York state is suing the state education commissioner over his rejection of their request to substitute their tests for the statewide high school exit exams.
The coalition—which includes schools in Bedford, Ithaca, New York City, and Rochester—maintains that Commissioner Richard C. Mills was "completely arbitrary" when he insisted that the schools give the state regents' exams and refused to let the schools use their own tests as exit exams, according to Richard Davis, a lawyer for the group.
Student outcomes, such as high college-enrollment rates, demonstrate that the schools' use of research papers, science experiments, and oral examinations for student assessment is an adequate alternative to the regents' exams, the group argues.
In April, Mr. Mills withdrew a waiver that had allowed the schools to give their own tests in place of the regents' exams. He said that the schools could continue to do their own assessments, but that the alternative exams did not assess whether students knew all that was expected under the state's academic-content standards.
State education department officials declined comment on the lawsuit last week.
—David J. Hoff
Vol. 21, Issue 2, Page 22