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Published in Print: March 13, 2002, as News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

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Maryland's 8th Grade Tests To Be Optional This Spring

In the first of what are to be many changes in Maryland's highly regarded school accountability system, state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick announced two initial policy reversals last week.

For starters, she said that the 8th grade portion of the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program, or MSPAP, would be voluntary for school districts this spring.

In a statement, she said that the relaxed testing requirement would allow schools more time to focus on new high school assessments that are scheduled to be phased in as early as next fall. The policy shift will also allow the state more time to develop new assessments for the 7th and 8th grades that meet the requirements of the newly reauthorized federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

In addition, Ms. Grasmick announced that teachers would not score this spring's 3rd and 5th grade MSPAP exams, as they have in the past. By using private vendors, state education officials hope to have results back to schools by September—up to three months sooner than in previous years.

—Robert C. Johnston

Ala. Clips Birmingham Title I Aid

Alabama state education officials have served notice that they will withhold federal money from the Birmingham public schools because of a long-overdue financial audit by the district.

The district stands to lose more than $3 million in federal Title I and special education aid that would have been distributed by the state later this month.

"We had to take action, the action being that their federal funds as per regulations were suspended," said Robert L. Morton, the assistant superintendent for finance and administration in the Alabama Department of Education.

Mr. Morton said that the 38,000-student district had not provided the state with a financial audit that was due last June 30. "We gave them two extensions to September 30 and February 28, ... but they still have not turned in a report," he said.

The next batch of federal aid goes out at the end of the month. If the audit is produced before then, the district will receive its money. Mr. Morton said he wasn't worried about financial irregularities; the audit is simply too late.

—Erik W. Robelen

New Illinois Award Shows Gaps

Nearly one-quarter of the high school juniors who took Illinois' new Prairie State Achievement Examination earned performance awards.

The test, administered for the first time last April, assesses whether students exceeded state standards in five subjects. Of the 113,000 students who took the test, 27,573 scored high enough in one subject to receive an award, and 2,843 students—about 2.5 percent of the test-takers—received awards in all five categories, state education officials said.

Some performance gaps were evident in the scores. State education department figures show that fewer than 6 percent of the students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches—a measure of poverty—received awards, while 28 percent of those not eligible for subsidized meals received the awards.

Boys earned more awards than girls did in math, science and social science, while girls received more awards than boys did in reading and writing. Racial gaps showed up as well. Twelve percent of the Asian-American students and 11 percent of white students who took the test won awards, compared with 4 percent of the Hispanic test-takers and 3 percent of African-American test-takers.

—Catherine Gewertz

After Tussle, Ariz. Teachers Get Raise

Arizona teachers will get their $73 million in voter-approved pay raises this year, now that state senators have resolved a disagreement over whether the allocation would violate a state limit on education spending.

The standoff started late last month, when members of the Senate finance committee put a hold on the teacher raises after receiving conflicting data from the state education department about projected education budget levels.

Jaime Molera

State schools Superintendent Jaime Molera sent one letter to legislators saying that the extra voter-approved money would leave state education spending $104 million under a state constitutional cap, said department spokesman Tom Collins. That letter was followed the same day by a memo from Mr. Molera, informing legislators the new money would actually push education spending $123 million over the limit.

The latter finding sparked an intense lobbying effort by education groups in the state, prompting senators to waive the spending cap for one year. Mr. Collins said Mr. Molera apologized to senators for the mistake, as well as for the missed deadlines for providing senators with school spending projections.

—Darcia Harris Bowman

Scarsdale, N.Y., Eschews Test Boycott

Activist parents who last year had their 8th grade children boycott a New York state test marked this year's exam with a rally for parents.

Activists in Scarsdale, N.Y., who formed a group called State Tests Opposed by Parents, or STOP, were concerned that state Commissioner of Education Richard P. Mills might take action against Scarsdale district Superintendent Michael V. McGill or the Scarsdale school board if students again boycotted.

District officials have been critical of the tests and have crossed swords with Mr. Mills over the issue. The March 7 rally was expected to draw supporters from other towns in suburban Westchester County as well as from New York City.

"There has to be some flexibility in the system," said Leslie Wolffe Berkovits, a STOP founder. Scarsdale officials and parents say state tests take too much time from regular teaching.

—Bess Keller

Vol. 21, Issue 26, Page 16

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