News in Brief: A National Roundup

March 24, 1999 8 min read

Judge Won’t Delay Effect of NCAA-Eligibility Ruling

A federal judge last week rejected the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s request to delay the enforcement of his earlier ruling that struck down a key part of its freshmen-eligibility standards.

U.S. District Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter of Philadelphia said March 16 that granting such a stay would not “further the public interest” because the NCAA’s minimum college-admissions-test scores were found to discriminate against African-American student athletes. He also refused to limit the effect of the ruling to the four black plaintiffs, meaning the standards’ use of SAT and ACT scores is barred nationwide. (“Court Rejects Test Scores as NCAA Eligibility Criteria,” March 17, 1999.)

Cedric W. Dempsey, the president of the NCAA, said the ruling left member institutions “with many unknowns about how to address eligibility standards.”

CAA officials said they doubted that revised standards would be in place before April 7, when high school seniors can resume signing letters of intent to play intercollegiate sports. That leaves admissions-score standards up to each institution, the officials said. Further appeals are pending.

--Mark Walsh

R.I. Assessments Back On

Rhode Island plans to administer state tests it had canceled earlier this month because of widespread security breaches.

State education officials halted the administration of state assessments in English and mathematics after learning that teachers in some schools may have kept copies of last year’s exams, which include the same test items. (“R.I. Halts Exams in Wake of Wide-Scale Security Breaches,” March 17, 1999.)

The San Antonio-based test publisher Harcourt Brace Educational Measurement has agreed to provide new forms of the student exams, which Rhode Island has scheduled to give in May. “It’s saving the year, and that’s critical,” Commissioner of Education Peter J. McWalters said.

Although the state’s preliminary investigation suggests that the breaches were extensive, he added, no evidence has surfaced that educators knew they were compromising the integrity of the exams.

--Jeff Archer

SOURCE: Quality Education Data

Principal Resigns Over Test Leak

An intermediate school principal in Central Square, N.Y., who distributed advance copies of a trial English/language arts test for 4th graders has resigned.

JoAnn Tharrett, a third-year principal at the 430-student Central Square Intermediate School, about 15 miles north of Syracuse, believed she was giving teachers copies of a used trial state test similar to the sample exam she had passed out earlier in the school year, according to a spokesman for the Syracuse branch of the New York State United Teachers.

Ms. Tharrett reported the error to the district in January when the official test arrived and she realized that it was the exact test she had distributed, union officials said. The district then got in touch with the state, launched an internal investigation, and suspended the curriculum director for the 4,800-student district for 30 days without pay.

Superintendent Walter Doherty did not respond to requests for comment. Nor would others in the district explain why the curriculum director was singled out.

New York Commissioner of Education Richard P. Mills has formed a task force to look into a number of irregularities statewide concerning the 4th grade exam. (“Panel To Probe Validity of N.Y. Reading Test,” Feb. 3, 1999.)

--Michelle Galley

San Diego Cuts Administrative Jobs

The San Diego school board last week approved a reorganization of the district that slashes $8.3 million in administrative costs and does away with more than 100 nonteaching jobs.

Superintendent Alan Bersin proposed the central-office downsizing as part of a plan to send more money to the schools and pay for teaching coaches at each of the district’s 170 campuses.

When Mr. Bersin, a former U.S. attorney, was hired to lead the 139,000-student school system a year ago, the board directed him to reduce administrative costs in the $860 million budget by at least 5 percent. The plan approved by the board makes a 13 percent cut. In addition to eliminating jobs, it axes some programs and combines others.

Some employees will be offered new jobs; those with teaching credentials may go into classrooms.

--Bess Keller

Mayor’s Concert Ban Overturned

Following community outcry over the mayor’s cancellation of a student-organized rock concert, City Council members in Streetsboro, Ohio, have voted to let a heavy-metal band perform at the town’s high school next month.

In a 6-1 decision this month, the board voted to override Mayor Sally Henzel’s decision to cancel the concert for public-safety reasons. Students from the 550-student Streetsboro High School’s radio station expect to sell 1,500 tickets for the concert, which was organized as a fund-raiser for the station. Mushroomhead, a Cleveland-based band known for its sexually graphic lyrics and stage antics, signed a contract with concert organizers promising not to perform explicit material.

“I don’t like Mushroomhead, I don’t like what they stand for, I don’t like their music,” said Gary Rivers, the City Council president. “But these kids busted their butts to put this thing together ... and I’ll be damned if I’m going to let somebody shut them down for no good reason.”

--Jessica L. Sandham

Student-Transfer Case Settled

A district in Bakersfield, Calif., will amend its classroom-transfer policy to resolve a teacher’s complaint that administrators acceded to parents’ requests to transfer 15 students out of his science class because they perceived he was gay.

Under terms of the agreement, parents will have to provide their reasons for seeking transfers in writing. The district also agreed to deny requests that violate anti-discrimination laws.

James D. Merrick, who has taught for 40 yearsthe past five at the Rio Bravo-Greely Elementary districtwill finish out the year as a curriculum specialist.

The state’s chief deputy labor commissioner ruled March 10 that the 800-student district discriminated against Mr. Merrick when it “fostered different treatment in an aspect of employment based upon perceived sexual orientation.”

Scott McVarish, a staff lawyer for the California Teachers Association, said his client is homosexual but had not stated so publicly at the time the parents asked for the transfers.

--Andrew Trotter

E-Mail Test Tips Net Penalty

A high school student in Fullerton, Calif., has been disciplined for sending, by e-mail, a summary of the questions and answers for an honors-level history final to students preparing to take the test.

A dozen students at the 2,100-student Sunny Hills High School received the e-mail, said Principal Loring Davies. Citing student confidentiality, Mr. Davies refused to divulge how many students opened the electronic file with the test information, how many were punished, what punishments they received, or how many were exonerated.

The test, which is generally taken by 10th graders, is given in shifts over several days. After taking the exam, Mr. Davies said, one student went home and sent the e-mail message to other students. School officials investigated the matter after some students told officials what had happened. With the cooperation of parents, administrators used e-mail records to find the students

--Andrew Trotter

Jury Cites LAUSD for Bias

A jury has awarded more than $242,000 to three teachers who sued the Los Angeles Unified School District for failing to check discrimination against African-Americans at the district’s largest middle school.

A fourth plaintiff in the lawsuit--Michael Collins, a former student--settled out of court previously.

As one of only 16 black students at the predominantly Hispanic South Gates Middle School, the 13-year-old student claimed that he had endured repeated racial slurs, malicious pranks, and physical attacks.

The three black teachers--Emily F. Gibson, Frances M. Copeland, and Levell Smith--said they had repeatedly been passed over for job assignments that went to less qualified applicants. Ms. Gibson charged that district administrators had also retaliated against her for seeking protection for Michael Collins.

The superior court jury voted 9-3 March 12 to award $100,986 to Ms. Gibson, $98,146 to Ms. Copeland, and $43,283 to Mr. Smith. Dorothy Reyes, the 697,000-student district’s lawyer, said last week that school officials planned to appeal.

--Debra Viadero

Teachers Investigated for Remarks

Palm Beach County, Fla., school officials last week were looking into allegations that some of its teachers made racially insensitive comments to Haitian students.

The probe began after a math instructor at Olympic Heights High School complained, in an e-mail to other staff members, that teachers in the school’s English-as-a-second-language department had made disparaging remarks about Haitians. The 147,000-student district serves a large number of Haitian immigrants.

Principal Francis Giblin said the complaints were largely the result of misunderstandings, but he asked the school psychologist to talk with teachers in the department about the need to be sensitive to the feelings of minority students. District administrators also planned to meet with the school’s teachers and aides to determine what exactly was said.

Jake Sello, who oversees the district’s southern region, said he was working to determine if there was a problem.

--Jeff Archer

Reading Panel Outlines Plans

After more than half a dozen meetings and public hearings, the National Reading Panel has begun to review reading research and discuss the best strategies for teaching children to read.

The 14-member panel was established by Congress last year and, under the direction of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, will interpret what research says about effective instructional methods and disseminate the findings to schools.

In its progress report, released last month, the panel outlined its plan for meeting that mandate.

The panel will try to: define literacy; determine how to teach reading; address whether schools and teachers are prepared to implement its recommendations; and establish the best way to distribute its final report, due to Congress early next year.

--Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

A version of this article appeared in the March 24, 1999 edition of Education Week as News in Brief: A National Roundup