News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

October 09, 2002 4 min read
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California Test Scores Spark Calls for Change

More than half of California’s 10th graders who took the state’s high school exit exam failed it last spring, the first time that scores on the test counted toward graduation.

The results, which were released last week, showed that 48 percent of those 459,588 students who took the test received passing scores.

For students with disabilities, the results were even more distressing. About 87 percent of the special education students tested failed the exams.

That news did not surprise the lawyers who are suing the state in a class action on behalf of special education students. They want the test designed with those students’ needs in mind, and accommodations made for those students who cannot take standardized tests, such as those who have dyslexia and who simply need more time.

“Kids all along, and particularly kids with disabilities, have not been prepared,” said Melissa Kasnitz, a staff lawyer for Disability Rights Advocates, an Oakland, Calif., nonprofit legal group representing the state’s 173,470 high school students with disabilities. “It is unconscionable to withhold their diplomas.”

Starting with the class of 2004, students must pass the test to receive a diploma. But the California board of education must study whether to postpone the consequences by the summer of 2003.

—Lisa Fine Goldstein

Low Ratings Loom For Many Arizona Schools

An estimated 200 public schools in Arizona are bracing for news that they will be labeled “underperforming” by the state.

That was the number given to the state board of education recently after it asked for an impact report on Arizona’s upcoming accountability ratings.

According to state officials, some 1,130 schools will know by the middle of this month how they measure up on the state’s new five-tier ranking system.

In this first round, schools will be branded as “excelling,” “improving,” “maintaining,” or “underperforming.” If a school is underperforming for two consecutive years, it will be labeled “failing” and will be subject to a state review and possible takeover.

Under Arizona’s accountability system, school ratings are based on test scores, graduation and dropout rates, and improvement on state assessments over the past three years.

The schools labeled “underperforming,” which will include some charter schools, will have 120 days from the time they are notified of the status to develop school improvement plans and hold public hearings on the plans.

—Robert C. Johnston

Mass. Teacher Finds Error; Hundreds Now Pass Test

A Massachusetts social studies teacher who caught a mistake on the state’s assessment exams is a new hero in the eyes of hundreds of 8th graders.

John J. Gibbons Jr., a 49-year-old social studies teacher at Clinton Middle School in Clinton, Mass., discovered that a question on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System 8th grade history exam had two correct answers.

The multiple-choice question asked students to identify the powers granted to Congress by the U.S. Constitution. Two correct answers—enacting laws and collecting taxes—were listed. But when the exam was scored only the choice for enacting laws was deemed correct.

Mr. Gibbons contacted the department of education and explained the error. Now 666 students who thought they had failed the exam had their scores bumped up to passing, and about 14,000 who took the test will see their scores increase.

“I’m thrilled because kids were helped,” Mr. Gibbons said.

—John Gehring

Study: Inexperienced Teachers In Neediest Calif. Schools

A new report asserts that California’s neediest students are being taught by some of the least-qualified teachers, and that low-performing schools have few veteran teachers to support their inexperienced colleagues.

More information on the report, “The Status of the Teaching Profession 2001,” is available from The Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning. (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

The Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning, a nonprofit group that studies California school reforms and is based in Santa Cruz, Calif., also found that state and local data do not support politicians’ arguments that many teachers without credentials are experienced and well-educated.

Only about 5,000, or 12 percent, of the state’s uncredentialed teachers hold advanced degrees and have an average 3.2 years of teaching experience, according the report, which was to be released this week. In contrast, about 40 percent of the state’s roughly 278,000 fully credentialed teachers hold master’s or doctoral degrees and report an average of 14.9 years of teaching experience, it adds.

And the uncertified teachers with advanced academic credentials are more likely to be teaching in more affluent schools, according to the center.

The study urges the state to provide more training for teachers before they enter the classroom and create incentives to draw top teachers to the high-poverty, low-performing schools.

—Joetta L. Sack


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