News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

October 20, 1999 3 min read
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Va. Eyes Flexible Approach to Accountability

The Virginia board of education gave preliminary approval this month to changes in the state accountability program that would give schools more flexibility in meeting rigorous testing requirements.

Current law requires Virginia schools to demonstrate that 70 percent of their students meet state testing requirements before 2007, or lose their accreditation and risk further state action. Only 7 percent of schools met the requirements last spring, in the second year of the testing program.

Under the proposed changes, schools that fell short of the 70 percent passing rate in some areas but showed steady gains would be formally recognized as “improving” schools, and would not be subject to reconstitution if they continued to make progress. The board also added categories that would recognize schools that surpassed state testing requirements. .

“The key is that we’ve not compromised on any standards or the timetable, but we’ve shown that within the frameworks we can be flexible,” board President Kirk Schroeder said.

The board plans to hold public hearings on the proposed changes before taking a final vote on the matter in January.

--Jessica L. Sandham

Special Session in Delaware To Focus on Teachers

Delaware legislators will soon consider legislation that would create a comprehensive system of licensing, evaluation, and professional development for teachers.

Gov. Thomas R. Carper, a Democrat, called for a special session of the legislature beginning Oct. 28 to consider the compromise proposal, which the governor negotiated this past summer with members of the Delaware State Education Association. The teachers’ union, a National Education Association affiliate, agreed to support the plan after it received assurances that a 15-member professional-standards board proposed in the legislation would include at least eight teachers.

“It’s very important to teachers that if they’re going to be regulated by a board, they have to have a majority of practitioners on it,” said Pam Nichols, the communications director for the state union.

--Jessica L. Sandham

Mass. To Rate Schools Based on State Test Scores

Scores on a controversial state test will provide the basis for the new accountability system for Massachusetts schools.

The state board of education voted 7-1 last month to rate schools in two-year cycles, identifying their overall performance and improvement on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System. In the first two-year cycle, schools will be put into one of six categories--ranging from “critically low” to “very high"--based on their 1998 test scores. The schools will be rated again on their 2000 test scores and evaluated on whether they met designated goals for improvement.

Schools that are “referred for review” will be required to submit improvement plans to the state. If those goals aren’t met in the next two years, the state will be allowed to take over the schools.

Students in several schools boycotted the state test last spring. They called it an unfair measure of their achievement. (“Student Protesters in Massachusetts Sit Out State Exams,” June 2, 1999. )

--David J. Hoff

Report Slams Calif. Basic-Skills Test for Teachers

A basic-skills test that California educators must pass to receive teaching licenses is scientifically invalid, discriminates against minorities, and has failed to improve student achievement, a recent report concludes.

The report, released this month by the Applied Research Center, an Oakland, Calif.-based research institute specializing in race-related issues, compiles past critiques of the California Basic Educational Skills Test. Titled “Adverse Impact: How CBEST Fails the People of California,” the report argues that CBEST fails to keep unprepared teachers out of the classroom, while preventing scores of qualified teachers from becoming credentialed. The test has an especially adverse impact on minority teaching candidates, the report adds.

The test has been the subject of a continuing legal challenge by a group of minority educators, who argue that it violates their civil rights. This past summer, a three-judge panel of the federal appeals court in San Francisco upheld an earlier decision that CBEST was “a valid, job-related test.” The plaintiffs’ request for a rehearing is pending.

--Jessica L. Sandham


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