News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

August 02, 2000 4 min read

Va. To Allow Substitution of National for State Tests

The Virginia state school board voted last week to give students the option of substituting national exams for state tests in meeting new high school graduation requirements slated for enforcement starting in 2004.

The new rules allow students to pass either the state’s Standards of Learning exams or one of several alternatives—including those from the Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, and SAT subject-matter programs.

High school students will be required to pass the state’s English tests, but the state will accept results for other exams in mathematics, social studies, and science. They will need to pass six tests to earn a standard diploma and nine exams for an advanced-studies diploma.

At the same time, the board rejected a proposal to create a “basic” diploma to be awarded to those who passed academic courses but failed the exams. It did, however, create a “modified-standard diploma” that special education students will be eligible to earn.

—David J. Hoff

N.C. Survey Critical of ABC Plan

North Carolina educators say the state’s 4-year-old accountability plan has caused low morale and forced teachers to abandon creative teaching to prepare students to take standardized tests.

A survey of 22,000 teachers, administrators, teaching assistants, and other school staff members, released by the North Carolina Association of Educators last month, found a growing level of stress and frustration attributed to the ABCs of Public Education program. The program provides cash bonuses to teachers and schools that show sufficient improvement on state tests.

According to the survey, some 57 percent of teachers, and 46 percent of administrators are in favor of scrapping the nationally acclaimed program. A majority of respondents said that, while the program has produced significant gains in achievement, placing high stakes on the results of one test is unfair and unproductive.

—Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

Texas Alters Course Requirements

Texas students will soon face stricter new course requirements for high school graduation. The state school board last month approved the curriculum changes, including mandatory geometry, biology, chemistry, and physics. The requirements will take effect for students entering 9th grade next year, and are keyed to the 11th grade tests that class will need to pass to graduate in 2004.

The new curriculum requirements include a course in biology and one in either chemistry, physics, or integrated chemistry and physics. Under the old minimum graduation requirements, students had to take two courses in science, with one of them being biology, chemistry, or physics.

—Bess Keller

Colo. Ballot Measure Rejected

A proposed ballot initiative to replace bilingual education with English-immersion programs in Colorado will not be put before voters in November, following the state supreme court’s rejection of the measure’s wording.

The court said in a July 10 ruling that the titles and summary of the California-style initiative must be changed to let voters know that schools or districts would not be required to offer bilingual education under the measure.

It also ordered the elimination of a reference to English- immersion programs as developing fluency “as rapidly and effectively as possible.”

Because of the ruling, One Nation Indivisible, the Washington- based organization that is financing efforts to gather signatures in support of the proposal, announced it would postpone until 2002 its efforts to dismantle bilingual education in the state.

The decision nullifies the signatures already gathered, and the organization cannot collect enough signatures to put a revised measure on the ballot in time for the November election, said Jorge E. Amselle, a spokesman for One Nation Indivisible, an offshoot of the Washington-based Center for Equal Opportunity.

That leaves Arizona as the only state likely to have an initiative to curtail bilingual education on its ballot this fall. In June, supporters of the Arizona initiative submitted what they believed to be enough signatures to ensure it a spot on the Nov. 7 ballot.

—Mary Ann Zehr

Harrisburg Takeover Halted in Pa.

Stephen R. Reed, the mayor of Harrisburg, Pa., won’t be picking a board to run the city’s schools any time soon, following a court ruling striking down the portion of a new state law that directed him to do so.

Signed this past spring by Gov. Tom Ridge, a Republican, the Educational Empowerment Act gave the state new powers to intervene in low-performing districts. Of the 11 distressed systems identified in the law, only Harrisburg was designated to have its elected school board replaced by one picked by the mayor.

But Commonwealth Court Judge Dan Pellegrini sided with a group of parents, school board members, and other residents in the 8,800-student district who sued to get an injunction stopping the mayor from choosing the board.

On July 14, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld the injunction. The state will continue the litigation, however, with a hearing in commonwealth court in September. Attempts to reach Mayor Reed for comment were unsuccessful.

—Robert C. Johnston

A version of this article appeared in the August 02, 2000 edition of Education Week as News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup