News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

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Ky. Senate Approves KIRIS Changes

The Kentucky Senate last week approved with only minor amendments a plan to make significant changes in the centerpiece of the state's eight-year-old groundbreaking school reform effort.

The bill, SB 243, would change the shape of the state test of what students know and can do and erase years of judgments about school performance based on those test scores. It passed the Senate 35-1, with two members not voting.

The Senate education committee earlier this month had approved the measure, which legislators said represented a bipartisan compromise. ("Ky. Senate Panel Approves State Test Overhaul," Feb. 18, 1998.)

The bill is designed to answer critics of the Kentucky Instructional Results Information System, or KIRIS, which rewards schools that improve their test performance and sends in outside help to those that don't.

Its detractors cite what they say are unreliable and inconsistent results.

The Senate measure would not count this year's scores, and would distribute reward money to every school. But lawmakers said the bill is also meant to preserve some semblance of the current testing and accountability system.

Four amendments adopted on the Senate floor made technical changes to the bill, including killing the proposed new name for KIRIS--Commonwealth Assessment and Accountability Program.

A new name was not offered. The measure now goes to the House.

In the House last week, a member introduced an alternative bill that would revamp the test and create a new accountability system, but would count this year's scores in order to make rewards to schools.

Va. House Favors Sex Education Mandate

The Virginia House has voted to restore the state requirement that sex education be taught in public schools. The move would reverse the controversial decision last year by the state school board that abolished the mandate.

Despite objections from many local educators, Gov. George F. Allen, a Republican whose term expired last month, had pushed to abolish the requirement during his tenure.

But in a vote of 60-39 earlier this month, House Republicans joined Democrats in seeking to reinstate the requirement that local school boards offer age-appropriate sex education.

As before, parents would be given the option of exempting their children from the courses.

The House also overwhelmingly voted this month to restore the state's requirement that elementary schools have guidance counselors. During Mr. Allen's term, the state board had given districts the option of replacing guidance counselors with reading specialists.

The new gop governor, James S. Gilmore III, denounced the House vote, but has not threatened to veto the measure if the Senate approves it.

A date has not yet been scheduled for the Senate to vote on the measure.

Cellucci Proposes Spreading Discipline Authority

Traditionally, unruly students are sent to the principal's office, where, depending on the offense, they face the threat of suspension.

But under a bill proposed this month by Acting Gov. Paul Cellucci of Massachusetts, teachers would be granted the power to suspend misbehaving students from their classes for up to five days. The suspended students could still attend other classes.

"Teachers deserve to have the disciplinary tools they need to keep their classrooms safe and free of disruption," Gov. Cellucci, a Republican, said in unveiling the bill before an audience of students, teachers, and parents at a Boston middle school.

He said that in some cases, principals fail to back the disciplinary decisions of teachers.

The bill, described as the first of its kind in the nation, has drawn a mixed response from lawmakers and education officials.

Stephen E. Gorrie, the president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association, said that he generally supports the idea of giving teachers "proper discretion to remove disruptive students."

Yet he was reserving judgment on the measure until he was certain that suspended students would be supervised and would spend their time out of class constructively.

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