News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

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State School Board in Ohio Picks New Superintendent

After a nearly 10-month search, the Ohio board of education has picked Susan Tave Zelman to replace retired state Superintendent John M. Goff, who left office at the end of December.

The board voted 18-1 on Dec. 16 to hire Ms. Zelman, who is now the deputy commissioner of education in Missouri. Before spending four years in that state, Ms. Zelman worked for seven years in various administrative positions in the Massachusetts Department of Education. James Van Keuran, who previously served as chief financial officer for Ohio's education agency, will serve as interim superintendent until Ms. Zelman takes office in March.

Last year, board members announced controversial plans to select Mr. Goff's successor before the Nov. 3 elections--despite requests from both of Ohio's gubernatorial candidates that they delay the process. Because the search for a new schools chief went later than expected, newly elected Republican Gov. Robert Taft--who was set to be sworn into office on Monday of this week--met with Ms. Zelman several times before her appointment.

--Jessica L. Sandham

La. Approves Accountability Plan

Louisiana's plan for holding its more than 1,400 public schools accountable for student performance is now final.

Under the plan, which won final approval from the state school board last month, schools will be judged according to a state formula and rewarded for success or, in worst-case scenarios, "reconstituted" if they fail. Under reconstitution, local school districts have the option of firing principals and teachers if a school's score fails to improve after four years.

The state's formula for rating individual schools will take into account student scores from newly developed high-stakes tests and attendance and dropout rates, said Catherine Heitman, a spokeswoman for the education department.

Louisiana plans to spend a base of $20 million in fiscal 1999-2000 on the accountability plan and on a new testing program for grades 4 and 8 that is designed to end the promotion of students not yet academically ready to move to the next grade. Support programs total more than $50 million.

The key to success is linking the new tests to new standards, said Leslie Jacobs, a member of the state board of elementary and secondary education.

--Anjetta McQueen

Ohio OKs Construction Funding

Ohio legislators and outgoing Gov. George V. Voinovich agreed last month to devote $505 million over the next six years to school construction and repairs--the state's largest single commitment to date to ending a statewide facilities crunch.

The appropriation was included in the legislature's broad, $1.72 billion statewide facilities plan. The measure also allocated $549 million for construction at state colleges and universities, $224 million for state prisons, and $44 million for new football stadiums in Cleveland and Cincinnati.

Mr. Voinovich, a Republican who was sworn in last week as a member of the U.S. Senate, signed the bill into law on Dec. 17 as a part of a capital-appropriations measure.

--Jessica L.Sandham

Officials Punished in Testing Case

Austin, Texas, school officials have disciplined two administrators and issued warning letters to four principals suspected of playing a role in the manipulation of students' scores on the state's high-stakes assessments given last spring.

Interim Superintendent A.C. Gonzalez disciplined the officials last September, although the specific measures only came to light in December after the Austin American Statesman newspaper filed an open-records request to obtain the information.

Deputy Superintendent Kay Psencik was formally reprimanded, while research analyst Ricky Arredondo received a week's suspension without pay. Ms. Psencik has filed a grievance against the district challenging the reprimand, while Mr. Arredondo resigned from his school district post in October.

The Texas Education Agency lowered the rankings of three Austin elementary schools in September after an audit revealed that the schools' ratings on the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills were inflated when school officials changed the identification numbers of their lowest-scoring students.

Because the numbers did not match previously assigned identification numbers, the students' test scores were not factored into the schools' overall ratings.

The Travis County district attorney's office is investigating whether school officials broke any laws by altering the test data.

--Jessica L. Sandham

Vol. 18, Issue 18, Page 17

Published in Print: January 13, 1999, as News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
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