News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
Calif. Acknowledges Flaws In School Ranking Effort
California's new system for ranking its schools has hit a major snag, sending state administrators back to their computers for recalculations of the official numbers released last month.
More than 400 schools asked the state to recompute the rankings they had received when compared with schools having similar characteristics, on the grounds that their districts had underreported the proportion of low-income students in the affected schools.
The calculations will affect only one of the state's two types of school rankings: where schools stand in comparison with those that have similar characteristics on such measures as level of student poverty. The adjustments will not change where schools rank compared with all schools statewide.
Both ways of gauging school performance have garnered considerable attention since the state released its first Academic Performance Index standings late last month. ("Calif. Schools Get Rankings Based on Tests," Feb. 2, 2000.)
The state education department expects to release recalculated rankings by mid-April.
ECS Seeking 'Corporate Partners'
The Education Commission of the States, a leading organization serving state education policymakers, is seeking businesses interested in becoming affiliated with the Denver-based group.
The commission's Corporate Partners program, announced last week, is designed to offer business leaders the chance "to work more closely with state policymakers" and receive such services as research and policy analysis. To join, corporations would pay annual fees, ranging from $5,000 to $25,000, depending on the level of services they desired.
"ECS for a very long time has invited business leaders to talk with policymakers,'' said Arleen Arnsparger, who directs the program. "Now we'll have the formal structure to keep business leaders informed along with policymakers."
Ms. Arnsparger said businesses are welcome to join whether their interest in education is as a "corporate citizen" or as a producer of goods and services for the education market.
Mass. Shortening 4th Grade Test
As part of a continuing effort to shorten Massachusetts' testing program for elementary students, this year's 4th graders will spend less time taking state exams than previous classes have.
Classroom hours 4th graders spend taking Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System tests will drop to less than eight hours this year, down from 13 hours in 1998, the first year they were given. Next year, the testing time is slated to decline further, to less than six hours.
Responding to criticisms that the tests were too long, the state has been paring the number of test questions and sessions, as well as moving parts of the 4th grade exam to 5th grade. MCAS tests are given each year to 4th, 8th, and 10th graders in English, mathematics, and science, as well as history and social studies in the 8th and 10th grades.
Commissioner of Education David P. Driscol said the changes are "making the test process more efficient and less onerous."
Okla. Evolution Disclaimer Halted
Oklahoma's attorney general has halted plans to insert a four-paragraph statement that questions the theory of evolution into science textbooks statewide.
The state textbook commission, which approved the statement, exceeded its authority when it voted to insert the statement because state law only allows it to accept or reject textbooks submitted for consideration by book publishers, according to a Feb. 2 statement by Attorney General Drew Edmondson.
What's more, the commission violated state open-meeting law because its agenda for its Nov. 5 meeting did not say it would debate the evolution statement, Mr. Edmondson found in an investigation prompted by a complaint from a state legislator.
The statement that the commission voted to include in all biology texts called evolution "a controversial theory which some scientists present as a scientific explanation for origin of living things." It went on to mention a series of objections often cited by those who criticize the theory on religious grounds.
—David J. Hoff
Phony Names Alleged in Ky. Case
Randy Kimbrough, a former deputy commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Education, billed an education cooperative for more than 50 fictitious contractors in her alleged scheme to embezzle more than $500,000 in state funds, according to department records.
Ms. Kimbrough submitted the time sheets for the phony consultants to the Kentucky Education Development Cooperative and then deposited the checks into her personal savings accounts, according to a review of records by the department. The review's results were first reported by The Courier-Journal of Louisville, which sought them under freedom-of-information laws.
As part of the alleged scheme, Ms. Kimbrough allegedly created federal W-2 tax forms for the fictitious consultants, according Lisa Y. Gross, a spokeswoman for the department who confirmed the newspaper's account.
Ms. Kimbrough resigned after state officials investigated her financial dealings. On Jan. 19, a federal grand jury indicted her on 10 counts of embezzlement and theft totaling more than $500,000. ("Kentucky Auditor Probes Spending by State Ed. Dept.," Feb. 2, 2000.) She pleaded not guilty on Feb. 4 and is scheduled to go on trial April 12.
—David J. Hoff
Vol. 19, Issue 24, Page 22