News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

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Doubts Over Scoring Delay N.Y. Test Results

Results from 8th grade reading and writing exams in New York state have been delayed because of a scoring problem by the same testing company whose errors in 1999 mistakenly sent thousands of New York City students to summer school.

The faulty results will not have the same impact as the mistakes made two years ago by CTB/McGraw-Hill, a Monterey, Calif.-based publisher of standardized tests, because the scoring flaw in this case was identified before the results were released publicly. Also, results from the exams are not intended to determine which students may advance to the 9th grade.

The problem with the 8th grade exams, taken by about 200,000 students statewide last spring, arose from a procedure used to compare test results from year to year, according to Tom Dunn, a spokesman for the state education department.

At the request of the state education department, Mr. Dunn said, the company has agreed to include a larger number of tests in the sample used to equate this year's test with those of previous years. Revised results will be released at the end of this month, he said.

April Hattori, a spokeswoman for CTB, said "there were no scoring mistakes or errors with the test. We used a small sample, and they had some questions about those results."

—John Gehring

Pa. Governor Hits Phila. Schools in Farewell Speech

Gov. Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania took a parting shot at the Philadelphia schools, but also called for more education aid to the city, in his Oct. 2 farewell speech to the legislature.

Gov. Tom Ridge

Citing low test scores and high truancy rates, the two-term Republican governor declared, "The Philadelphia school district is literally failing our children."

Mr. Ridge's remarks were significant because his departure comes halfway through a high-stakes review of the district, which he helped negotiate.

His departure to Washington, where President Bush has named him to lead domestic terrorism-prevention efforts, cast a shadow of uncertainty over that review. While Lt. Gov. Mark S. Schweiker was slated to be sworn in as governor Oct. 5 and will take up the issue, his positions on education are not widely known. ("For Phila. Schools, New Pa. Governor Means Uncertainty," Oct. 3, 2001.)

Without getting specific, Mr. Ridge said the review will show that "money is being wasted" by the district. He added that Edison Schools Inc., the company that was given a $2.7 million contract to conduct the review, "will shine a bright light on those shortcomings."

Philadelphia school officials voiced disappointment at Mr. Ridge's remarks. Philip R. Goldsmith, the district's chief executive officer, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he viewed the speech as "a kick in the gut."

In his address, Gov. Ridge defended the possibility that Edison Schools Inc., would run some sites in Philadelphia. "Some would prefer publicly funded schools that fail children, to privately operated schools that serve them well," he remarked. But he warned that the state and city must spend more on the financially strapped, 210,000- student district: "We will not be able to reverse decades of educational neglect without more money."

—Robert C. Johnston

Calif. Suit Over Schools Expanded to Whole State

A California judge last week broadened the scope of a lawsuit alleging that the state has abdicated its duty to ensure decent educational standards in all its schools, handing a victory to the plaintiffs in the case.

Citing such conditions as rat-infested buildings and chronic teaching vacancies, a coalition of groups sued the state in May 2000 on behalf of students in 18 mostly urban districts. ("Calif. Schools Lack Basics, Suit Alleges," May 24, 2000.) The state subsequently countersued those districts, arguing they had fallen down on the job.

San Francisco Superior Court Judge Peter J. Busch granted class-action status to the plaintiffs on Oct. 2, effectively expanding the case's scope to the entire Golden State.

"The court's decision confirms that this is a case of statewide dimensions requiring statewide solutions," said Mark Rosenbaum, the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, one of the groups that filed the suit.

Ann Bancroft, a spokeswoman for state Secretary of Education Kerry Mazzoni, said state officials see the legal challenge as an effort to "wreak havoc" on local control of schools. If it prevails, she suggested, the result would be "a huge new bureaucracy at the state level for hearing such complaints as the toilet doesn't work."

—Caroline Hendrie

Vol. 21, Issue 6, Page 22

Published in Print: October 10, 2001, as News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
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