News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

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N.Y. Tells District to Enforce Attendance for State Tests

A suburban New York school district shouldn't condone a boycott of state tests last spring and needs to enforce attendance policies to prevent a future boycott, the state education commissioner says.

The Scarsdale Central School District in Westchester County "repeatedly stressed" to parents that the state tests are "without purpose and irrelevant to the education of children," Commissioner Richard P. Mills wrote in an Oct. 26 letter to the district.

After more than half the 8th graders in the district outside New York City did not take the state tests last spring, the district failed to penalize parents who kept their children out on testing days, Mr. Mills said.

Mr. Mills is requiring the district to identify students who may need extra help to meet state standards and promise to enforce its policy prohibiting unexcused absences.

Mr. Mills also said he wants the district to give parents and students "factual information" about the state testing program.

District officials disagree with some of Mr. Mills' findings, but will take his letter seriously and "respond in a complete and in a timely way," said Michael V. McGill, the superintendent of the 4,400-student district.

Some local school officials may have criticized the state tests, but they didn't go so far as fomenting opposition to them, he added.

"It was never our intent to support a boycott last spring, and we will not support a boycott next spring," Mr. McGill said.

—David J. Hoff

Mich. Bill Seeks Equal Military Access

High school officials would be required to give military recruiters the same access to students as they give college recruiters, under a bill that is moving through the Michigan legislature.

The bill, approved 80-25 by the House last month, would allow all branches of the U.S. armed forces to get students' names, addresses, and published telephone numbers from school records.

Wayne Kuipers

Rep. Wayne Kuipers, the Republican chairman of the House education committee, said he sponsored the bill because high schools often deny access to military recruiters."I believe that if we don't allow [military] recruiters to explain what they are all about and to highlight what they can provide for individuals, we do a terrible disservice not only to the students but the country," he said.

Harold Jordan, the coordinator of the American Friends Service Committee's Youth and Militarism Program in Philadelphia, said few districts place restrictions on the military that are not placed on other recruiters. He maintained that it is part of a larger effort to give the military "guaranteed right of access" to students.

About half the states have laws that require high school officials to give military recruiters some form of access to students.

A provision similar to Mr. Kuiper's is pending in Congress as part of the reauthorization of the main federal K-12 education law. ("Fedfile: Military Breakthrough," this issue.) The Michigan bill, now before the Senate, would let parents keep their children's names and contact information from going to military recruiters.

—Bess Keller

Md. State Test Gets a Passing Grade

Maryland's state testing program won a strong endorsement from an independent study released last week, though the report added the program could be improved.

The Maryland School Performance Assessment Program, or MSPAP, is "an exemplary state assessment," according to the study by the research firm SRI International, based in Menlo Park, Calif.

Prepared for the University of Maryland College Park, the report praises the assessment for using open-ended questions and problems to be solved by groups of students as its yardsticks, rather than multiple-choice questions.

The conclusion runs counter to a report last year from the Baltimore-based Abell Foundation, which found the Maryland tests inadequate for gauging knowledge and basic skills.

State schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick requested the new report in response to the Abell study, which education officials criticized for what they saw as bias and poor research design.

"While the [SRI] report recognized the many strengths of the tests, the research team also produced some rather thoughtful proposals on how we might enhance them," she said in a statement.

Both reports found that in some content areas the tests emphasized process at the expense of substance. They also urged using experts who are not K-12 educators to review the tests.

The SRI report also suggested ways to improve the system, such as spelling out the connections between test items, thinking skills, and state academic standards.

—Bess Keller

Vol. 21, Issue 10, Page 33

Published in Print: November 7, 2001, as News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
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