News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

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Ariz. Chief Wants More Accountability

Chronically low-performing schools in Arizona would face state intervention or management takeovers by outside groups, under an accountability plan proposed by state schools Superintendent Jaime Molera.

The plan was approved unanimously Nov. 26 by the state school board and will be presented as a bill in the legislature next year.

Part of a broader effort to overhaul the state's academic-standards program, the plan would redefine what constitutes a failing school and provide new resources—such as training centers for teachers and school board members—to help schools.

"Superintendent Molera believes you don't put a single high-stakes-test hammer over kids without holding schools accountable," said education department spokesman Tom Collins.

Elementary schools would be judged as failing on the basis of a site visit by state officials and scores on standardized tests.

Dropout and graduation rates would be included in the formula for high schools. Failing schools would have to submit improvement plans, and a school labeled failing a second time would have to pay for student tutoring and notify the community of the school's status.

Failing schools that did not submit or follow improvement plans could be forced to change leadership, or be taken over by a governmental, nonprofit, or for-profit private organization.

—Darcia Harris Bowman

Calif. Charter School Panel Formed

The California state school board has tapped Mark Kushner to chair a recently established commission on charter schools.

Mark Kushner

Mr. Kushner, 40, is the founder and executive director of the Leadership High School in San Francisco, which was the first charter high school in the state when it opened in 1997. He has also served on the board of the California Network of Educational Charters, a statewide advocacy group for charter schools.

The California Advisory Commission on Charter Schools was created by the state board of education in October to advise it on an array of charter school issues. Initially, the commission plans to focus on the most timely matters, including low-performing charter schools, state regulations, funding, and charter home schooling. New state regulations on nonclassroom-based charters go into effect Jan. 1.

In addition to Mr. Kushner, the commission has eight members who are parents, teachers, superintendents, or school board members from across the state. The state superintendent of public instruction appoints a 10th member. The group had its first meeting last month.

—Joetta L. Sack

Va. Lowers Some Test Cutoff Scores

Virginia's state board of education has lowered the minimum passing score on four state accountability exams.

The passing scores on the Standards of Learning exams were revised for the 5th and 8th grade social studies exams and two high school history exams.

The board voted unanimously Nov. 27 to make the changes after earlier in the year reviewing the passing scores for all 28 SOL tests.

Beginning with the class of 2004, students must pass end-of-course SOL exams in order to graduate.

Teachers and others have criticized the history and social studies portions of the three-year-old exams for being overly broad and demanding too much memorization.

While the adjustments to the scores were minimal, the changes could affect the passing scores of thousands of students taking the exams, as well as the accreditation of schools, which will be tied to the passing rates beginning in 2007.

"Aligning curriculum to new standards is an ongoing process," said Charles Pyle, the public information manager for the Virginia Department of Education. "The board felt this was the right thing to do for students."

In a separate but related action, a school board subcommittee has recommended that SOL requirements be lowered for students in grades 7-10 if the students are within 25 points of the passing score of 400 on a 600-point scale.

Such students would have to pass a corresponding course, take the SOL test at least two times, do remedial work, and have good attendance in order to advance to the next grade.

—John Gehring

Vol. 21, Issue 14, Page 25

Published in Print: December 5, 2001, as News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
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