News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup

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New York Adjusts Math-Exam Scores

New York state has adjusted the scores on its high school exit exam in mathematics so that almost twice as many students have passed as originally reported.

The questions on the June version of the state's Math A exam were more difficult than in previous years, a panel of experts convened to review the test found. The experts recommended that the scores be statistically adjusted so that they matched achievement to previous years' performance.

Richard P. Mills

After the changes, 55 percent of seniors and 60 percent of juniors passed the exam. Both percentages are slightly higher than last year's, but twice as high as scores reported in June, according to data released by the state education department on Aug. 29.

When high numbers of seniors failed the exam, state Commissioner of Education Richard P. Mills said seniors who had failed could graduate so long as they had passed the course that covered the content tested on the exam. He also waived the requirement that juniors retake the exam if they had passed the course. ("N.Y. State Seniors Flunk Exit Exam, But Get Diplomas," July 9, 2003.) Mr. Mills' decision also will mean that 64 percent of sophomores and 80 percent of freshmen who took the test in June will have passed the math exam and won't have to take it again.

—David J. Hoff

Ohio Projects Will Assist Charter School Sponsors

Two foundations have launched a two-year, $1 million effort to recruit and train new sponsors of charter schools in Ohio. Those sponsors, which approve, oversee, or evaluate the largely independent public schools, could include school districts, nonprofit and social service organizations, county education service centers, public universities, and others, according to directors of the initiative.

The effort is being run by the Ohio Foundation for School Choice, a nonprofit advocacy organization in Columbus, and the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, a Washington-based organization that advocates school improvement in Ohio and nationally. The effort is titled the Ohio Charter School Sponsor Institute.

The money will be used to devise tools and training materials and to help would-be sponsors gain expertise in running effective charter schools, said John Rothwell, the director of the institute, based in Columbus.

The project is supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation. The goal during the two-year period is to find between five and 10 new charter school sponsors who can benefit from the project, Mr. Rothwell said.

—Sean Cavanagh

Pay-for-Performance Plan Sparks Lawsuit in Colorado

A pay-for- performance plan that could waive some teacher employment rights in the 850- student Ignacio school district has ignited a union lawsuit against the Colorado state board of education.

The lawsuit alleges that the Ignacio school board agreed in July to set up the plan without consulting local school staff members, and then obtained waivers from the state board of six state laws governing teacher employment rights. The waivers allow the district school board to suspend a teacher's right to a dismissal hearing and to drop annual teacher contracts despite performance evaluations in exchange for higher salaries and access to better professional development.

The suit, filed in district court last month by the Colorado Education Association, alleges that the state board failed to obtain adequate proof from district officials that the waiver was necessary.

Deborah Fallin, a spokeswoman for the 37,000-member state affiliate of the National Education Association, said that the plan jeopardizes the due-process rights of teachers and could allow them to be fired more easily. At press time, school district officials had not responded to requests for comment.

—Marianne D. Hurst

Ga. Teachers' Group Angry Over Governor's Appointment

The Professional Association of Georgia Educators, a nonunion organization known as PAGE, is protesting Gov. Sonny Perdue's appointment of a Georgia Association of Educators staff member to the state agency that hears cases involving ethical violations of teachers and has authority over teacher licensing.

Gov. Sonny Perdue

Martin "Bert" Wagnon, who is the National Education Association's field director for the southwestern region of the state, was appointed to the state's Professional Standards Commission Aug. 12. The Georgia Association of Educators is an NEA affiliate.

As a field director, Mr. Wagnon recruits members to the association and provides them with legal services.

In an Aug. 25 letter to the governor, Tom Wommack, the director of legal and legislative services for PAGE, wrote that while the organization "believes the membership of the [standards commission] should reflect the members of all education organizations, we do strenuously object to the appointment of a staff member and believe that a serious conflict of interest has been created."

Derrick Dickey, a spokesman for Mr. Perdue, a Republican, said last week that the governor's staff was still reviewing the letter and "considering where we're going to fall down" on the issue.

PAGE officials say that if Mr. Wagnon is not removed, they will file a lawsuit.

—Linda Jacobson

Gov. Doyle Taps Task Force On Wisconsin School Finance

Gov. James E. Doyle of Wisconsin has charged 27 citizens with the task of overhauling the state's school finance system, a goal some lawmakers have been trying to accomplish since the system was last updated a decade ago.

The Democrat also made it clear that the job should be done pronto, suggesting members of the nonpartisan Task Force on Educational Excellence check in with his office in January.

On the to-do list: Decide how much money the state should provide to schools, determine whether special education money is provided equitably, and find out whether enough is being spend on early- childhood education.

"No doubt this is a unique, almost historical, opportunity," added Tom Beebe, an outreach specialist for the Institute for Wisconsin's Future, a Milwaukee-based group that wants new finance laws. Mr. Beebe, who is not on the panel, expressed concerns, though, about the broad scope of the panel's job.

—Julie Blair

Vol. 23, Issue 2, Page 20

Published in Print: September 10, 2003, as News in Brief: A State Capitals Roundup
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