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Remodeling The SAT

The Scholastic Aptitude Test, that venerable yet often criticized gauge of college readiness, is undergoing its most extensive overhaul in decades.

The remodeled exam—which high school juniors and seniors will take for the first time in the spring of 1994—will remain broken into two sections, one testing math ability, the other verbal skills.

For the first time, however, the math section will include questions that require student-generated answers, and test-takers will be permitted to use calculators.

The verbal portion of the exam will place a greater emphasis on critical-reading skills and understanding words in context. The testing of antonyms is being eliminated, as is a multiple-choice English test that currently accompanies the SAT. The trustees of the College Board, which administers the achievement test, have decided to use essay questions to test English proficiency, but they have made the 20-minute writing exercise voluntary.

The changes announced are only the first in a transformation that College Board officials say will culminate in “computer-adaptive testing.” In the future, they say, students will take the SAT on a computer, which will assess their achievement level after they have answered a few questions and modify the test accordingly to make it easier or harder.

Several longtime critics of the SAT, including the vocal National Center for Fair and Open Testing, scoffed at the changes, saying they failed to address the fundamental flaws of the test, such as its inherent bias against women and minorities.

The Right To Strike

A state judge has ruled that teacher strikes are illegal in Pennsylvania, arguably the leading teacher-strike state in the nation, because they deny students their constitutional right to a “thorough and efficient” education.

The October ruling stems from a six-week strike in 1986 by the North Penn Education Association. Four sets of parents filed suit after the walkout in an attempt to overturn a 1970 law that permits public employees to strike.

The judge ruled that even though the school district held classes on holidays and extended the calendar into the summer in an attempt to make up work, the strike deprived students of the quality education guaranteed them under Pennsylvania's constitution.

At press time, Pennsylvania was awaiting a ruling from the state supreme court on another suit challenging the right-to-strike law. “It will likely make the issue in North Penn moot,” says George Badner of the Pennsylvania State Education Association.

Two Schools For Black Boys

The Milwaukee school board has devised a radical plan to attack one of the city's toughest problems: the devastating cycle of academic underachievement among black boys. Next fall, the district plans to open two schools—one elementary and one middle school—that will cater specifically to black youngsters' academic and social needs. They will be the first of their kind in the nation.

Although the schools will accept girls and youngsters from all races, they will emphasize African-American studies and seek to foster self-esteem and responsibility by offering school-time counseling and discussions on such topics as male sexuality and entrepreneurship. Also, both schools will probably have a higher proportion of black teachers, and maybe black male teachers, than the typical Milwaukee school.

“We just felt that the only way to tackle a problem of this severity was with a more radical solution than had been proposed before,” says Superintendent of Schools Robert Peterkin.

The plan has its opponents, however. Critics in both the black and white communities in Milwaukee and elsewhere say the intent of the program, despite district assertions that enrollment will be open to all students, is illegal because it discriminates on the basis of race and gender. “To institutionalize white or black schools in 1990 would be disappointing,” says Doris Stacy, an 18-year veteran of the school board who voted against the plan. Stacy agrees with the goal of the plan, but, she says, “The method is wrong.”

New Blood And A Contract

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, which is trying to establish a nationwide teacher-certification system, has elected seven new members to its ranks and reelected 14 others, including Chairman James Hunt Jr., the former governor of North Carolina.

Those elected to three-year terms are Gil Alexander, a secondary school science teacher from Helena, Mont.; Thomas Cole Jr., president of Clark Atlanta University; Eugene Cota-Robles, assistant vice president for academic affairs at the University of California Berkeley; E. Harold Fisher, vice president of the National School Boards Association; Keith Geiger, president of the National Education Association; Gerald Tirozzi, Connecticut education commissioner; and Janice Weaver, president of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education and dean of education at Murray (Ky.) State University.

In an unrelated development, the National Board announced in November that it has selected the University of Pittsburgh's school of education and the Connecticut department of education to develop its first assessment of accomplished teaching. The $1.5 million contract will produce materials for examining the skills of English language-arts teachers who work with adolescents.

The awarding of the contract marks an important step for the board, which is now moving to develop concrete examples of the types of assessments it has insisted must be created if superior teaching is to be recognized.

Eventually, the board plans to create 34 such assessments, which will be used to offer teachers national certification beginning in late 1993.

A New Slant On Youth Service

Four parents have filed a federal lawsuit against Pennsylvania's Bethlehem Area School District in an effort to stop a new mandatory community-service program in the district's two high schools.

“The school board has overstepped its bounds,” says Robert Magee, a lawyer for the four angry parents, who believe the program is unconstitutional and want the district to make it voluntary.

The program requires students to spend 60 hours over four years performing some type of community service, from reading to nursing-home patients to running a public-television station. The service must be completed after school, on weekends, or during the summer.

But the four parents maintain that the program violates the Constitution's prohibition of slavery and involuntary servitude because the students are not being paid for mandated labor. The suit also argues that the service program violates the First Amendment, Magee says, because the school system is “attempting to impose a certain set of values.” And that, he says, is akin to imposing a belief system or nontheistic religion.

Rethinking Relicensure

School districts throughout Vermont are setting up local, teacher-majority standards boards that will guide the professional development of the state's nearly 7,000 public school teachers and take charge of relicensing them.

The new system, which is unlike any other in the nation, will not change the way new teachers in Vermont are licensed—they will continue to apply to the state—but all others will seek relicensing every seven years through the local boards.

Each teacher will prepare a professional-development plan in collaboration with his or her district's standards board, which will approve the overall goals, the activities the teacher will perform to achieve the goals, and the teacher's performance in carrying out the activities. Portfolios will be used to document their activities and performance.

Once satisfied that the teacher has successfully completed the plan, the local board will recommend relicensure to the state board of education. Then, the process begins anew with a fresh collaborative effort between teacher and local board.

Dumping The Gold Card

Students at Norcross High School in Gwinnett County, Ga., were issued color-coded identification cards this past fall that reflected their grade standing. Those with A and B averages were given gold and silver cards, respectively, while all other students got white cards. Under a program that was meant to reward academic achievement, gold-card holders were to receive discounts at local businesses. But public reaction against what was perceived as a "caste system" was so strong that the school's principal, Charles Meagher, abandoned the reward program. Now, all students' IDs are the same color—beige.

Vol. 02, Issue 04, Pages 14-16

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