The Anne Arundel school board approved a memorandum of understanding with civil rights leaders yesterday that would end a year-old lawsuit alleging discrimination against black students across several academic areas.
The agreement requires the school system to rewrite its countywide achievement goals so that they apply equally to each of eight statistical subgroups based on race, sex and socioeconomic status. The goals currently apply only to the system as a whole.
By requiring the same performance targets for blacks and other historically under-performing groups, the settlement document effectively raises the bar for the 75,000-student school system. No Child Left Behind, the federal education mandate, has challenged schools nationwide by making a similar requirement that blacks, Hispanics and other groups ultimately attain the same academic goals.
"Thank you. This has been good," Eric J. Smith, superintendent of Anne Arundel schools, said as he embraced two plaintiffs after the school board's vote. Smith met with the litigants regularly over the past year to negotiate the terms of settlement.
The parties declined to release the actual document until a ceremonial signing Sept. 7.
Perhaps most important, the agreement will eliminate one of Smith's goals that calls for no subgroup to achieve at a level more than 10 percentage points lower than any other. Civil rights leaders said the goal sent the wrong message by allowing any gap between white and black students to persist.
"There is not an acceptable gap," said Irma Holland, one of the plaintiffs.
Smith's goals, set after he was hired in 2002, call for 75 percent of graduates to have taken the SAT, 45 percent of students to have taken the Algebra I course by the end of middle school and 90 percent of seniors in special education to earn a standard high school diploma, among other things, by 2007.
Terms of the agreement also call for the school system to end disparities that result in black students being suspended and expelled in greater numbers than other students, being steered disproportionately into special education and being underrepresented in Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses, the plaintiffs said.
"This is history being made," said Alva Sheppard-Johnson, a black leader in Annapolis and a plaintiff. "This is a 21st-century version of Brown v. Board of Education."
The complaint originated with a news conference last year on the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision that ushered in the integration of schools.