TUSD asks judge to allow new University High admission plans

2013-12-18T00:00:00Z 2014-07-17T14:27:33Z TUSD asks judge to allow new University High admission plansBy Alexis Huicochea Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

The Tucson Unified School District has asked a federal judge to disregard a desegregation expert’s request to kill a new admissions plan for University High School.

TUSD argued in a recent court filing that its proposal for UHS, which includes the use of a motivation test to help more minority students gain entrance into the award-winning school, complies with a plan to help bring the district’s schools into racial balance.

Attorneys for the district also claim Willis Hawley, the special master appointed by a federal judge overseeing the decades-old desegregation case, is exceeding his authority.

The filing is in response to Hawley’s report to the judge in which he claims the motivation test is not a good predictor of success in a school that requires an entrance exam, much less a tool to foster greater diversity among those accepted to the school.

He suggests an alternative admissions plan that includes changing the “cut score” prospective students must achieve on the existing grade-point average and entrance exam, and using other measures to increase the pool of eligible candidates.

“Here, TUSD has demonstrated a well-researched and well-thought-out proposal involving review of best practices and consultation with numerous experts,” attorneys for TUSD said.

The district said it also developed the plan with help from the school and residents. The plan has the Governing Board’s support, the district’s lawyers said.

In asking the judge to reject Hawley’s report, the filing said it’s unlikely the special master’s recommendation “has undergone a development process remotely comparable to that in which TUSD has engaged.”

In putting the plan together, TUSD claims it gave considerable consideration to recommendations from the desegregation plaintiffs and the special master.

For example, expanding the UHS criteria to include short-answer essays and a teacher evaluation component for students seeking entry as sophomores, even though the biggest group of students impacted by any change would be incoming freshmen.

TUSD said it believes the motivation test will help University High capture highly motivated students whose grades or test scores may not reflect these characteristics.

Up until the formal objection to the plan was filed in the court, TUSD had not received any research, expert opinion or data by the plaintiffs or the special master contradicting the use of the motivation test, nor were any alternative measures proposed.

TUSD also noted that there is to be a 30-day voluntary resolution period before court intervention can occur.

The special master and the plaintiffs, however, prematurely terminated the resolution period after agreeing on the alternative plan without TUSD’s input.

The district said in its filing that Hawley was not seeking a resolution on issues with TUSD’s plan, “but rather was seeking only to promote his own admissions plan with no compromise.”

Should the court decide not to reject the special master’s objection, TUSD has asked that a hearing be scheduled to submit documentary and testimonial evidence in support of the district’s admissions plan.

Contact reporter Alexis Huicochea at ahuicochea@azstarnet.com or 573-4175. On Twitter @Alexis Huicochea

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