Md. panel wants to require more science, math

January 31, 1991|By Gelareh Asayesh

A state education task force is recommending that Maryland require a third science credit and one year each of algebra and geometry for graduation from high school, starting with incoming ninth-graders in the 1992-1993 school year.

Currently, students are required to take only two years of science and three years of unspecified math courses. Students aren't required to take algebra and geometry, though those courses are generally viewed as essential for college admission.

The Maryland Task Force on High School Graduation Requirements also recommended to the state Board of Education yesterday that it appoint another task force to study the possibility of issuing diplomas based on tests, rather than the current method in which students graduate based on whether they have accumulated a set of required credits.

The recommendations would not affect the number of courses required for graduation, which would remain at 20. But the added science requirement would increase the number of required "core" credits to 16, affecting a student's ability to take more electives.

The task force's recommendations, presented at the regular board meeting yesterday, are in line with the state board's twin goals of toughening high school graduation requirements and shifting to what educators call an "outcome-based" educational system in which students are judged by what they've learned -- as measured by tests.

State Superintendent Joseph L. Shilling said he will return to the board by March with his own recommendations. The board will hold public hearings in April or May before making a final decision sometime this summer, in time for the changes to take effect by September 1992, he said.

"I think we may want to go a little farther in that [students must] either meet requirements for college or be qualified for employment," Dr. Shilling said.

The proposed science and math requirements are the most dramatic elements of 27 recommendations from the group of local administrators, teachers, community representatives and one student, who were appointed by the board in September.

The group focused particularly on the need for required algebra and geometry courses.

"It's the gatekeeper," said task force chairman John H. Bloom, Charles County school superintendent. "We know that kids that have that kind of background have opportunities, doors open to them -- either post-high school study or in technical fields -- that youngsters who don't take those don't have open to them."

The state board's non-voting student member, Heather White, however, said the math requirements might pose a significant stumbling block for many students. "I'm a basic skills math tutor," said Ms. White, a high school student in Frederick County. "I work with kids who have problems with fractions. . . . What if you don't have an aptitude for math? Would you be able to receive a diploma?"

The task force also recommended that the currently required four years of English consist of four sequential courses.

Except for the absence of a foreign language requirement, the proposed changes would bring Maryland in line with the Maryland Higher Education Commission's recommendations for college-bound seniors.

The commission, which governs the state's higher education policies, recommends that college-bound students take three years of foreign language, including two years in one language; three years of science, including biology, physics and chemistry; four years of English; three to four years of math including Algebra I and II and geometry; one year of fine arts; and three years of social studies, including U.S. history.

The task force also recommended allowing students in grades 9 through 12 to earn credit by passing special tests measuring their knowledge of a given subject or by taking part in independent study courses.

And it proposed toughening the requirements for the state's Certificate of Merit -- a special diploma denoting participation in a more rigorous course of study. Changes would include raising the required grade point average for receiving a Certificate of Merit from 2.6 to 3.0.

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