The State Board of Education edged away from sweeping changes in high school graduation requirements yesterday, voting tentatively to leave the number of required math and social studies courses unchanged while adding a third year of science.
Board members agreed that students should complete three years each of math, social studies and science in order to graduate. In the area of social studies, they abandoned their original plan of requiring a half-credit each in economics and geography. They also voted down a proposal to eliminate the citizenship test now required for graduation.
The board will vote today on other graduation requirements, including a controversial proposal to mandate community service and extra requirements in foreign languages, technology education and occupational courses.
Those decisions will determine whether students are required to take a total of 21 credits for graduation -- up from 20 -- and how many of those courses will be prescribed by the state. At an unprecedented two-day public hearing last month, more than 100 people testified on the proposed requirements and many complained that the board's proposal left no flexibility for local school boards and individual students.
Yesterday, several board members agreed.
"We are trying to set minimums," said board member Rose LaPlaca. "We are not allowing enough electives for these people."
The board's original proposal called for four credits each in math and social studies; instead of a third science credit, it called for a credit in technology education. It left no electives for students in occupational programs and only two electives for students planning to continue their studies after high school.
Yesterday's vote must be confirmed later this week in order for a final vote, in March at the earliest. The new requirements would take effect with incoming ninth-graders in the 1993-94 school year.
The three math requirements would include two courses covering algebra and geometry. Currently any math courses will satisfy the requirement. The three social studies requirements would be in U.S. history, world history and local, state and national government. Currently only U.S. history is mandated.
Debate over graduation requirements began nearly a year ago with a task force report. Board members in July agreed to go far beyond the recommendations of the task force but are now revisiting those decisions.
That's not a bad idea since the graduation requirements will be an interim measure, said Nancy S. Grasmick, state school superintendent. The state hopes graduation requirements will become obsolete as early as 1996, as Maryland moves toward awarding diplomas based on what students have learned rather than on course completion. The state is developing complex new tests to measure that learning.