Service backed as requirement for graduation State board also seeks earlier start for functional tests

December 19, 1991|By Gelareh Asayesh

Despite opposition from superintendents and school boards,

the State Board of Education voted yesterday to make community service a graduation requirement -- but board members compromised by leaving it up to localities to decide how students will serve and for how long.

If approved in March, it would make Maryland the first state in the country to mandate student service.

And in a decision that caught local school systems off-guard, the board proposed that students will start taking the Maryland Functional Tests in seventh grade instead of ninth or 10th grade. That poses a challenge for schools, which currently do not teach all the material covered in the tests until ninth or 10th grade.

"That's a total surprise," said Baltimore County Superintendent Robert Y. Dubel, who attended the board meeting representing the Public School Superintendents' Association of Maryland. "There's no question that we would have to make massive curriculum revisions in a hurry here."

Board members will receive information on the financial impact oftheir proposals and written public testimony before making their final decision. The new requirements would take effect with incoming ninth-graders in 1993-1994.

The functional tests, which have been graduation requirements for years, measure minimum skills in writing, reading, math and citizenship. The tests are designed to measure skills students should have mastered by the end of the eighth grade.

But students can take the tests twice a year each year they are in high school until they pass. And the 1991 state report card showed that many school systems don't meet state standards for passing the tests until 11th grade.

Moving the tests to earlier grades will help schools get minimum skills out of the way and concentrate on preparing students for tough newstate tests measuring more complex skills, state officials said. Students will be allowed to continue taking the functional tests until they pass.

"These are minimum requirements," said state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick. "And if they can be complied with early, [schools] can avoid wasting valuable instructional time."

The move will mean revamping middle school and elementary curriculums to make sure students are taught the material they will be tested on, state officials said. The citizenship test, for example, covers material typically taught in ninth or 10th grade.

"It's like the Red Queen: First we'll cut off their heads and then we'll have the trial," said Jane R. Stern, president of the Maryland State Teachers Association. "It does have all kinds of implications. For example, the teachers who teach the children how to pass the writing test are teaching in schools that have grades eight, nine and 10. So what are you going to do, transfer them?"

Ms. Stern predicted a drop in test scores in the first year if the change goes into effect. MSTA is asking the state board to hold a public hearing to discuss the proposal and other aspects of the revised requirements.

"Some of this is all new," Ms.Stern said.

But board members voted yesterday to receive only written testimony on graduation requirements. The revised proposal will published in the Feb. 7 issue of the Maryland Register and written testimony will be accepted until March 10. Last month, board members heard more than 100 people speak and received more than 600 pieces of written testimony on their original proposal.

The board's deliberations this week left intact the total number of credits necessary for graduation -- 21 up from the current 20. But they discarded several other aspects of their original plan, such as 75 hours of community service and a fourth year each of math and social studies, to provide more flexibility for localities and students.

Under the revised proposal, students would still have less discretion to choose their own courses than they do now. The new requirements would allow one to three elective credits to count toward graduation, compared to five now.

Localities can opt to mandate 75 hours of community service or design their own programs. The state must approve the programs, but Dr. Grasmick said the state will leave decisions -- including the length of service -- to localities.

Graduation requirements

The State Board of Education

is proposing the following gradu-

ation requirements, which would

take effect with incoming ninth-

graders in 1993-1994:

* 21 credits, up from 20

* Community service

* One credit of technology education to replace practical arts

L * A health component in the one credit of physical education

* A third year of science

* Algebra and geometry as part of the three years of math

* Two credits of foreign language or advanced technology education for students planning to pursue their studies after high school, and four credits of career and technology education for students planning to start work

* World history and U.S. government as well as U.S. history for social studies credits

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