The Arlington County schools are wrestling with a new state ruling that will require all high school seniors to pass a battery of written and oral tests in math, English, speech, and social studies, and possess an entry-level job skill - in additioin to passing the courses required for graduation.
The ruling is scheduled to go into effect in 1981.
Because it is up to local school systems to devise tests and determine minimum requirements for graduation, the Board last year appointed a citizen's task force to work with staff members. The task force produced what associate superintendent Harold Wilson called "a groundbreaking study" that contains 21 recommendations for developing minimum requirements. The recommendations were adopted by the school board at a meeting last week.
a remedial instruction program for students who need extra help in preparing for the tests;
consideration of granting diplomas with honors to academically distinguished students and of granting certificates of completion to students who meet basic attendance and course requirements but do not pass the tests;
that students for whom English is a second language - currently about 25 per cent of the student population - be required to take the tests in English;
that testing provisions be made for students in special education programs;
that tests be given twice a year.
Board members agreed that the quesion of testing students enrolled in the ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) program was a troublesome issue that would require further consideration. Task force member Ruth Cox dissented from the staff recommendation that students be required to take the test in English, questioning whether a "topnotch student in Iran entering as a junior in Washington-Lee should be expected to pass a qualifying test two years later. Would we expect one of our native Arlington students to pass an Iranian competency test after two years?"
Social promotion, whereby students who don't pass courses but are promoted so as not to fall too far behind their age-group, was another issue singled out by the board as particularly troublesome.
Task force member Ron Boss said, "I don't think it's fair to children to push them along" when they don't meet academic standards.
"You're balancing two sets of values here," said Wilson. "Neither one or the other can be completely in control." Wilson noted that current board policy is that such students be enrolled in remedial instruction at the grade to which they have been promoted.
The board also discussed the problems of giving a speaking test to students with speech problems, but Wilson's wry observation, which was greeted with laughter, was that in general "One area our students are not likely to be deficient in is oral communication."
Beginning this year, all ninth graders will be tested twice a year in preparation for the new requirement.
In other action, Superintendent Larry Cuban presented his status report to the board.
"Demography has changed Arlington irreversibly," said Cuban, who noted that while enrollement has shrunk, the student population has become increasingly diverse.
Maintaining staff loyalty and community confidence in the face of budget cuts and school closings necessitated demographic changes over which the schools have no control is a continuing problem, Cuban told the Board.
"There's no single best way of learning or teaching," said Cuban, who stressed the need for a diversity of programs and approaches in dealing with student needs. He noted, however, that the prime mission of the school system is something he calls "basics plus" - improving student skills in reading, writing, math, thinking, human relations, and humanities.