Some 59,000 9th graders in Maryland public schools are being tested this month in practical reading skills, the first step in a comprehensive progem to require proven competency in a broad variety of areas as a condition of high school graduation.
By 1982, not only will Maryland students have to demonstrate minimum competencies in such basics as reading, writing and mathematics to graduate from high school, but also in such areas as constructive use of leisure time, citizenship, work skills and survival skills.
Maryland State School Superintendent David W. Hornbock says he will recommend formal adoption of the minimum reading standards before the end of the year, to be effective no later than the class of 1981.
A recommendation for minimum mathematics competencies will be forthcoming in the spring, he said, and writing some time in the summer. The mathematics test is being pilot-tested this month on 1,500 ninth graders around the state. It will be given to every ninth grader in Maryland next fall.
The recommendations and competency requirements's are all part of an ambitious programs called Project Basic, approved in principle by the State Board of Education last winter. It calls for full implementation of all the competency requirements by June 30, 1982, with appropriate standards and testing mechanisms to be developed between now and then.
"There are too many youngsters who graduate from high school who are unable to function effectively above the elementary level," said Hornbeck. "Every kid in Maryland ought to have a right to expect to perform at certain minimum levels. We are falling too far short of extending that to every person."
Maryland's emphasis on competency requirements coincides with similar efforts in Washington, Virginia and nationwide. But the scope of the Maryland program is is broader than anything envision locally and it exceeds most efforts nationally.
In Virginia, the State Board of Education has approved minimum competency requirements in literacy, mathematics, American history and culture and job entry skills. But they will not become prerequisites for high school graduation until the class of 1934 graduates.
In Washington, schools have endorsed in principle in concept of minimum competency requirements, but as yet there has been no practical application.
In asking the State Board to implement the minimal reading requirement, Hornbeck said he would urge that it not apply to the graduating class of 1978 and probably not 1979. "It might be 1980," he said, "and certainly no later than 1931."
The testing mechanism is similar to the functional reading test currently given annually to seventh- and 11th-graders in Maryland's public schools. That test measures such skills as reading the label on a medicine bottle, understanding directions in a voting machine, reading a catalogue, finding hearings in an index, using a telephone directory and following instructions to fill out a form.
When the test was given last year 31 per cent of the seventh graders and 13 per cent of the 11th graders failed to achieve the passing grade of 80 per cent correct.
ests to gauge minimum competencies for high school graduation, Hornbeck said, will be given initially in the ninth grade. Those students who pass will be considered to have met the requirement and will not have to be tested again.
Those who fail will get remedial help and be tested again in the 10th grade and for those who fail again the process will be repeated up through grade 12. "If a student fails in grade 12, he doesn't graduate," said Hornbeck, adding that the option would still be open to remain in school another year and take the test again.
Like the functional reading test, the mathematics test is based on a survey of what mathematics skills Maryland residents think are important to function competently as an adult. Not surprisingly adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing whole numbers and making change were rated very important. At the bottom of the list were applying the properties of parallel and perpendicular lines, measuring angles and constructing tables and graphs.
The test for writing skills is still being worked on, Hornbeck said. As for the skills in use of leisure time, citizenship, survival, and work, committees of local superintendents and State Department of Education staff members are working to figure out just what the minimum competencies should be and how they should be measured. A committee of lay people with a variety of occupations from every political subdivision in the state has been formed as an advisory panel.
At this point, Hornbeck says, he doesn't know how skills in citizenship can be measured. He says he's sure some way of measurement can be figured out, but it probably won't be a written examination.
Leisure skills, he said, could involve proficiency at a lifetime sport or artistic endeavor and testing could be a matter of observation rather than a formal examination. While insisting that he does envision some sort of minimal requirement in constructive use of leisure time, Hornbeck added that "I don't expect to tell a kid he can't graduate because he can't play boffleball."
Hornbeck defined work skills as "the ability to do a job and get paid for it" and there are a variety of ways of testing this, as there are for survival skills. Survival skills would include selecting the equivalent of a bag of groceries providing high nutritional value for the least cost and calculating the varying interest rates charged by differing credit card companies.
Richard Petric, administrator of Project Basic, said the staff is sensitive to concerns that minority students could fail in disproportionate numbers and that steps are being taken to see that this doesn't happen.
In devising the functional reading test, he said, representative samplings were taken from three distinct areas of the state: rural and suburban areas, and inner city Baltimore.
"We want to make it a kind of testing situation that all students have a fair chance on," said Petrie. In previous testings of the functional reading test, he said, the failure rate for minority and inner city students was no greater than the statewide failure rate.
John Crew, superintendent of the predominantly black Baltimore school system, is one of the local superintendents working with the state on Project Basic. He says he welcomes the effort.
"Here in the city I've placed a good bit of emphasis on basic skills," he said. "To have the State Department of Education standing behind me, is very complimentary to my objectives."