Washington school officials have prepared a list of skills and information in reading, mathematics and science that they believe students should master before they get a high school diploma so the certificate will be valued by potential employers.
The 12-page list of graduation "competencies," which the officials emphasized is a first draft, was prepared in response to a school board vote last summer mandating minimum standards for graduation from high school to be enforced by system-wide tests.
The board gave no indication of how high the standards should be or when they would go into effect.
But yesterday, James T. Guines, an associate superintendent in charge of drawing up the proposed list of graduation skills, said his committee deliberately went beyond "just survival skills."
"We want everybody to agree that if (Washington) students have these skills," Guines said, "then (our) diploma will be valued."
Guines said the proposed list of minimum graduation skills would be reviewed by civic groups, businessmen, college professors and possibly U.S. Civil Service officials before they are submitted to the school board for its approval.
Guines said they also would be checked against contents of nationally standardized tests.
"We want people out there in private industry to agree with us," Guines said, "that these are the reading skills that our students need and that if if students have them, they'll get jobs . . . We want to make sure that if people meet our standards, then they'll do well on civic service exams."
The effort in Washington to set minimum standards for graduation for high school is part of a nationwide movement for competency testing in response to declining scores on achievement examinations and widespread complaints by employers and college professors that many high school graduates read and write poorly.
Throughout the country, 11 state legislatures and 16 state boards of education, including those in Maryland and Virginia, have mandated some form of competency testing either for high school graduation or for promotion from grade to grade. So far, however, graduation standards have been put into effect in only one state, Arizona.
The problem of how high to set the standards here is a difficult one because the average level of achievement of Washington students now is low. On standardized tests last May, Washington's 12th graders averaged at the 10th-grade level nationwide in reading and at the ninth-grade level in mathematics.
Guines declined to speculate on what grade level the proposed D.C. graduation standards would be equivalent to on national tests. But he said school officials want the D.C. school standards to be respected by businessmen in the community as well as by students and teachers.
"We believe there must be a minimum level of reading for everybody who graduates from the school system," Guines said. "We're still not sure what that level should be, but we want to be sure that people believe it's something of value."
The proposed list of skills for reading includes being able to "follow directions in order to complete essential application forms" and being able "to read critically to assure . . . appropriate performance (in) interviews, debates, and discussions as well as message taking, resume preparation and telephone answering."
In mathematics, the proposed minimums include being able to handle decimals, fractions, and percentages "in consumer situations." The standards also would require that students master the metric system, be able to "apply rules of logic" and be capable of managing personal finances.
The proposed science requirements range from being able to take part in simple laboratory experiments to being able to "describe recent worldwide scientific technological developments which have affected living conditions and cite evidence of changes resulting from such developments."
Another science requirement would be listing "at least five contributions made by members of different ethnic groups to the scientific and technological progress of our society."
In social studies, the proposed standards would require a detailed knowledge of the major periods of American history.
In addition to the requirements for all high school graduates, the proposals include lists of required skills for students taking different vocational education programs so that graduation standards would be the same no matter which vocational school they attend.