D.C. Schools Superintendent Vincent E. Reed has proposed that all students in public schools be required to pass standard citywide competency tests to qualify for a high school diploma.

Reed, who asserted that "too many students are graduating . . . without the skills and competencies the diploma certifies," also urged that three additional required courses be added to the current curriculum.

The school board must act on the superintendent's proposals. In the past, city officials have refused to institute competency tests as a prerequisite for graduation, a step that has been taken by many schools around the nation.

Reed's proposal reflects a general movement in the District of Columbia's school system toward stressing tougher academic programs and the need for students to master the skills taught in their classes before moving on to higher levels.

Last December, for example, Reed proposed the opening of a "model academic high school" that would cater to college-bound students and offer a more rigorous curriculum -- in math, science, social studies and foreign languages -- than any other school in the city.

In addition, one of the major programs of Reed's administration, is the Competency Based Curriculum -- a method of teaching and learning -- in which students must master certain skills before moving on to other tasks.

The proposed competency testing plan for students is unusual in that the testing will take place in the major subject areas -- English, mathematics, science, social science and health -- when the students are in the 11th grade.

If students show deficiencies in certain subject areas, they will be placed in remedial classes or be asked to repeat certain courses in the 12th grade, under Reed's plea.

According to Dr. James Guines, instruction supervisor for the public schools, the tests will show whether students know "what it is important to know" as a high school graduate.

"I'm not talking about a basic literacy test," Guines said.

High school students, for example, should be expected to know how to write a business letter, make judgments on the validity of what they read and understand and follow directions given in a construction manual, Guines said. These might be some of the areas the students would be tested on in the English competency exam, Guines noted.

Seniors in District of Columbia schools have for many years placed lower on standardized college entrance exams that 12th-graders in other local jurisdictions. Their scores on such exams also have been lower than the nationwide average.

D.C. public school officials will develop most of these tests themselves over the next three years. The new requirements would apply to the group of students entering high school next September and graduating in 1984. The tests would be given as part of a "skills mastery seminar."

Another part of Reed's plan calls for students to take three additional courses for graduation -- in mathematics, science and D.C. history.

Only one year of mathematics and one year of science is required. There is no required D.C. history course.

By adding the three courses, as well as the one-credit "skills seminar," students must complete 13 required courses to graduate.

The District of Columbia demands the smallest number of required courses of all area jurisdictions and is "way behind" school systems nationally with its requirements, Guines said.

"In many schools the students have to have three years of math and science, three years of a language," Guines added. The District currently has no language requirement and has not changed its course requirements in 30 years.

"We've been asleep . . . but like Rip Van Winkle, we're finally waking up," he added.

Last May, school board member John E. Warren proposed increasing the number of courses required for grdaution in a plan that was even more stringent. It never was acted on.

Warren recommended requiring three years of math and science, two years of social studies, including a course in D.C. goverenment, and two years of a foreign language for college-bound students.

He also proposed adding a course to prepare for college entrance exams.

For students who plan to end their formal education with high school, Warren proposed three years of math, two years of social studies, including courses in D.C. and federal government, and one year of a foreign language.