A group including parents, educators, civic activists and one student last week testified before a D.C. school board committee in support of proposals to stiffen requirements for high school graduation -- and some of the speakers demanded requirements even more strict than those school officials had proposed.
The District requires the fewest courses for high school graduation of any jurisdiction in the Washington area. Current requirements are four years of English, one year each of math and science and one and a half years of social studies. There are no foreign-language requirements.
Now both Superintendent Vincent E. Reed and school board member John E. Warren have submitted separate proposals recommending an increase in required math, science and social science courses.
Reed has proposed increasing the number of required courses in math and science to two years, and adding a half-year required course in D.C. history.
One of the unique portions of the Reed proposal is a "skills mastery seminar." The 11th grade seminar would test students in English, mathematics, social science, science and health in order to find out before the critical senior year if they are sufficiently competent in those areas.
Those who show deficiencies would receive remedial help. All students would have to pass this battery of tests at some time before graduation.
Warren proposes separting students into two groups: the college-bound and those who do not intend to go to college. He would require three years of math and science and two years of a foreign language for the college-bound students as well as a half-year course in college exam preparation.
For all other students he proposes three years of math, one year of a foreign language, two years of social studies and an extra half-year course in "functional (English) composition dealing with day-to-day written life needs."
He has also proposed adding a half-year career examination course, to help prepare students for tests such as the Civil Service exam.
Wanda Washburn, mother of a student at Woodrow Wilson High School, called Warren's proposals for the college and career-exam preparation courses "long overdue . . . We owe it to our students to prepare them to compete."
Susan McDonald, mother of children at Oyster Elementary School and Alice Deal Junor High, called for even more stringent requirements for high school graduation, including two years each of math and science, three full years of social studies and one full year of government.
But other parents expressed concern about both proposals and how they would be enacted."What is going to happen to these kids who don't pass the tests? Are we going to take them out and shoot them?" asked Ed Hancock, a father.
Parent Bernard Gray of the Ketchum neighborhood school council, said he opposed the proposed new requirements "if the change offers no basic improvement in the quality of education."
"We (students) feel we are being cheated," said Elbert Brown, president of the D.C. Student Advisory Council.
Brown added that the system also should have more required courses at the junior high school level: "We feel reading should be a mandatory course in the ninth grade." He also suggested that algebra and applied mathematics courses be required.
Walter Young, an associate professor of math at the University of the District of Columbia, testified that he had "witnessed a steady decline in the preparation of our youth" for college. He said many students coming from D.C. public schools are "not prepared to do college work."
They are particularly ill-prepared to do college math, he said, and have exhibited poor reading habits and "lack of sense of identity."
School board member Carol Schwartz, who chaired the meeting, said she was "encouraged" by the testimony. She said the school board for many years has been trying to get the office of the superintendent to devise a plan for increasing requirements for high school graduation.