Alexandria students who fail the minimum-competency test required for a Virginia high school diploma but meet credit and attendance requirements would be given certificates of completion under a change approved last week by the city school board.

The revision follows on the heels of state regulations requiring all foreign and special-education students, except those specifically exempted, to pass a competency test. Previously, students in those categories had the option of taking the test but were not requried to do so.

Although the test has been administered for several years, this year is the first that passage is requried for graduation.

Alexandria officials say the certificate would be of greatest benefit to special-education students.

"It's just one way of giving these children some form of recognition for completing the other (state) requirements," said Donald E. Dearborn, superintendent for elementary and special education. "They deserve something."

About 40 students whose native languages are other than English and 12 special-education students -- out of nearly 200 seniors at T. C. Williams High School, Alexandria's only public high school -- will be affected by the new regulations, according to Robert Hanley, principal at T.C. Williams.

So far this year, except for some foreign and special-education students who did not take the test, 97 percent of the seniors at T.C. Williams have passed the math portion and 95 percent have passed the English section. Seniors who have not passed will be given another chance later this year.

In December, the Fairfax County school board passed a measure similar to the Alexandria certificate proposal, but the county rule restricts the granting of certificates to special-education students. In Arlington, a student who fails the minimum-competency test will receive neither diploma nor certificate, according to Boyd Webb, associate superintendent for instruction.