Alexandria school officials last night recommended that social studies remain an elective course for eighth graders, rejecting a proposal that it be required.

But the recommendation, in a report made by Assistant Superintendent Arlene Moore and supported by Superintendent Robert Peebles, also said that social studies could be required for students identified as lacking basic skills such as interpreting maps and graphs.

Earlier this year, representatives from George Washington Junior High School, one of the city's two intermediate schools, asked the school board to require eighth grade courses in American citizenship and political behavior.

Faculty members representing the arts, foreign languages and home economics spoke against that proposal last night, saying an additional required course would reduce the chance students have to take electives in those subjects. Eighth graders are required to take English, math, science and physical education courses, leaving room in the normal school day for only two other courses.

Moore said 479 eighth graders now take social studies courses. The schools could have to hire more social studies teachers and reduce the number of instructors of other subjects such as arts and languages if all students are required to take social studies, she said.

School board members Mary Jane Nugent and Timothy S. Elliott expressed reservations about the recommendation, and Elliott said students could be sliding past their "last opportunity to learn about their country."

The board is expected to make a decision when it meets again later this month.