A task force of governors, educators, and business executives, including Virginia Gov. Charles S. Robb and Washington school superintendent Floretta D. McKenzie, yesterday called for merit pay for teachers and rigorous courses for students to combat what it said was a "real emergency" in the quality of American schools.

The 41-member panel also proposed more effective "partnerships" between industry and public schools and a significant increase in school spending.

The study group, called the Task Force on Education for Economic Growth, includes 13 governors and the chairmen and chief executives of such firms as IBM, Xerox, Ford Motors, and Dow Chemical. Many of its proposals and criticisms included in a report released yesterday are similar to those made in late April by a National Commission on Excellence in Education, appointed by U.S. Education Secretary Terrel H.Bell.

At a press conference in Washington yesterday, Robb declared that teachers not only should be given significant across-the-board pay increases, but that it was "critical . . . to reward quality so that those who teach better are rewarded substantially more than those who are just marginally competent."

Earlier this week Robb's education secretary John T. Casteen proposed a $500,000 pilot project to give higher pay to "master teachers" in addition to a 20 percent pay raise for all Virginia teachers over the next two years.

Merit pay has been strongly endorsed by President Reagan but opposed by major teachers groups as unworkable and unfair.

Robb said, "I don't think all teachers are opposed to some form of increased compensation for excellence provided we can deal with their concerns."

In an interview later, McKenzie said "Merit pay sounds good, but it's very hard to do. It will take some time and deliberation, but it's a laudable goal."

Meanwhile, D.C. Mayor Marion Barry told a Senate subcommittee yesterday he would support a system of "master teachers" in Washington by which certain highly skilled teachers would be paid more.

"I think it's a direction we ought to look at.," Barry said. At the same time, however, he expressed concerns about "merit pay" proposals generally, saying the problem is how teachers would be evaluated.

The task force was assembled by a group of state government and education officials called the Education Commission of the States and was chaired by North Carolina Gov. James B. Hunt, Jr.

The new report, approved unanimously at a task force meeting last month in Raleigh, also recommends:

* An increase in "both the duration and the intensity of academic learning time" by stressing core academic subjects, eliminating " 'soft,' nonessential courses," and possibly lengthening the school day and school year.

* More stress on the "higher order skills" of reasoning and analysis that go "beyond the basics", which have been the focus of minimum competency programs underway in 37 states.

* Changes in the system of teacher tenure and certification, making it easier to dismiss "ineffective teachers" and to encourage "qualified persons" from business and universities to teach in public schools.

* Higher college entrance requirements, more achievement tests, and an end to "social promotions."