RICHMOND, JUNE 19 -- The Virginia State Board of Education today lengthened the list of requirements school systems must meet to receive accreditation, including a ninth-grade literacy test, elementary school counseling and reduced class sizes.
The new standards, which will take effect in the 1988-89 school year, also include an added graduation requirement for fine or vocational arts that increases from 20 to 21 the number of courses required to receive a general high school diploma, and from 22 to 23 the number required for the more rigorous advanced studies diploma. To make up the difference, students will lose an elective.
The new requirements were criticized by local educators who said they did not have enough time to analyze the expense of the programs and questioned the state board's belief that much of the cost is a matter of shifting current budgets.
"I can almost guarantee that it's going to cost more than they said it will cost," said Arlington School Board Chairwoman Dorothy H. Stambaugh.
"Arlington educators are very busy people," she added. "If you're going to ask a principal to do something extra, it's going to cost."
State school officials estimate that the new programs will cost a total of $52.4 million, which will be shared by state and local authorities. The legislature must still approve the state's share of the cost of implementing the standards. State officials added that many schools may already have the necessary money in their budgets.
The state board, though able to mandate programs, has no funding authority.
The impact of the new standards on schools in Northern Virginia is not yet known, but state board member Margaret S. Marston, who represents the region, said the school systems in the area already have instituted many programs that meet or go beyond those set by the board today.
"So many of these are already in place in Northern Virginia. I am not apprehensive about the cost," Marston said.
However, funding is of particular concern to the Northern Virginia school systems, which, because of their solid tax base and high property values, pay a larger part of the budget than other, less affluent jurisdictions. At a public hearing this month, Fairfax Superintendent Robert R. Spillane appealed to the Virginia legislature's chief spending committees to compensate areas that spend large parts of their local taxes on education.
The new standards follow recommendations by Gov. Gerald L. Baliles' appointed Commission on Excellence in 1986, which called for significantly strengthening the scope of education and teacher preparedness.
"Virginia can indeed aspire to be among the top 10," said board President W.L. Lemmon. "These standards are tougher and will propel us to do better."
The board also decided to develop a means of identifying educationally deficient schools and revamped its standardized testing program in a way that is designed to allow school officials to better assess a child's ability to learn.
The requirements adopted by the board include offering students preparatory courses for college entrance tests and adding world history and geography to the secondary curriculum, Virginia and U.S. geography to the elementary curriculum, and remedial programs for students who score in the bottom quarter of the state's standardized tests.
The new standards also emphasize the need to reduce the dropout rate and increase minority performance. In addition, they require a decrease in the student-teacher ratio by one student in first grade and in English classes in grades six through 12.
One of the most dramatic changes is a measure popularly dubbed the Literacy Passport Program, which will require students for the first time to pass literacy tests in reading, writing and mathematics to enter the ninth grade. Students can take the test as early as the sixth grade.
Some Northern Virginia school officials fear it will hold back foreign students who come to the schools with a limited knowledge of English.
In a letter to the state board, Arlington School Board Chairwoman Stambaugh said Arlington officials were concerned that the test "would inhibit rather than further the education of some limited English proficient students."
About 65 percent of Arlington's elementary school students are not proficient in English. Today the board voted to allow local school boards to apply for test waivers, although it was not specific under what conditions they would be granted.
Another area of particular concern to Northern Virginia is a requirement to provide elementary school guidance counselors. Arlington, Fairfax and Alexandria have counseling programs that are considered more sophisticated than those available in most areas in the state. They use certified guidance counselors, as well as psychologists and social workers, whom they fear may not be counted under the new guidelines.
In response, the board indicated that it would consider granting waivers for other counseling personnel.