RICHMOND, OCT. 22 -- The Virginia Board of Education adopted new "standards of quality" today for the commonwealth's schools that would require students to pass a literacy test before advancing to the ninth grade.
Current fourth graders would be the first affected by the requirement, which must pass the General Assembly to be put into effect.
The test of reading, writing and mathematical skills would be administered to students beginning in the sixth grade, and those who fail would be placed in remedial programs.
Northern Virginia school officials, who voiced objections to the literacy standard at a hearing last month, said the board has done little to allay their concerns. Students who have learned English as a second language and students who have recently entered Virginia school systems could suffer if they are kept back, educators said.
Because the content of the tests has not been disclosed, they added, school systems do not know how many of their students might need remedial instruction.
"We're dealing with a lot of unknowns," said Dolores Bohen, Fairfax County school spokeswoman.
According to the Department of Education, remedial programs could cost more than $25 million. The state is expected to provide roughly half of the needed funds, but local school districts would have to provide the rest.
Gov. Gerald L. Baliles has endorsed the idea of introducing a literacy test, and Board of Education President W.L. Lemmon predicted it will meet little resistance in the legislature.
The standards of quality, which include several changes proposed by the Governor's Commission on Excellence in Education, also set new restrictions on class sizes. School divisions must maintain average student-teacher ratios of 25 to 1 or less in kindergarten and second through sixth grades. The ratio may not exceed 24 to 1 in first grade and in English classes in sixth through 12th grades.
Classes in kindergarten through third grade may not exceed 30 students, and classes in fourth through sixth grade may not exceed 35. The cost of the new requirements is estimated at $3 million, to be divided among the state and localities.