Virginia's State Board of Education is considering a five-year delay in implementing a requirement that students prove they can read, write and perform basic arithmetic computations to graduate from high school.
The reason, according to a staff memorandum, is that "those students affected by this standard are too far along in school for effective remediation . . ."
The Maryland State Board of Education this spring adopted a detailed set of minimum reading standards for all grade levels, but has not yet decided how to enforce them. District of Columbia a school, a spokesman said, are moving in the direction of competency requirements but have not defined what will be required.
A nationwide movement to require minimum skills for graduation and to make a high school diploma mean something is proceeding with extreme caution in the Washington metropolitan area and in many states.
"Most of the effective dates are comfortably off in the future.That's sensible," says George Weber, associate director of the Council for Basic Education. "It gives everybody enough time to pull up their socks."
In Virginia, the State Board of Education voted a year ago to require minimum competence in four broad areas effective with the class of 1979. Local school systems were to determine the exact standards.
By this [WORD ILLEGIBLE] however, the board's staff was urging that the effective date be pushed ahead to the class of [WORD ILLEGIBLE] "Somewhat of an unfair situation develops for the present 10th graders who will be seniors at the time this standard takes effect," the staff said of the 1979 date.
Additionally they argued, state and local school officials needed more time to develop tests and procedures to gauge minimum competence.
The four brand skills to be required in Virginia for high-school graduation are functional literacy in reading, writing and speaking; computational skills including the ability to work with decimals and figure percentages; a basic knowledge of the history and culture of the United States and either a job entry skill or the ability to pursue higher education.
In Maryland, the State Board of Education has set June 30, 1982 as the effective date for minimum competency requirements in five areas, work skills, leisure skills, citizenship, basic skills and survival skills.
Basic skills are defined as the ability to read, write and calculate. Survival skills include parenting, consumer skills, personal finance, the ability to deal with a bureaucracy and mechanical skills.
But the board still has not defined what the basic standards in those five areas are, nor has it determined how those standards will be measured.
Proposed regulations for enforcing the detailed reading standards for all grades adopted by the Maryland State Board of Education are pending before the board. Also awaiting a decision are requirements that students failing to meet those standards get special help.
But the regulations are silent on what is to be done with those students who, despite extra help, still fail to meet the standards. "At the moment, it is possible for them to graduate," says Maryland School Superintendent David W. Hornbeck.
Elsewhere seven states, Oregon, Florida, Arizona, California, Delaware, Vermont and New York, have voted minimum competency requirements as a condition for a high school diploma. Most require performance at an 8th or 9th grade level.
But the Council for Basic Education's Weber expects that over the next decade, all of the 50 states will insist on some minimum competence as a condition of high school graduation.
"It's as certain as the dawn tommorow," he says. "It's one of the hottest things going. The questions, are how just will the states move and who will actually implement the details, the local school systems or the state.
"It's going to improve the educational achievement of a significant number of our young people. With this kind of pressure on, the schools are going to have to cut the mustard. They can do it. What they've been doing is sweeping kids under the rug."
Of the states that have already adopted standards only one, Arizona, has them in effect now. Officials at the State Department of Education in Phoenix said they had no figures on how many students are actually denied diplomas.
However in the public schools of Denver, where competence requirements were imposed 15 years ago, between 1 and 2 per cent of the seniors fail to graduate.
Many ways have been devised to measure minimum competence. Florida and California are developing statewide tests. Vermont has identified 51 specific requirements for its students and when a student achieves the required competence level, his teacher certifies it on a permanent record.
In Florida, officials have devised a "certificate of attendance" for students who stay in school for 12 years but leave high school without having achieved the minimum competence.
To develop the minimum standards in Virginia, state officials have set up committees in the four broad areas to suggest guidelines and develop possible tests for used by the local systems.
Numa P. Bradner, the state's director for secondary education, said the plan is to test children early in their school years and then provide remedial help where necessary.
"We don't want to just lay a test on a kid in the 12th grade and then tell him he can't graduate," Bradner said. "But we do want to raise some of the credibility of the high school diploma."
Throughout the state, Bradner said, some school systems have all but completed their competence standards while others are waiting for the state guidelines - which should be ready be mid summer.
Arlingon, for example, will begin giving its 9th graders competency tests next year. The idea is that those who pass do not have to take the test again, but students who fail get another chance in the 10th, 11th and 12th grade.
The county will not make passing the test a condition for high school gradution until the state requirement takes effect, according to Associate Supt. Harold M. Wilson. Skills tested include the ability to read forms and applications, balance check-books and write with a reasonable amount of clarity, Wilson said.
In Maryland, schools in Prince George's and Howard counties give the equivalent of comptency tests to all high school students, but the results are not now used as a criterion for high school graduation.