Students at 31 schools in the Anacostia section of Washington will be required to pass standard tests this spring in order to be promoted from grade to grade or to graduate from senior high school.
The new uniform standards, which have no counterpart elsewhere in the Washington metropolitan area, are designed to end the practice of automatically promoting students just because they get older, said Reuben G. Pierce, the assistant superintendent in charge of Anacostia schools.
Pierce said the standards were developed by local school principals and will get progressively tougher over the next four years.
They have been endorsed enthusiastically by the Anacostia Community School Board, an elected advisory group made up mostly of parents in the area, which includes some of the poorest parts of Washington.
R. Calvin Lockridge, who represents Anacostia on the D.C. School Board, also strongly supports the new standards, but he said the tests have encountered some opposition from parents and teachers at a few schools.
Pierce said the uniform standards ought to be imposed "so we can certify that students can do certain things when they move on from one grade level to the next or graduate from high school . . . It's really an old idea, but schools have gotten away from it. We knew we'd have to face this sooner or later, and we decided to start now."
In July 1977 the District of Columbia School Board voted unanimously to impose minimum achievement standards for both high school graduation and promotion from grade to grade.
But so far no regulations have been issued to enforce these standards, and old rules - issued in the 1960s - remain in force. They require that elementary school youngsters be kept back in a grade no more than once and that all children be sent to junior high schools six months after their 13th birthday regardless of what they have learned.
Superintendant Vincent E. Reed said yesterday that a committee was developing the new systemwide standards, but he said he did not know when they would be ready or when they would be enforced.
"I support the idea of having everybody held to the same standards throughout the school system," Reed said. "But we have to make sure than we don't move too fast on this thing . . . I don't want to overpromise."
Reed said he had agreed to the Anacostia school tests "as an experimental thing."
"We'll see if it works out," he said. "If it does, it might be used in the rest of the city."
Throughout the country discusssion of abolishing automatic or "social" promotions has been widespread as part of fast-growing concern about raising academic standards.
So far, however, few school districts, including Emporia, Va. have actually required tests for promotion or graduation.
In Virginia, all students will be required to pass a statewide minimum competency test before they can graduate from high school starting in 1981. Students in Maryland will have to pass a similar test in 1982.
This fall the public schools in Anacostia have about 27,000 students - 97 percent of them black. Achievement varies widely at different schools. Overall, it was about the same as the citywide averages last year in reading and mathematics, but far below norms for the rest of the country.
"It's obvious that there is a serious lack of performance," said Eugene Kinlow, chairman of the Anacostia Community School Board. "There's more than enough blame to go around for everybody - the parents, the students, the schools, the community. But we have to find some way of getting people to own up that they can do better."
Under the new minimum standards to be applied this spring, kindergarten youngsters in Anacostia will have to score average or above on a nationwide reading readiness test to be promoted to first grade. Each student also will have to master at least 70 percent of the reading and math skills on a citywide curriculum checklist, and be able to state his name, address and telephone number.
Students in the first through eight grades will be required to get specific passing scores on citywide reading and math tests that are tied directly to the new competency-based curriculum that has been developed for Washington schools. Up to grade three, Pierce said, students will have to master skills on their actual grade levels. The standards get lower after that, he said, to prevent "an avalanche of failures," but in future years, Pierce said, "we intend to raise the ante."
High school students will have to get passing scores on a nationwide test of "everyday skills," such as reading telephone books and figuring sales taxes. They will also have to master a list of "survival skills" that includes filling out a job application, balancing a checkbook and following street directions.
In the first draft of the proposed standards, high school graduates had to score at least on the ninth grade level of a nationally standardized test in reading and math.
Because of fears by principals that too many students would fail, Pierce said, the standard probably will be dropped to seventh grade this year.
"It's going to be difficult to do this," said Russell Lombardy, principal at Anacostia High School, "because some of the kids read at the fifth greade level or lower. But I really think we have to start somebody now . . . It's about time somebody stood up and said our kids can do work at a meaningful level."