The College Board, seeking to raise sagging college admissions standards, yesterday published a list of about 50 reading, reasoning, mathematics and writing skills that it urged all colleges to adopt "as their preference if not their absolute requirement" in admitting new students.
In an unusual initiative for a group best known as a sponsor of tests, the board, an organization of some 2,600 colleges and secondary schools, including most of the nation's best, also urged that its proposed standards be used by high schools as the basic objectives of their college preparatory programs.
The board said it intends to make further and more detailed recommendations for a new "basic academic curriculum" for secondary schools within a year.
George Hanford, the College Board president, said the standards might eventually become the basis for new nationwide college entrance exams. But he cautioned that any new exams were "far down the road" and probably would not replace the Scholastic Aptitude Tests that the board now gives to about 1 million college-bound seniors each year.
Hanford said the skills on the board's new list are needed by students to do college-level work anywhere, including in community colleges.
The writing competencies, for example, include using standard English and being able to write "coherent paragraphs" and a research report. In mathematics the skills include solving problems with algebra and geometry, elementary concepts of probability and statistics, and being able to use a calculator and computer as well as paper and pencil.
The other skill areas are reading, reasoning, speaking and listening, and studying. The promised "basic academic curriculum" will include English, math, history or social studies, natural sciences, a second language, and visual and performing arts.
Hanford stressed that the new standards could not be imposed by the board.
The effort to develop new, specific standards for college admissions, Hanford said, grew out of concern with the major long-term drop in admissions test scores that began in 1963. Over the same two decades colleges have expanded rapidly, and according to a College Board report last year, many now compete aggressively for students and take almost any high school graduate, although a small group of prestigious colleges remains selective.
The skill lists were developed over the past year as part of the board's Project Equality through discussions among nearly 500 college and high school educators. The panels included large groups from big-city schools and colleges, among them the District's public schools and the University of the District of Columbia, who Hanford said helped shape standards that they felt were needed for college work and feasible for high schools to teach.
Hanford said he expected the standards to be applied gradually over the next 10 years. He said he was certain that black and Hispanic students whose test score averages now are low would be able to meet them, as new school programs and expectations develop.
"One of our main goals is to increase the pool of minorities going into colleges," Hanford said. "If you let these kids know what's expected, they'll do it."
Hanford acknowledged that the College Board's proposed standards for college admissions were similar to efforts in many states to impose minimum competencies for high school graduation. But he said they were much more rigorous than the graduation minimums that are often set at ninth-grade skills.
"What we're proposing are the skills they need to take the beginning college-level courses," he said. "We want to avoid a national curriculum. But this is what all students need for college."