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College Board Acts To Reverse Quality Decline

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Washington--In response to a 14-year drop in Scholastic Aptitude Test scores and what they describe as "a decline in quality in the nation's schools," officials of the College Board last week proposed a set of academic qualifications they say will be needed by college-bound students in the 1980's.

The standards--which include "essential" subject matter and academic skills--are the product of a year-long review, by 400 school and college officials across the country, of college preparation in American high schools.

George H. Hanford, president of the College Board, the non-profit organization best known as the sponsor of the Scholastic Aptitude Test and the College Scholarship Service, outlined the program at a news conference here. He said the standards are part of a 10-year program--called Project EQuality, to emphasize both equality and quality--being launched by the testing organization to better prepare high-school students to enter college and enhance academic opportunities for minority students.

As part of the project, Mr. Hanford said, the College Board over the next 10 years will work to implement the standards on a nationwide basis. Mr. Hanford said the board plans "to enlist schools and colleges'' to accomplish that goal.

An Effort to Set Standards

Project EQuality, Mr. Hanford emphasized, is not an attempt to establish a single national curriculum, but rather an effort to set nationwide standards for academic achievement.

The board spent $250,000 on the year-long study and has budgeted another $500,000 for 1981-82. The Ford Foundation also contributed $95,000 to the study last year.

Educators involved in the College Board's study, Mr. Hanford said, reached agreement on "six basic areas" in which college-bound high-school students should achieve academic competence in order to do well during the postsecondary years of education. Those areas, he said, include reading, writing, listening and speaking, mathematics, reasoning, and studying.

Those academic skills were identified as lacking by a group of 150 representatives of schools and colleges serving large numbers of inner-city students. The list of skills was thrashed out at meetings of participants in Atlanta, Chicago, Hartford, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Nashville, and Washington, D.C.

Mr. Hanford also pointed to six subject areas, called a "basic academic curriculum," that the College Board recommends college-bound students cover in high school. They include English, mathematics, foreign or second language, history-social studies, natural science, and the visual and performing arts.

These basic subject areas, which Mr. Hanford said have not yet been defined in detail by Project EQuality, were selected by 200 school and university teachers who have sat on the College Board's test-development committees. They were asked to determine the subject matter that should be studied in high school by students who want to go to selective colleges in the 1980's.

Mr. Hanford stressed that competencies and curriculum are interrelated: "You need competencies with which to learn subject matter and you need subject matter on which to develop your competencies." He said there was a strong consensus among the participants on this point.

The officials also announced several measures designed to encourage the use of the new standards by schools and colleges around the country. Among them:

The organization will ask colleges to adopt the "competencies and the curriculum" as their absolute or at least preferred standard of preparation.

It will study successful remedial programs in colleges and share its findings with high schools.

It will attempt to involve representatives of business and labor in dialogues with educators to determine which of the academic skills are most relevant to the world of work.

It will foster the creation of an "academic lobby," which would publicly advocate strengthening the academic side of schooling.

It will encourage the creation of school-college pilot projects designed to improve academics in the schools.

Mr. Hanford emphasized that the standards "are not mere listings. One of the major aims and achievements of Project EQuality," he said,

"continues to be to develop ways for schools and colleges to apply the basic competencies and the curriculum to their own particular needs."

To date, one pilot project, in San Antonio, has been set up. The three-year effort to apply the new College Board standards will be financed by a $1-million foundation grant.

In addition, 24 meetings will be held nationwide to reach agreement on the difficult question of how to link the subject areas outlined last week to desired academic competency levels.

Mr. Hanford said he anticipated several results if Project EQality is successful, including an increase in the proportion and the number of students prepared for college work, an expansion in the number of minority youths who attend college, and a decrease in the need for remedial work in college.

The College Board also announced the appointment of Adrienne Bailey, currently an officer of a Chicago-based foundation, as vice president for academic affairs. In her new post, Ms. Bailey will direct Project EQuality.

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