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Attendance, Study-Skills Efforts Hike Achievement, Officials Say

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Policies that increase daily attendance, improve student study skills, and increase the number of required core courses provide the most effective means to improve the academic performance of students, according to administrators polled in a nationwide survey.

About two-thirds of the administrators, who represented 571 school districts, rated increasing attendance as "highly important" for improving student achievement, and nearly half strongly favored increasing the number of required core courses and the number of study-skill courses.

The survey was conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics for the National Commission on Excellence in Education, to provide the panel with information on high-school academic requirements and school districts' efforts to boost academic achievement.

Although one-fourth of the administrators rated minimum-competency requirements for graduation and expanded inservice training for teachers as "highly important" in improving achievement, fewer than 10 percent responded that minimum-competency tests for teachers, an extended school day or school year, or increased homework were "highly important" in that effort.

Nearly half of the administrators said, however, that increasing homework was at least "moderately important."

Bolster Academic Achievement

In the last three years, the survey suggests, school districts have initiated activi-ties to bolster academic achievement that correspond closely to the priorities of the district administrators.

Some 69 percent of the officials indicated that they have already implemented programs to increase daily student attendance, and 51 percent reported plans for new or additional activity in this area.

Since 1979-80, about half of the districts have established new requirements for core subjects and programs that make study-skills courses more available to students, according to the survey.

Urban Districts More Active

Urban school districts were more active than suburban or rural districts in promoting changes, particularly with regard to improving student attendance, establishing or increasing minimum-competency requirements for graduation, and requiring additional homework, the survey indicates.

Requirements for graduation and time spent in class vary widely among school districts, the study shows. Although high-school students nationally average about five hours of for-credit classes each school day, the amount of time spent in those classes ranges from a high of 350 minutes or more daily for 10 percent of the districts to a low of 240 minutes or less for another 10 percent.

On the average, districts require a total of 19.8 credits for graduation, or about five credits per year for the typical four-year program. However, 5 percent of the school districts surveyed require as many as 24 credits, although another 5 percent require as few as 16.5 credits. That is a difference of about one and a half years of required cred-it, according to the study.

The school districts surveyed require for high-school graduation an average of: 3.6 credits in English/language arts; 2.6 credits in social studies/history; 1.7 credits in mathematics and in physical education/health; 1.6 credits in science; and fewer than 0.1 in foreign languages.

The survey's also found that:

Minimum-competency tests for graduating seniors are required by about one-fourth of the districts.

About 23 percent of the school districts have formal policies requiring the regular assignment of homework in high school.

About half of the high-school graduates from the districts intend to go to two- or four-year colleges.

Almost half of the seniors in all districts take college-entrance examinations.

Student achievement on standardized tests varies widely. Of the districts reporting sat scores, 10 percent reported average mathematics scores of 400 or lower, although another 10 percent reported average scores of 520 or higher.

Preliminary analyses of survey data revealed "some positive relationships" between the district requirements and student achievement as measured by scores on standardized tests and interest in college.

The pattern, however, "was not consistent across the three achievement measures," according to the study.

In districts where students spent more class hours in credit courses, they scored significantly higher on the sat But in districts where the act was the more widely administered test, students spending more hours in credit courses did not score significantly higher on the examination.

The study also noted that "student achievement in districts requiring competency tests or regular homework at the senior-high level does not differ significantly from that in districts without these requirements."

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