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Virginia Board Considers Raising Graduation Requirements

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Virginia state officials are considering changes in graduation requirements that would increase the number of credits students must obtain in basic subjects and put college-bound students in a separate academic program.

The state board of education last month held hearings on the proposals, which are similar to the proposals of the National Commission on Excellence in Education. The board will probably vote on a revised version of the plan in July, officials said.

The proposals of Superintendent of Public Instruction S. John Davis differ little from a previous plan developed by a committee appointed by Mr. Davis. The superintendent's standards proposals are considered more rigorous than those of the panel, however.

The Virginia Education Association (vea), which represents 42,000 teachers in the state, has taken no formal position on the proposals. The organization's president, Brenda Cloyd, said it would oppose changes that would weaken fine-arts and vocational-education programs.

Under Mr. Davis's plan, all students would be required to complete 20 credits of study, including two courses in both mathematics and science and one additional course in either area.

Students now must complete 18 credit-hours and one year in both fields, as well as four years of English, three years of social studies, and two years of health and physical education.

Students who plan to attend college would be required to complete a total of 22 credits, including three credits in both mathematics and science and two credits in a foreign language.

Each credit represents 150 hours of classroom time, officials said, so the proposal would increase the total instruction time by at least 300 hours for students not planning to attend college and 600 hours for students planning to attend college.

Students would be required at the end of the 8th grade to indicate whether they plan to attend college.

Mr. Davis said the main purpose of the plan is to prepare students for a technology-oriented business world. Although the proposal would require schools to provide "educational experiences with computer technology," there is no specific course requirement in computers. The computer instruction could take place at any grade level.

"That is such a changing field that we figured that anything we wrote would be inappropriate in maybe a year," said Robert B. Jewell, the supervisor of secondary-school accreditation.

Officials from organizations representing music and vocational education said the proposals might leave students with too little time to pursue outside interests.

Under the current requirements, students can take at least seven credits of elective courses. Under the superintendent's proposals, college-bound students would be able to take at least five electives and other students would be able to take at least six.

Despite the attention given the graduation standards, said Mr. Jewell, "the real meat" of the proposal involves provisions that would urge local districts to adopt curriculum and discipline standards.

Those provisions would encourage schools to reduce classroom interruptions, improve inservice training of teachers, provide recognition to exceptional students, and involve students in the care and maintenance of school campuses.

The guidelines would also ask districts to establish guidelines for academic eligibility for extracurricular activities and require all students to be in class for at least five and one-half credits per day regardless of whether they have completed their minimum requirements.

Local districts also would be urged to regularly inform students of academic goals and their progress in meeting those goals.

Since 1980, several committees of the education department have been developing lists of academic goals in eight areas for each grade. The areas are mathematics, language arts, social studies, health, science, fine arts, foreign languages, and physical education.

Education-department committees have already devised the goals for the first four areas and expect to complete drafting recommendations for assessment this summer. The goals for the other areas are still being developed.

The board will consider revisions in the proposal at its June 23 meeting and take final action next month.

In an unrelated development, a survey by the vea found that only one-third of the state's school districts would try to follow a General Assembly recommendation to increase teachers' salaries by 9.7 percent.

Ms. Cloyd, the union's president, said that twice as many districts increased salaries last year.

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