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Arkansas Board Approves New Standards After Year-Long Effort

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The Arkansas State Board of Education late last month unanimously approved new academic standards, culminating a year-long effort by Gov. Bill Clinton, the state's Educational Standards Committee, and the Arkansas legislature to formulate school reforms.

The board voted to raise graduation requirements from 16 to 20 units and establish a minimum number of course units that high schools must provide; it also set maximum class sizes and required minimum-competency tests for students in the 3rd, 6th, and 8th grades.

Some of the proposals, such as the promotional-gates testing, had been approved by the legislature during its special session in October.

During that session, the Governor proposed and the legislature adopted a new tax package--including a 1-cent sales tax--to provide the necessary funds to pay for the testing program.

In its Quality of Education Act of 1983, the legislature emphasized the board's authority to study the proposals, to implement new ones, and to continue to be responsible for monitoring the implementation of new standards, according to Nancy A. Sindon, staff coordinator for the state's Education Standards Committee.

Under the new graduation requirements, students who graduate beginning in 1987 must complete a minimum of 4 units of English, 3 units of social studies, 5 units of mathematics and science, and a unit each of physical education, health education, and the fine arts.

More Advanced Courses

Of the 16 previously required units, only 6 were specified--4 units of English and 1 unit each of American history/civics and health/physical education.

The state board also said that at least 38 courses must be offered annually at the high-school level. Pre-viously, schools had to offer only 24 courses each year.

The objective of this change is to "see that districts offer more advanced courses, including computer instruction," according to Ms. Sindon. The requirement will also "assure that there will be more choice for vocational-technical students taking sequential courses," Ms. Sindon said.

The board left intact the requirements for maximum class size recommended by the Education Standards Committee. Kindergarten classes can be no larger than 20 students per teacher; in grades 1 to 3, the average student-teacher ratio must not exceed 23 to 1 in a district and 25 to 1 in any single classroom; in grades 4 through 6, the average must be 25 to 1, with no more than 28 students per classroom.--

Also under the new requirements, teachers in grades 7 through 12 may not be assigned more than 150 students daily and must not have indi-vidual academic classes exceeding 30 pupils per class, except in courses such as band or physical education that "naturally lend themselves to larger numbers," said to Ms. Sindon.

The board endorsed legislation that requires districts to be accountable for student performance. Districts that do not reach approved minimum standards two years after submitting an improvement plan could face "dissolution" by the state.

The state board decided that it would "not oppose the legislature at this time by making kindergarten mandatory," Ms. Sindon said.

All schools must offer kindergarten to those students who wish to attend, and the board left it up to schools to "evaluate whether students entering school need kindergarten or can enter directly into grade 1."

To enable the state to continue to be eligible for $5 million in federal Chapter 1 aid, the board modified a standard requiring schools to offer remedial courses to 7th- and 8th-grade students. The board now ''strongly encourages" districts to offer the remedial programs.

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