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Virginia Chief Seeks New Accreditation Rules

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Virginia schools would be required to meet tougher curriculum and instruction standards to receive state accreditation under a series of proposals by S. John Davis, the state school superintendent.

The proposed standards, presented to the state board of education, represent a philosophical change in the accreditation process, Mr. Davis said in an interview last week.

Currently, he said, schools are required to show they have the "capability to provide'' a sound educational program. The new standards would require them to show that they "do provide'' high-quality education.

Governor's Commission

Many of the proposals reflect recommendations made last year by the Governor's commission on excellence in education. The commission's membership included all members of the state board, which is expected to act on Mr. Davis's proposals before midsummer.

Under his plan, students would be required to pass a literacy-skills test in order to be promoted to the 9th grade. The specific examination to be administered is currently under discussion, Mr. Davis said, adding that he would prefer that it be one that could be referenced to national norms.

The "literacy passport'' examination would first be administered in the 6th grade. Students failing the test would be required to attend summer school and receive tutoring, he said.

Phonics Instruction

The proposed standards would also require schools to use phonics-based reading instruction, and to emphasize reading, writing, and spelling in all subjects in the first three grades. Schools would also have to provide remedial reading instruction to any students not reading at grade level after the 3rd grade.

In addition, schools would have to prepare formal plans to offer writing instruction in all grades, and students would be required to complete a research paper and oral presentation in the 12th grade.

Other Recommendations

Other recommendations made by the superintendent include:

  • The addition of a fine- and performing-arts credit to the requirements for high-school graduation, raising from 20 to 21 the number of credits required for a standard diploma, and from 22 to 23 the number required for a "Governor's seal'' diploma.
  • A requirement that schools teach Virginia and United States geography in the elementary grades, and world geography and history in high school.
  • A requirement that all high-school students have access to two advanced-placement or college-level courses.
  • A requirement that all high schools offer preparation courses for the Scholastic Aptitude Test, as well as programs to help prepare minority students for college.

The changes, if approved, would be phased in over several years to minimize additional costs to school districts, Mr. Davis said. Students scheduled to graduate in 1993 would be the first to be affected by the new graduation requirements.

Mr. Davis has also proposed a revision of the state board's rule concerning the length of the school year, which currently requires 5 hours of instruction per day for 180 days. While recommending that the total number of hours remain the same, Mr. Davis has asked that school districts be permitted to extend their school days in the fall and spring to "bank'' hours against days missed during the winter as a result of bad weather.

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