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Plans To Mandate Community Service Considered in Maryland, New Jersey

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By Millicent Lawton

Officials in Maryland and New Jersey are considering proposals to mandate community service as a high-school graduation requirement.

If the proposals are approved, the states would become the first in the nation to require students to participate in community service. A number of local school districts already have such a standard.

In Maryland, the state board of education is scheduled this week to take up a plan to replace a currently mandated citizenship test with a "practicum" to be designed at the district level. The New Jersey legislature, meanwhile, is working on a bill specifying that each student perform at least 40 hours of service during his or her high-school career.

The Maryland board may choose to go forward with the plan, reject it, or rule it is not ready to decide, said Nicholas Hobar, assistant state superintendent for instruction.

If the board backs the plan, public hearings will be held before a final vote is taken, he explained.

The proposal, presented last month to the board by the outgoing state superintendent, Joseph L. Shilling, leaves districts with a great deal of flexibility in designing their plans and does not dictate how many hours of service would be required or of what type it should be.

Five broad parameters would guide the local boards in creating the service requirement, Mr. Hobar said, including demonstrating both "social and civic responsibility" and "increased intellectual skills through reflecting on and applying service experiences."

Mr. Hobar said the proposal, part of a larger effort to revamp state graduation requirements, reflects a desire for an outcome-based system that allows districts to determine how best to achieve state-mandated performance indicators.

The service practicum, which would take effect with incoming 9th-graders in 1996-97, would also be based on the same set of competency requirements that must be fulfilled by the citizenship test, including "knowing the organization and processes of local, state, and national governments," Mr. Hobar said.

Districts would also be required to design assessments to measure the students' learning in the practicum.

From 'Me' to 'We'

The New Jersey legislation, which would require high-school students to complete a minimum of 40 hours of community service over four years, is currently awaiting consideration by the full Senate.

The plan, sponsored by Senator Richard J. Codey, requires school boards to adopt a community-service program for high-school students beginning in 1993-94.

The bill has attracted bipartisan support, noted Mr. Codey, who predicts it will be signed into law by the end of the year. The House has yet to consider the measure, however.

"This will be a thing to do in the '90s," Mr. Codey said. "I think we've moved away from the 'me' generation of the '80s to the 'we' generation of the '90s, where doing things for the community is going to be the 'in' thing."

Before approving the measure, the Senate education committee amended the bill to delay it one year and to excuse students from all or part of the requirement if the board determined it would cause them "undue hardship."

The panel also said a school board may exempt a special-education student if the requirement is deemed "inconsistent" with the student's Individualized Education Program.

Under Senator Codey's plan, the community service--which would have to be completed outside of regular school hours--would also have to be spread over more than one year, with no more than 20 hours completed in any one year.

The measure would allow flexibility in determining what would qualify as community service. In addition to such traditional activities as assistance to the disabled or companionship to the elderly, a statement by Senator Codey's office indicated, maintenance or clerical work in the school system or tutoring could also qualify.

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