Mass. Plan Would Tie Drivers' Licenses To Demonstration of Academic Skills

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Massachusetts teenagers would have to demonstrate their academic competence before they would be licensed to drive, under a plan proposed by Gov. William F. Weld.

The proposal, if approved by the legislature, would make Massachusetts the first state to tie the privilege of driving to academic performance.

The measure is part of a wide-ranging package of reforms put forth late last month by the Governor. (See Education Week, Nov. 6, 1991.)

Under the plan, 16-year-olds would take a competency test that would lead to a "certificate of initial mastery," which, in turn, would make them eligible to obtain a driver's license.

The idea for the linkage is based on a 1990 report,"America's Choice: High Skills or Low Wages," written by the Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce, according to Maria Rodriguez, the director of public affairs for the state executive office of education. The report challenges the nation's 16-year-olds to realize the highest academic standards in the world. (See Education Week, June 20, 1990.)

Ms. Rodriguez described the driver's-license linkage as "an added incentive to prepare students to meet the certificate of initial mastery."

Although the design of the test is still under consideration, officials expect that competency tests for 4th and 8th graders would prepare students for the mastery test, which probably would be given in the 10th grade.

Beyond 'Driver Dropout' Laws

If the measure is adopted, Massachusetts would join a dozen other states that have enacted legislation linking school behavior to driving privileges.

The other states, however, have enacted "driver dropout" laws that base the privilege on school attendance, not on academic competence.

Lawmakers in at least two other states--California and South Carolina-have attempted to make academic performance a prerequisite for a driver's license, but the legislation has so far been unsuccessful.

Simply tying the right to drive to school attendance "is easy," said Jay Smink, the executive director of the National Dropout Prevention Center at Clemson University.

"That's black and white. It's much more difficult to enact and enforce tying it to achievement, even though that makes sense," said Mr. Smink, who advocates incorporating student progress into the equation. (See Education Week, April 4, 1990.)

Mr. Smink said he probably would not endorse a model that relied exclusively on competency testing.

Vol. 11, Issue 12, Page 24

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