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A New York task force studying improvements in school-to-work efforts has recommended revamping the state's current high-school graduation requirements in favor of a program that would equip all students with some work experience and job skills.

The Governor's Task Force on Creating Career Pathways for New York State Youth adapted recent efforts by other states that would steer students toward work or college and eliminate general-education offerings.

The task force called for establishing a new Career Pathways Certificate that students would earn at age 16, testifying to their basic academic skills and preparation for entry-level work. Students continuing toward a high-school diploma would face tougher academic courses and mandatory job experience.

The state should also create a Professional and Technical Certificate for students who complete vocational training or participate in an apprenticeship aimed toward a specific career, the group recommended.

Critics said the plan might encourage more students to leave school after earning the initial certificate and force students to choose work or college too early. But panel members argued that the proposals are an improvement over the current system, which they called aimless for many youths.

A California children's-advocacy group has given the state the grade of D- on a "report card'' assessing the well-being of children in the state over the last four years.

During that time, said the report by Children Now, the youth-homicide rate increased by 45 percent, the youth-incarceration rate rose by 23 percent, and the rate of births to teenagers grew by 25 percent. The rate of youth unemployment, it noted, has jumped from 15.6 percent to 20.1 percent in just one year.

The report did reveal "modest improvement'' in both school-dropout and infant-mortality rates.

But it noted that since the group's report card in 1991, 75,600 more children in the state have slipped into poverty, 12,869 have been put in juvenile custody, 81,651 have been placed in foster care, and 59,612 have dropped out of school. The D- grade represents a drop from the grade of D the state earned in the last three report cards the group has issued.

Following review by a panel of experts convened to investigate an unexpected drop in statewide writing-test results, Virginia state officials last week released the results and affirmed their validity.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joseph A. Spagnolo Jr. had asked for the study after district administrators reported a 10-percentage-point drop in the number of students passing the test. The test is part of a "literacy passport'' battery, which students, beginning this year, are required to pass in order to enter high school. Some 74.5 percent of 6th graders passed the test in 1991-92, compared with 84.6 percent the year before.

The experts, who examined data from each of the five writing tests given from 1987-88 to 1991-92, as well as a pilot study administered in 1988, found no problem with the design or administration of the test. Instead, they found, the 1990-91 passing rate was too high, because state officials had set that year's passing score too low.

Mr. Spagnolo said he would not change the status of any student who passed the test in 1990-91. But he urged local administrators to examine the writing performance of students who barely passed the test that year and provide additional instruction if it is warranted.

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