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Reacting to the wide variation in passing grades used by the state's school districts in reporting results from new statewide reading and mathematics tests, the Massachusetts Board of Education has set a uniform standard to be followed in subsequent assessments.

Beginning next fall, 65 percent will be considered the minimum passing grade on the tests, which are administered to 170,000 students in grades 3, 6, and 9.

The tests, mandated in 1985, were administered for the first time last October. When districts received the results in March, they used their own minimum grades in reporting on their students' performance, according to Allan S. Hartman, director of the state education department's bureau of research and assessment. The standards ranged from 60 percent correct to 80 percent correct, he said.

The uniform standard, adopted by the board late last month, will be used only in reporting results from the standardized tests, and will not affect promotion or graduation, Mr. Hartman noted.

"Promotion and graduation are up to the local school district,'' he said. "They cannot be affected by any action of the state board.''

The new standard is aimed at establishing a benchmark for all students in the state, according to a report to the board by the education department.

"Basic-skills testing helps to establish a level of achievement that all students should attain,'' the report states. "It represents an attempt to ensure that no students will fall below this minimum level of achievement.''

In a report that officials of the New Jersey Education Association are calling "the most extensive and intensive look at urban education in the history of our nation,'' the state's largest teachers' union has identified 89 steps that could be taken to improve urban school districts.

The report, "The Urban Challenge,'' is a compilation of recommendations and advice from national experts and nearly 1,000 school employees who were interviewed by telephone or who participated in 17 round-table discussions held throughout the state over the past six months.

While New Jersey's 29 poorest urban districts enroll 24.4 percent of the state's public-school students, the report notes, they serve 63.5 percent of the state's black students, 75.4 percent of its Hispanic pupils, 51.3 percent of its students receiving federal Chapter 1 remedial services, 72.4 percent of its bilingual and English-as-a-second-language students, and 78.5 percent of its pregnant students.

The report calls for increasing from 42 percent to 50 percent the state's share of public-school funding. And it recommends that the state ensure that urban districts have as much funding as the average school district in the state, pointing out that, in 1984-85, the 29 poorest urban districts spent anaverage of $3,000 per pupil, compared with $4,000 to $4,500 for a majority of the other districts.

The report also proposes that the state float bonds to repair and expand school facilities; that the maximum class size in all grades be reduced to 15 by the year 2000; that teachers and administrators receive specialized training in urban-education issues; that districts be required to offer at least one year of preschool; and that parents be made to "feel like welcome partners in the educational process.''

The teachers' association, an affiliate of the National Education Association, which helped prepare the report, released "The Urban Challenge'' at a May 18 press conference. Copies can be obtained by writing the New Jersey Education Association, P.O. Box 1211, Trenton, N.J. 08607, or by calling (609) 599-4561.

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