ATLANTA -- Georgia children would have to pass math and reading tests in third, fifth and eighth grade to be promoted under legislation being proposed by a state senator running for governor.
Sen. Steve Langford, D-LaGrange, also wants to stop giving HOPE scholarships to students with discipline or attendance problems and limit grants if they need remedial help once they reach college.
"Restoring discipline, requiring the basics and rewarding excellence are the three R's on which I believe we need to concentrate," Mr. Langford said during a Wednesday news conference.
Georgia once mandated a third-grade test, but the requirement was eliminated. Students now take the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills during third, fifth and eighth grades, but they are not used to determine if students should be retained.
Under Mr. Langford's legislation, the state Board of Education would decide what test students would have to take.
The senator argued his proposal would help end so-called "social promotions," or the passing of a child onto the next grade who has not mastered all subjects.
"The practice of granting social promotions in our schools has left many Georgia students unable to read, write or calculate as appropriate for their grade level," he told reporters. "It does little good to promote students to higher grade levels if they do not have the basic skills necessary to do the work required."
Just under 50,000 students were retained in Georgia public schools during 1995-96, the last year for which such statistics are available, according to the state Department of Education.
"My question is, what are we going to do with those students we hold back?" asked Barbara Christmas, director of the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, the state's largest teacher organization.
"We are going to have to have some dramatic interventions and remediation in kindergarten through third grade," she said.
Mr. Langford's HOPE proposals would:
-- Prohibit use of HOPE money to pay for remedial classes in college.
-- Set attendance and discipline criteria for earning HOPE scholarships.
-- Create a "Zell Miller HOPE Plus Scholarship Program" to provide college room and board to students who earn a 3.7 grade point average on a 0-4 scale, graduate high school with a special college-prep diploma and score at least 200 points above the national average on the Scholastic Assessment Test.
The national average on the SAT this year was 1016 out of a possible 1600. The average Georgia score was 967.
Lottery-funded HOPE scholarships pay tuition and some expenses for Georgia students who maintain a "B" average.
"Some politicians are reluctant to propose any changes in HOPE because it is such a popular program," Mr. Langford said. "In my view, it is that type of thinking that prevents us from maximizing our potential. We should not settle for good when we can achieve excellence."
Mr. Miller, Georgia's governor and the founder of HOPE, called Mr. Langford's proposal "an interesting idea," but wanted to study it before commenting further.