Only one-third of the first class of Maryland high school students required to do community service to graduate has completed that controversial requirement.
Fifteen months before their graduation, nearly 30,000 of the state's more than 46,000 11th-graders have not completed the required 75 hours of service, according to a report presented this week to the state Board of Education.
About 20,000 of those students are "making progress," while 10,300 -- or 22 percent of the class -- are not, the report said.
Baltimore City and Baltimore County students are furthest from completion, with more than 87 percent of city students showing no progress and 41 percent of county students in the same category.
Counties showing considerable progress include Anne Arundel, where 93.7 percent of the students have completed the requirement, and Harford, where all students are listed as making progress because student service is an integral part of the curriculum.
Maryland is the only state to require "service-learning" credits of its high school graduates. Students may start as early as sixth grade to accumulate 75 hours of service to their schools, churches and community organizations. Some school systems allow students to earn service credits during regular classes.
School systems, teachers and parents have criticized the requirement as expensive and intrusive. Some say schools should not try to teach community service because that is each family's choice and responsibility.
But the state board has held firm. "There doesn't seem to be any sentiment on this board to waive this requirement," said board member Morris Jones, reacting to the number of students who seemingly had not begun their community service.
"This is a very high-stakes issue," added board member Edward Andrews. "I'm not so sure we should not jump in on this pretty soon."
State Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick said she would bring the matter up with school system superintendents this week and convey their assessment to the next state board meeting.
A Baltimore schools spokesman blamed the dismal report on inadequate reporting of data. "We are much farther along than it appears on paper. Our students will not be hindered," said Robyn Washington.
In Baltimore County, spokesman Donald I. Mohler said the school system knew that a large number of students had not begun to fulfill the requirement.
"We may have been too idealistic" in expecting students to complete the requirement outside of school and largely on their own, he said.
County educators are finding ways to build community service into their curricula, so that students can earn those hours at the same time they earn course credits. Next year, Baltimore County will offer an elective non-credit course in which seniors can earn most of the 75 hours, Mr. Mohler said.
In Carroll County, the school board took preventive action last year when it ruled that any incoming 12th-grader without 55 hours of community service must remain in an 11th-grade homeroom and may not attend senior class activities.
Peter B. McDowell, director of Carroll's secondary education, said the sanction is one way of ensuring that students don't wait until the last minute. "It's mainly an attention-getting device. Some kids need a wake-up call," he said.
Thirty-six percent of Carroll 11th-graders have completed their requirement and another 55 percent are "making progress," according to the report.