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Ask top students to fix schools - here's what they'd recommend

Other than teachers, the ones who know the most about what goes on in the nation's classrooms are the students. Ask a high school senior what's wrong with US schools, and you'll usually get some frank answers.

''I think math and science should be stressed much more than they are, and I don't think there would be anything wrong with (requiring) four years of both,'' says Rhonda Hilvety of Macon, Ill.

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Rhonda is one of 2,000 teen-age achievers around the country, a demographic sampling of 375,000 student leaders featured in the 1982-83 edition of ''Who's Who Among American High School Students.'' Most surveyed are 17-year-olds who hold an A average.

The majority of those surveyed, agreeing with the findings of several recent reports on the state of education in the United States, say many students graduate without basic skills because they have been allowed to take too many easy courses. In telephone interviews, some of those surveyed explained their views.

Colleen Lees of Wilmington, Del., says most of the free choice comes in senior high, after students have completed required courses. She knows one student who in her senior year took three art classes, gym, and a study hall to round out a course schedule including required English and social studies.

Most surveyed said stronger efforts should be made to interest students in math and science at a younger age, and that no student should graduate without having a foreign-language course.

Robert Jeffrey Foster of Wayne, Pa., who favors a four-year foreign-language requirement, notes that his own school, which has produced some of the highest SAT math scores in the country, requires a full three years of math.

Some 80 percent of the students surveyed thought that a minimum competency test at the close of eighth grade would improve the education system. But Robert opposes the idea of such a test at any level.

''I think the classes would be geared to the test - that it would be a waste of time and counterproductive,'' he says. Some of the other students queried by phone argued that such tests, particularly after grade school, would be more apt to increase red tape than improve student achievement.

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Colleen says her state has a competency test for high school graduation. She thinks it's a good idea, but says current requirements for passing are too easy. ''It's simple reading, addition, and subtraction,'' she says. ''I think after 12 years of education you should be able to do more. . . .''

When asked about teaching, most students interviewed spoke highly of teachers ''who care'' and insist most students can spot them immediately. They give low marks to teachers who let students ''walk all over them,'' who ''give grades away'' that are not earned, and who teach too much by the book.

More than half of those surveyed, however, said they have cheated in school at one time or another. About one-third say they occasionally cheat now. Grade pressure, many say, is a key reason.

''A lot of students do it because they can't get good grades to get into college otherwise,'' says Colleen.

''But some just do it because the teacher has made it very easy for them and it's a challenge to see if they can get away with it.''

''Most people I know have cheated at some time or other. They use the excuse that they are bad test takers,'' says Linda Tatsapough of Greensboro, N.C.

''Usually it's an equation or two or a couple of fractions, and maybe they write the answer on their hands or a piece of paper. . . . Nobody turns them in. People have more or less accepted it.''

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