Utah should not be satisfied with the poor "C grade" showing turned in by most districts in recent statewide achievement testing, the state's Democrats believe. Overall, the state was within a few percentage points of the national midway point in most academic areas and below in language arts/English.

The Democrats hope to promote legislation that will move Utah students as a group closer to a B average by 1995 and an A average by the turn of the century.Utah's 1990 test results were particularly poor when considered in light of the United State's educational lag behind its worldwide competitors, said Peter Billings, state Democratic chairman.

The party's legislative leaders were to hold a news conference Thursday afternoon to outline approaches to education reform.

"The governor and others excuse our poor educational showing based on our large families. They overlook the facts that we have a high literacy rate, little abject poverty and a long tradition of valuing education and strong families," Billings said. "We could do much better."

The Democrats propose four fronts on which to improve education: higher expectations for students; more parent involvement; greater attention to individual students in the schools; and greater state support.

Sen. Karen Shepherd, while recognizing the problems parents have when both are working, said greater effort is essential. She will sponsor a bill that would require employers to give parents time to attend parent-teacher conferences.

"We need to give it the same weight as we do jury duty," she said.

The Democrats also will push for individual education plans for every student, created jointly by the student, parents and educators, and for school-based management so parents will be more directly involved in grassroots planning for their schools, she said.

"It is clear that when parental involvement is present, children do quantitatively better. We have a very clear imperative to get parents involved," she said.

Schools will be asked to direct part of their "public relations" money to helping parents understand the value of helping children with homework, Shepherd said. The objective will be to get parents to set up a two-hour family homework session every school day.

In addition, the Democrats in the Legislature will pursue additional academic requirements for both college-bound students and those who will move directly into the work force. The proposal is for four years of English, science and math and three of foreign language and computer science for all college-bound students. Students not anticipating college would be required to take three years of English, math and science and additional computer education, Shepherd said.

The additional requirements could be counter to recent legislative efforts to help students get through school early, she acknowledged, but "a 17-year-old is not mature enough for college anyway. There would be less option for electives, but that doesn't concern me at all."

She also stressed that Utah schools need to create the same science and math expectations for girls as for boys. One of the results of young women receiving lesser education is an increase in problems related to poverty, she said.

The Democrats also will support Rep. David Jones in a repeat effort to deprive school dropouts of their driving privileges, a bill that didn't make it through the 1990 session.