State school board members continued the process of revamping high school graduation requirement. The discussion underway is part of House Bill 5, a comprehensive education reform bill approved earlier this year. The number of tests students have to take was reduced from 15 to 5. The set of mandatory core subjects to complete- known as 4-x-4 was also tossed which sparked Wednesday's debate over the need for Algebra II.
State school board members set aside a full day of public discussion regarding the virtues of Algebra II. University Presidents like Ray Keck with Texas A&M International and George Wright with Prairie View A&M questioned the wisdom of letting high school students opt out of the match course.
"The point is not to say to say to a 7th and 8th grader, you decide for the rest of your life whether you want to go to college, and if you make the wrong choice its unfortunate." said Keck.
George Wright, the President of Prairie View A&M told Board members he is also worried that the plan could discourage kids who could actually make it to college.
"I would hope we would make sure guidance counselors and others are not just letting people take the easy way out," said Wright.
The Board was directed by state lawmakers to draw up a new 3-tier graduation system. Staring in the 2014 school year high school degrees would be classified as: Foundation, Endorsements, or Distinguished.
The Foundation path requires three math classes Algebra I, Geometry and an advanced math course. The Endorsements, which builds off of the Foundation, allows students to select more specialized math classes, including Algebra II, in the final two years. A Distinguished degree has four years of math including Algebra II and is needed to qualify for the top ten percent rule for admission into a state college.
"Math is not always relevant to our students in what they want to do within their careers and career pathways," said Sandra Smith with the Nacogdoches ISD.
Mike Meroney who represents a group called Jobs to Texans Coalition questioned why the debate was necessary.
"Is success measure by more kids in community college and junior college and technical schools and trade schools, the answer is yes," said Meroney.
In a letter sent to the school board, the House and Senate sponsors of the legislation made it clear it was not their intent to make Algebra II mandatory.
There is something else that has to be calculated into the graduation reform process set in motion by state lawmakers. The Higher Education Coordinating Board is setting up a special task force to consider whether or not university admission standards will have to be made. The focus will be on addressing a double standard that already exists. It's a concern for Suzy Lofton who is the Lago Vista ISD Dir. of Curriculum & Instruction. Lofton came to the hearing to speak for the Texas Association of School Administrators.
"So technically a student from Louisiana could gain admission to the University of Texas without taking Algebra II," said Lofton who agreed that a Texas student without Algebra II could be bumped by the out of state student.
While Business groups remain split, members of a coalition of Texas Chamber of Commerce remain unconvinced. They argued Algebra II should remain a mandatory part of the educational process.
"We want our kids to have careers, not simply, one job out of high school,"
Thursday board members will have their say and debate the issue. Friday they will take their first vote with a final vote to come in January.