Today the State Board of Education (SBOE) voted 14-1 on final rules to implement new graduation requirements mandated by last year’s House Bill (HB) 5. Facing pressure from many stakeholders with opposing viewpoints, the board struck a compromise today that ATPE believes will allow ample flexibility for school districts and students while helping ensure that students are prepared for post-secondary success.
At the center of the debate was the treatment of Algebra II, which prior to the passage of HB 5, was a statutorily mandated course for graduation under the Recommended and Advanced high school programs. Through HB 5, the legislature created a single high school graduation plan based on a foundation curriculum plus subject-specific endorsement areas. In doing so, legislators eliminated the specific mandate in statute that Algebra II be taken as the third math course required for graduation. Even though the statutes as amended by HB 5 no longer specify Algebra II as one of the required math courses, state law gives the SBOE authority to adopt additional or more specific graduation requirements beyond what the legislature mandates.
The board decided today that only students pursuing a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) endorsement under the new high school diploma structure should be required to take Algebra II. Students pursuing other endorsements may choose to take Algebra II or another math course from among a short list; that list will soon include two new advanced math classes, algebraic reasoning and statistics, which are currently being developed. The lone dissenting vote today came from SBOE District 1 member Martha Dominguez, who felt that Algebra II was an important factor in students’ college success and should be required for all students.
Education stakeholders also voiced much concern in the recent months of SBOE deliberations about the future of speech courses. While not required by law, the SBOE has required students to earn one-half credit in speech as a graduation requirement since 1996. HB 5 did not address the speech requirement, again leaving the board with discretion to decide whether or not to continue its requirement. The board’s preliminary proposal in November would have eliminated the speech requirement altogether. Recent surveys conducted by ATPE and by SBOE District 9 member Thomas Ratliff showed strong support among educators for continuing a speech requirement at the state level, but several school districts urged the board to eliminate the requirement. SBOE members settled this week on a plan to designate Communications Applications—the primary course used to fulfill the current speech requirement—as one of the courses that can satisfy the fourth-year advanced English course required by HB 5. The speech course will no longer be required, but districts must still ensure that all students master certain communications-related skills.
Read the Texas Education Agency’s press release on the new graduation plan approved today. Also, check out today’s press statement by ATPE State President Ginger Franks in response to the vote.