Texas Increases Graduation Requirements

Published September 1, 2006

The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) met in Austin on July 6 and 7 to determine how it will implement a new law requiring high school students to have four years of math and science in order to graduate. Gov. Rick Perry (R) signed the law in May, and a plan for implementing it must be in place by 2011.

Citizens, administrators, and teachers who addressed the early July hearings supported the tougher graduation requirement despite fears that fine arts, technology, and communications courses would be jeopardized. Once SBOE Chairwoman Geraldine Miller explained courses would not be dropped as the number of math and science credits needed to graduate increased, the tone of the testimony lightened.

The new law leaves unchanged the state’s Minimum Graduation Plan for students experiencing academic difficulties, allowing them to graduate with only two years of science, three of math, and four of English.

The Recommended Graduation Plan currently in place calls for four years of English and three years each of math–including Algebra, Algebra II, and Geometry–and science, preferably biology, chemistry, and physics. The Recommended Plan also requires two years of foreign language instruction.

In 2005, 32 percent of Texas high school seniors graduated under the Minimum Graduation Plan, and 68 percent under the Recommended and Distinguished Graduation Plans combined. The Distinguished Graduation Plan calls for a third year of foreign language.

‘Unprepared for College’

All witnesses before the July hearings agreed the additional year of math and science is welcome and needed. Students are not prepared for the rigors of college, said Jamie Story, an education policy analyst at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, an Austin-based think tank.

“Nearly 50 percent of Texas college freshman require remedial or corrective courses,” Story said.

Texas students must be prepared to enter the workforce or college, agreed Sandy Kress, an Austin-based education consultant.

“In these key areas of math and science–subjects shown over and over to be crucial to the jobs of the future–Texas students are exiting high school generally unprepared for college,” Kress testified.

Citing a report released May 8 by the American College Testing Program, “Ready for College, Ready for Work,” Kress said it “shows students taking more rigorous courses in math and science are less likely to require remediation in college, more likely to get higher grades, and more likely to perform better in the workplace. The challenge for us is how we can get our graduates better prepared.”

The 15-member elected SBOE is expected to announce later this year which specific math and science courses the districts will be required to implement.

Implementation Difficult

Over the course of three hours, 35 witnesses discussed the potential hurdles involved in implementing the plan, including possible shortages of certified math and science teachers, which could lead to increased class sizes; the possibility that test scores may drop for students who are not already faring well under the current testing requirements–because if students are not excelling now, the additional requirements might further burden them; the need for students to enter high school better prepared by junior high; and the need for extra facilities such as science labs and additional classroom space.

Additional money would likely be needed to implement the plan, but when the bill was signed, there was no indication of whether new funding would become available.

Problems Surmountable

District 6 board member Terri Leo, of Spring, said she was confident the districts could meet the new standards.

“Whether the new graduation plan means looking at budgets, training teachers, hiring teachers under the alternative certification program, or actively recruiting at colleges,” Leo said, “districts can be creative in implementation of the plan.”

The benefits of increasing graduation requirements outweigh the difficulties of implementation, Leo said.

“The recipe for success is high-quality teachers teaching a solid, coherent, and rigorous curriculum in well-disciplined classrooms,” Leo concluded. “Difficulties should not keep us from doing what is best for Texas students.”

Connie Sadowski ([email protected]) directs the Education Options Resource Center at the Austin CEO Foundation.

For more information …

“Ready for College and Ready for Work: Same or Different?”

“Benefits of a High School Core Curriculum,”

“Academic Preparation for College: What Students Need to Know and Be Able to Do,”