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State School Board Undecided on What Courses Should Count for Graduation (Update)

Daniel Reese for KUT News

Update: State Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, spoke and answered questions regarding House Bill 5 in front of the State Board of Education today.

Patrick’s endorsement of the bill, which provides for different paths to high school graduation, was met with skepticism from board member Patricia Hardy. Hardy’s concern revolved around the removal of social studies classes from high school graduation requirements. She argued that turning social studies courses into electives limits a student’s exposure to important information.

“To the social studies people, it was a direct affront,” Hardy said.

Hardy and Patrick also clashed over the amount of input the legislature received from social studies teachers. Patrick said he did not recall hearing objections from the teaching community; Hardy said educators felt their advice was ignored.

“I think it’s embarrassing when you think about the lack of global knowledge our students have,” Hardy said. “You will be hearing from us in the next session.”

Original story (11:40 a.m.): Months after lawmakers approved new high school graduation requirements, questions about what courses will count toward a student’s degree are still in the air – where they will remain until at least November. 

The State Board of Education held a public hearing on the new graduation standards on Tuesday but did not make any final decisions. After hearing testimony from education stakeholders for more than four hours, the board appeared torn over requiring all students to take a certain number of math, science and social studies credits in order to graduate.

Tuesday’s debate echoed one that had been made in the legislative session earlier this year as lawmakers tried to give students flexibility to pursue their interests and also make sure they were leaving high school with essential skills.

“The headlines talk about unemployment and the reason is clear,” said Sara Tays, who spoke on behalf of Exxon Mobil and the Texas Association of Business. “As employers we need to have applicants with adequate skills, especially in science, technology, engineering and math.”

The board is scheduled to unveil the new requirements at its meeting in late November. It will take public comment on the requirements and will adopt them in January.

There was also some friction on whether public education was rigorous enough to adequately prepare students for college. Many higher education officials have said there’s a misalignment between public high schools and universities that makes it harder and more expensive for students to complete college.

Lawmakers fought passionately over HB 5 during the regular session. The bill, by state Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, did away with the state’s “4x4” curriculum, which required students to take four years of science, math, English and social studies.

Students will now only be required to take four English credits and three credits in math, science and social studies. They will also be able to graduate with a so-called “endorsement” in subject areas including science and technology, business and industry, public services, the humanities or a multidisciplinary track.

HB 5 also reduced the number of tests students have to take from 15 to five.

Board vice chairman Thomas Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, said deciding what courses will count toward graduation requires consideration of various factors, including life after high school.

“The balancing act is flexibility,” Ratliff said at the meeting. “Making sure that every kid has the same adequate foundation to not just get a good report card or good standardized test score, but to actually get a good job or good education after high school.”

The new standards also have the potential to affect how students do in college. Raymund Paredes, commissioner of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, the agency overseeing the state’s higher education system, said many professors get students that are not college ready.

“There’s been an assumption that we’re not going to compromise rigor,” Paredes said. “But I think we need to go back and bit and ask whether we have significant rigor to begin with.”

Roy is a second year journalism professional track graduate student at the University of Texas.
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