Sunday, September 17, 2006

Raising the Bar: Texas SBOE Increases High School Graduation Requirements

I wanted to post something about this on Friday, but was waylayed by the promises of a budding photographer.

On Friday, the Texas State Board of Education gave preliminary approval to two high school graduation plans that increase the level students will need to rise to in order to graduate. Final approval is expected in November.

Note well, the lower level Minimum Graduation program was not changed. But bowing to requirements set forth in HB 1 signed into law last May, the SBOE had to increase the number of credits needed for graduation to 26 for students in the Recommended High School Graduation Program and the Distinguished Achievement Program. In addition students in both programs will be required to earn four credits each in math and science.

Who will be affected? Freshmen entering High School in 2007.

Four units of English and social studies are already required of students presently enrolled in either program, but as of now, the Recommended and Distinguished Plans require only 3 core sciences. The new plan ups the ante to four. The plan calls for students to earn four credits in math, which must include Algebra I and II, geometry and a fourth course for which Algebra II is a prerequisite if they are pursuing the Distinguished Achievement Program. That fourth course could include pre-calculus, Advanced Placement (AP) calculus, (AP) statistics. Of course IB, AP and College Now classes all qualify as a 4th course.

Under the Recommended plan, Algebra II is not a prerequisite for the fourth math class.

In science, the students would be required to earn credits in biology, chemistry and physics, plus an additional lab-based course. The course referred to as “Integrated Physics and Chemistry” (aka Physical Science) will be offered and credit for the course can be used to fulfill one of the science credits through the 2011-2012 school year but that year it could not be taken as a senior-level course. After 2012, the IPC course would only remain a course option for students in the Minimum Graduation Plan.

And this is where it gets interesting: The SBOE is lowering the bar on what constitutes a fourth year lab science. In addition to AP and IB lab sciences, these courses would also qualify: Aquatic Science, Astronomy, and Anatomy and Physiology. Gone? Geology, Meterology and Oceanography. New? Earth and Space Science and Engineering.

Someone has been working to get Geology into the official state curriculum for years and years. Looks like they won. My school used to offer Geology, or as they used to call it “Rocks for Jocks”.

At present, none of the existing non-core sciences are listed as lab science. And this too: just because the Texas SBOE says it’s a lab science, doesn’t mean the Universities will accept them as such.

To get this done without doing too much damage to Fine Arts and electives, The SBOE upped the minimum number of units to graduate under the more rigorous plans from 24 to 26.

And it looks like all of the school districts in Texas have 4 years to turn nearly all of their IPC teachers into Biology, Chemistry or Physics teachers. Biggest impact? Physics, by far, Physics.

Students avoid physics like the plague. Two-thirds of the students at my place of work find another way. In 2012 they have to take it to graduate. My guess is that school districts will be unwilling not to let two-thirds of their kids graduate because they can’t pass physics. What will they do instead? Water down the content. Make it simple.

Make it so simple that it is wrong.


muse said...

Do you think it will just define the tracks further - AP Physics (for serious science students) and Physics (for the masses)?

Hal said...

There are already 2 tracks defined in most districts: Advanced and Honors. If a district offers 3 tracks, physics is generally not offered in the lowest track. AP replaces Honors when it is taught as a 1st year course (about 80% of the time). Less than serious students generally take physics at the advanced level.

After 2012, I suspect that a 3rd level will have to be introduced for the less than less than serious students: a non-math-based "Conceptual Physics" course.

Susan said...

Whatever happened to high school being a time to try electives - choir, newspaper, speech, band, art, ....

What ever happened to high school being a time to find your interest and your love? I hate what we're doing to kids.

There'as some members of the State Board of Education who would roll a ball off a lab table and annouce that Jesus made it fall because Jesus doesn't like balls as much as He does birds.

Hal said...

Too much of that is going on. There is a loss of sight on how we Americans do this and have done it in the past. What has made America great is our flexiblity and can do attitude.

This is antithetical to what we are being driven toward: earlier and earlier decisions on what a person shall do with their life.

You are absolutely right, Susan. High School is for exploration and finding out what you can do, not for assuming what you will do and sticking to it for 26 units.

Fortunately they gave themselves 5 years to find out what utter idiocy this amounts to.

Good call, Susan.