Algebra II is no longer among the courses that most students must take to graduate from Texas public schools after a nearly unanimous final vote from the State Board of Education on Friday.
The 15-member board also approved two new high-level math courses students can take as an alternative: statistics and algebraic reasoning. Both will be designed — by local schools with the Texas Education Agency's guidance — to be as rigorous as algebra II.
The final vote was 14-1, with only board member Martha Dominguez, D-El Paso, voting against repealing algebra II as a graduation requirement.
Dominguez said her vote reflected concerns that students who take algebra II are more successful in the Texas Success Initiative, a state-mandated program that measures students' success in college.
In May, the Legislature unanimously passed House Bill 5, a sweeping overhaul of the state's high school curriculum, in part to allow more opportunities for career training for students who do not intend to attend college. The changes in the new law included dropping an existing requirement that all students take algebra II to graduate in favor of allowing their selection of diploma "endorsements" in a specialized areas like science and technology, business or humanities to determine which math courses they take.
Widely debated as they passed through the Legislature, the new graduation requirements continued to be a hot topic as the State Board of Education set about deciding which courses students take to fulfill those endorsements.
Leading up to the final vote, board members discussed whether the state Legislature had avoided the task of finalizing the details of new graduation requirements and passed on the responsibility to the board.
“HB 5 was not a perfect piece of legislation," said board member David Bradley, R-Beaumont. "Some would say and observed ... that rather than make some of the tough, controversial decisions, the Legislature ... just passed it down to us. [That was] probably a good political decision on their part."
Board member Thomas Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, said the Legislature's actions reflected an increased confidence in the board.
"That is why they allowed us to come in and do the hard work of filling in the details," Ratliff said. "I don't think they kicked the can or avoided a politically difficult discussion. They trusted us to do our jobs and represent our district."
In November, the board considered a proposal to include advanced math courses in all five new diploma plans, which came after opponents of the policy raised concerns about how the new graduation plans would affect the academic achievement of low-income and minority students.
They backed away from that plan after the bill's authors, Senate Education Chairman Dan Patrick, R-Houston, and House Public Education Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, said including algebra II as a requirement would go against legislative intent, which was to reserve as much flexibility for local school districts as possible.
Several board members agreed that the new requirements allow local school districts and parents more control over course offerings. Other board members were worried the increased responsibility could be burdensome to school counselors.
Board member Mavis Best Knight, D-Dallas, asked whether the board could send the Legislature a letter encouraging them to appropriate additional funding to school districts for counselors "in light of the responsibility that will be put on them."
Board chairwoman Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, said the board would discuss the idea.
The change comes after Texas adopted what were among the country’s first college- and career-ready graduation standards in 2006, leading a growing national march toward advanced high school math requirements.
Since 2004, when Arkansas was the only other state with an algebra II requirement, 21 other states have adopted advanced algebra courses into their standards, according to data from Achieve, a nonprofit organization formed by governors, business leaders and corporate foundations to push high college preparation standards.
The changes in graduation requirements will become effective ahead of the 2014-15 school year so school districts can have time to plan the course offerings and "schedule students in courses appropriately."