Elimination of algebra II requirement could hurt high school students’ college readiness

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The Texas State Board of Education’s vote to eliminate algebra II as a public high school graduation requirement will decrease the student body’s diversity and college readiness, according to associate professor of education Julian Heilig.

The state’s minimum foundation program dictates the 22 credits a student must complete to graduate. The program will require three math credits instead of four after the changes go into effect for students entering high school in fall 2014.

Heilig said African-American and Latino students disproportionately receive high school diplomas that have lower degree requirements. Heilig said measures such as House Bill 5, the bill that allowed for the elimination of the algebra II requirement, will have a disparate effect on the students.

“Our state is changing, and we really want our University to represent the state,” Heilig said. “[If we] don’t have students that are college-ready or [they] don’t have the right credentials from high school, then what it will do is impact the diversity of UT over the long term.”

Heilig said in order to be competitive applicants, students must have four years of math, science and English.

“If you don’t start early on the pathway to college, then by the time a student is a junior and decides he wants to go to college, it’s too late,” Heilig said.

Texas Education Agency spokeswoman DeEtta Culbertson said algebra II is still required for students in the top 10 percent of their graduating class to be eligible for guaranteed admission to a state-funded public university.

“We encourage students to determine what plan they want to choose, and one of the things we emphasize is that students consider including the Distinguished Achievement Program, especially if they want to attend a four-year university,” Culbertson said.

Culbertson said the bill aims to increase coursework options that will allow students to graduate and to reduce the number of required standardized course exams from 15 to five.

“The goal is to create more paths to graduation for students,” Culbertson said. “It mostly gave [school] districts more flexibility.”

Laura Lavergne, assistant to the director at the Office of Admissions, said University applicants who exceed high school coursework requirements may benefit during the application review process. Lavergne also said certain colleges within the University have a calculus readiness requirement for admission. The requirement may be met by attaining a minimum score on the Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate calculus exam, or the Assessment and Learning in Knowledge Spaces exam.

Out of 15,335 students admitted to the University for the summer and fall 2013 semesters, 12,517 students graduated from Texas public high schools, according to Lavergne.

Heilig said after compulsory education was established in Texas, the state created vocational tracks for students who were considered incapable of receiving college degrees. He said the bill eliminating algebra II as a requirement is reminiscent of this historical narrative.

“It’s been reframed as ‘students need an option,’” Heilig said. “It’s not actually students who are making these choices — it’s the state and those districts.”