The State Board of Education in Austin adopted new high school graduation requirements Friday, clearing the way for local school officials to finalize their curricula and get out the word for the upcoming school year.
The board voted 14-1 to alter the current “four-by-four” plan that requires students to take four courses each of English, math, science and social studies. The new requirements, which will take effect 20 days from adoption, eliminate algebra II and speech as requirements for most students.
The new standards will affect this year’s eighth-graders, who are entering high school in the fall, but current high school students will have the option of graduating under the new requirements.
Denton schools Superintendent Jamie Wilson said Friday after the vote that the state board’s decision allows the district to “move forward with the planning and education of our parents and students on the new requirements, the new endorsements and the new graduation plans.”
Wilson said the requirements give students flexibility in selecting courses in their field of study.
“It won’t change a lot of what we do,” Wilson said.
Vicky Christenson, the Denton school district’s director of secondary curriculum, instruction and staff development, said she expects the district will need to make a few minor adjustments to next school year’s high school course catalog once it receives official documents from the state on the new requirements.
Krum Superintendent Cody Carroll said he had not been able to review the final plan approved by the state board, but he said the new requirements give students the ability to select a more specific path to graduation and more classes that interest them.
“It’s going to give students more freedom,” he said. “I’m a fan. I feel it’s going to be beneficial for students.”
It also gives districts more local control, he said.
Under the new plan, known as the Foundation High School Program, students can select one of five endorsements or graduation paths. Endorsements include science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM; business and industry; public services; arts and humanities; and multidisciplinary studies.
Students could also graduate under a basic plan with just 22 credits and no endorsements, with special approval.
Algebra II would no longer be required, but students who intend to earn a STEM endorsement would need to take the course. Students who plan to attend college under the state’s automatic admission program must also take the class or prove proficiency.
Another course no longer required to graduate is speech. School districts “will be required to ensure that students learn key communications skills such as delivering clear verbal messages and choosing effective nonverbal behaviors. Districts may incorporate these skills into an existing class, such as English, or continue to require a separate communications class,” according to a Texas Education Agency press release.
In Denton, efforts have already been underway to teach eighth-graders and their parents about the requirements. Meetings were held Monday at Denton, Guyer and Ryan high schools to explain the foundation plan, the endorsements and then-anticipated new requirements, Christenson said.
High school counselors will visit the district’s seven middle schools beginning Tuesday to meet with eighth-graders and walk them through details of the new graduation requirements, she said. The students will also receive a personal graduation planner — a checklist of the endorsements offered and the requirements for each endorsement.
High school counselors will be meeting one-on-one with students and their parents throughout February at the middle schools to answer questions.
“This is a change, especially for parents who’ve already had students in high school, but there’s a lot of support and communication that will take place to make sure parents and students are comfortable with the new requirements,” Christenson said. “It’s not something parents and students need to stress over.”
BRITNEY TABOR can be reached at 940-566-6876 and via Twitter at @BritneyTabor.