February 15, 2014

Arlington school trustees approve new graduation requirements

Incoming fall freshmen will have the opportunity to mold their high school experience with tailored plans.

When the Class of 2018 graduates from high school, the diplomas will have more than the school’s name printed in fancy letters across the top.

Similar to a college degree, they will also include the senior’s handpicked field of study such as business and industry, public services, or science, technology, engineering and math.

It’s part of the plan to meet the new high school graduation requirements established under House Bill 5 to improve education for the state’s high school students.

“The goal is for them to get to know themselves better,” said Nell Fielding, the Arlington district’s guidance and counseling director. “It’s a whole different universe.”

Last week, Arlington trustees adopted new graduation requirements starting with the 2014-15 academic year, and this week counselors will start visiting with junior high school students about their plans for high school.

Under the graduation requirements adopted by the board, incoming freshmen will have to choose endorsements — or area of specialty — that will put them on track to graduate with 26 credits.

They will pick from endorsements in business and industry, public services, arts and humanities, multidisciplinary studies and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).

Students can also add courses generally associated with what is called a distinguished graduation track, which is the path that typically leads to a four-year college. Students can switch endorsements at any level, much as a college student can switch majors.

For those who can’t hack it, HB5 allows sophomores, with the permission of their parents and the school, to drop the endorsement and graduate with a minimum of 22 credits, although doing so would make them ineligible for automatic admission to college.

“We can’t look at electives as electives anymore. It has to be your career path. … We hope this makes their classes more meaningful,” Fielding said.

What does this mean?

In Arlington, the basic 22-credit foundation plan will mainly affect social studies, physical education, foreign language and speech.

Students will only need three, instead of four, social studies credits to graduate. Only one credit of physical education will be required instead of the former 1 1/2 credits.

All students will be required to complete two credits in the same foreign language, which was not required before. Technology applications credits will no longer be required.

Students who choose to stay on the foundation plan they started in the ninth grade, the one with endorsements, will complete four credits of math and four credits of science totaling 26 credits.

Because the foundation plan is highly dependent on effective guidance from counselors, the district is taking a look at employee workloads.

“We are in the middle of analyzing all of our staffing in regard to this,” said Evan Smith, the district’s chief academic officer.

Health and speech classes would no longer be required under the new foundation plan, but they will be offered as electives and will be deemed valuable, Smith said.

Because the district currently has a career, technology and higher education investigations course for eighth-graders, Smith said, Arlington is ahead of the game when it comes to planning college and career-readiness.

Still need Algebra 2

Although students can technically graduate in the top 10 percent of their class under local grading policies, they won’t be eligible for the top 10 percent automatic college admission unless they graduate with endorsements in the Distinguished Achievement Plan, said DeEtta Culbertson, a spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency.

That plan requires Algebra 2. Algebra 2 will also be required for students with STEM endorsements.

Fielding said that though Algebra 2 is not appropriate for every student, many students need it to reach their college and career goals.

The graduates’ diplomas will indicate their endorsements, whether they completed distinguished levels of achievement, and whether they received performance acknowledgments.

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