Texas no longer mandates Algebra 2 as a basic high school graduation requirement for most students, but some educators warn that not taking the course could cost time and money later.
“If you don’t take Algebra 2, you will be shut out of a college degree in business,” said James Epperson, an associate professor at the University of Texas at Arlington’s department of mathematics. “You won’t ever become a scientist or an engineer.”
The class of 2018 will be the first to graduate under the new rules. Today’s eighth-grade students are starting to chart graduation paths that may or may not include the higher-level math.
School districts are working to build the new rules into existing programs and trying to get the word out to parents and students.
“We are still trying to process the information coming out of Austin,” said Mark Thomas, spokesman for Birdville schools.
Among the key points: Opting out of Algebra 2 means a student can’t gain automatic admission to a state public university under Texas’ Top 10 percent Rule. Under this rule, students in the top 10 percent of their graduating classes are eligible for automatic admission to any public university in Texas.
College math professors urged students who have even the slightest thoughts of attending college to take Algebra 2.
“Not taking Algebra 2 probably means the student is headed toward having to take developmental math classes in college,” said Tommy Awtry, dean of math and science at Tarrant County College’s Southeast Campus in Arlington.
Developmental math classes prepare students for college-level math. They don’t carry any credits, but still cost money.
Figuring out options
Skipping Algebra 2 doesn’t get students out of a third year of math — districts must offer a different graduation route, with viable math alternatives, to those who don’t want to go to a four-year college. District leaders said the changes are intended to offer a path for students who want to go directly into the workforce after graduation.
The state is developing an alternative called Algebraic Reasoning and Statistics that is expected to be ready for districts to offer in the 2015-2016 academic year, according to a news release from Texas Education Agency.
“It’s still very, very new,” said Jim Vaszauskas, superintendent of Mansfield schools. He said Mansfield continues to stress the importance of academic rigor with an understanding that young people with plans to attend a trade schools might need a different route.
“Those students may not need Algebra 2,” Vaszauskas said. “We want the students to have every door open.”
Most North Texas districts are reminding parents and students that Algebra 2 is a must for teens planning to attend a four-year university.
“We are saying it is highly recommended,” said Elizabeth Clark, associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction for Birdville schools. “We are not saying it is required.”
At Carroll schools in Southlake, an average of 95 percent of students are already in graduation plans that require Algebra 2, and district officials don’t expect much of a change.
Making a case for Algebra 2
The state has required Algebra 2 for the recommended graduation plan for roughly 14 years, said Elise Buchhorn, secondary math coordinator at Mansfield schools.
The state pushed expectations higher in 2007 with a plan for students entering ninth grade under which students had to complete four years of English, math, science and social studies.
Some math experts worry that dropping the Algebra 2 requirement might diminish the national push to get more high school students ready for college.
“I am very concerned about certain communities not understanding the ramifications,” Epperson said, adding that he worries that girls or minority students might end up opting out of the math.
“We have a shortage of scientists and engineers from the United States,” he said. “This won’t alleviate that problem.”
‘… Where dreams come to die #algebra2’
Teacher Carla Dalton tries to factor the “ugh!” out of Algebra 2.
“Precalculus and calculus are like algebra on steroids,” said Dalton, who teaches at Richland High School. “They need to get the fundamental skills here.”
But if Twitter is any gauge, Algebra 2 is a source of stress for many teens.
At #algebra2, students nationwide weigh in continually.
“mcfee is teaching us like hieroglyphics #Algebra 2,” tweets @RobbieRodick.
Another frustrated math student tweeted: “This is the place where dreams come to die #algebra2#...,” @rach_L_kuhl.
Dalton’s Algebra 2 students get many of their math lessons via Internet video after school. During school hours, Dalton helps them answer problems using the lessons viewed the night before.
Would her students opt out if they could? Not really, they agreed with shrugs. They have college plans.
“I want to be in the medical field,” said 10th-grader Mariah Boultinghouse.
Students also said college entrance exams have functions and problem-solving learned in Algebra 2.
“A lot of math in the SAT is Algebra or Algebra 2 based,” said Elisa Andrews, a 10th-grade student at Richland High.
NEW RULES FOR SCHOOLS
• The Texas Legislature last year created a new Foundation High School Program as part of House Bill 5, the bill that made wide-ranging changes statewide.
• All students starting high school next fall and after that have to take part in the program.
• To comply with the legislation, the State Board of Education recently approved a graduation system that lets students tailor their diplomas to their special interests through endorsements. An endorsement is described as a targeted area of study similar to a college major. Students must select an endorsement, or a targeted area of study, as part of their graduation plans.
• Students can choose from five different endorsements: Arts and Humanities, Business and Industry, Public Service, STEM and Multidisciplinary Studies.
• The new graduation system also creates a path to graduation that does not require Algebra 2. Instead, students will take a high-level alternative such as Algebraic Reasoning or Statistics.
• Students who don’t take Algebra 2 may technically graduate in the Top 10 percent under local policies, but they won’t be eligible for Top 10 percent automatic admission into a public four-year university unless they graduate under the state’s Distinguished Achievement Plan.
• Under the Distinguished Achievement Plan, students must successfully complete four math credits (including Algebra 2), four science credits, remaining curriculum requirements and at least one endorsement.
Sources: Texas Education Agency, Garland Independent School District, Mansfield Independent School District, Katy Independent School District