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Texas Board Approves 'Essential Elements' for Schools' Curricula

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The Texas Board of Education has tentatively approved a curriculum-reform package that calls for increased high-school graduation requirements and sets statewide standards for the "essential elements" of 13 subjects at various grade levels.

Among those essentials is a requirement that biology students "be given the opportunity" to study the theory of evolution, a state education official said last week. The reform document includes no reference to the theory of creationism, a member of the state board said. In the past, the state has not set specific course-content standards for any courses, including biology.

The package, which is the result of a legislative mandate in 1981 to upgrade the state's curriculum standards, was developed over several months of public hearings across the state, according to Thomas Anderson, deputy commissioner for planning, research, and curriculum.

The 500-page plan was tentatively approved on Feb. 9 following several hours of debate and consideration of 150 amendments. After a final vote, scheduled for March 10, the requirements are expected to go into effect in September.

A main element of the plan calls for students to complete 4 units of English, 3 units of mathematics, 2 units of social studies, 2 units of science, unit of economics (a new course in many high schools), 1 units of physical education, unit of health, and 7 units of electives. These changes would increase graduation requirements from 18 to 21 units, according to Mr. Anderson.

In addition, those students who "aspire to academic achievement" can obtain special recognition on their transcripts if they take more rigorous courses mandated by the board, including an additional unit of science, 2 units of a foreign language, 1 unit of computer science, 1 unit of fine arts, and 3 units of electives, for a total of 22 units.

The board added the advanced academic track, Mr. Anderson said, to give students a choice.

"To expect everyone to complete the same courses is unrealistic," he said.

News reports circulating in Texas last week that detailed a separate "vocational path" to graduation were inaccurate, Mr. Anderson said. They reflected confusion based on a controversial curriculum plan proposed by the board last October that would have separated students into three academic tracks in the 7th grade, according to Yvonne Katz, associate commissioner for general education. The plan was dropped in December.

Computer Literacy

Included in the curriculum package's statewide standards is a requirement that all students have computer-literacy coursework by the time they finish the 8th grade.

Science courses have also been upgraded, Mr. Anderson said. For example, the package includes a requirement that students in biology courses must have the opportunity to study the adaptation of organisms to their environments, which, Mr. Anderson noted, "is natural selection--a fundamental tenet of evolution."

At the junior-high-school level, curriculum standards have been revised, Mr. Anderson said. Essential elements have been defined for each course and some courses of "questionable legitimacy," such as jewelry making, have been eliminated, he said.

In addition, the curriculum package sets statewide criteria for the amount of time students should spend daily on courses at various grade levels. It would require, for example, that the elementary-school day include instruction in six basic subjects: English-language arts, mathematics, physical education, fine arts, science, and social studies, Mr. Anderson said.

The board eliminated, however, a proposal to limit the number of school days a high-school student can miss for extracurricular activities to five per year and three per semester. The proposal, which was amended to include exceptions to the rule--including athletics, vocational competitions, and ac-tivities related to academic coursework--will be the subject of 20 statewide public hearings in the coming months, Mr. Anderson said.

Funding has not been figured into the curriculum package, according to Mr. Anderson. "Some of it is going to cost a little more money," he said, adding that the board will have to take the reforms into consideration when it makes its biennial budget request to the January 1985 legislature.

Additional curriculum recommendations are expected to be released this spring by the Select Committee on Public Education, a task force named by Gov. Mark White last year and headed by H. Ross Perot. Mr. Anderson said the board developed its package independently of that committee's work.

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