Republican Gov. Rick Perry of Texas today signed legislation to rewrite state graduation requirements, reducing from 15 to five the number of end-of-course exams students must pass to earn a high school diploma, and revising the default course of study.
“The legislation I signed today strikes a balance between our need for rigorous academic standards and a student’s need for flexibility, and between accountability and an appropriate level of testing in the classroom,” Gov. Perry said in a press release. “We are improving workforce readiness and expanding and developing career and technical education courses to better guide students from the high school or college classroom into careers with the most job opportunities.”
The new law replaces the state’s “recommended” diploma pathway, dubbed the “4x4" curriculum, with a “foundation” diploma that requires fewer courses in history, science, and math, allowing students to skip subjects such as Algebra 2. Students may pursue diploma “endorsements” in several areas—such as STEM or business and industry—that would require additional coursework. Also, students may seek a “distinguished level of achievement” designation with additional course requirements, including Algebra 2.
On state testing, all students still will have to pass state exams in Algebra 1, biology, English 1 and 2, and U.S. history. But they would not have to take end-of-course tests for Algebra 2, chemistry, physics, world history, and some other subjects that under prior law were required.
The measure won overwhelming, bipartisan support in the state legislature. It had strong backing from state education and parent groups, but divided the business community.
Proponents said the legislation provided welcome relief from a long list of mandated tests and handed students needed flexibility for coursework that best suits their career path. But critics, including some Texas business leaders and national advocacy groups, argued that it represents a step backward for a state they see as being in the vanguard nationally in setting policies to better prepare young people, especially low-income and minority students, for college and careers.
The Dallas Morning News criticized the governor’s action in an editorial, arguing that the legislation “risks making it easier for students to graduate without challenging math, science, and English courses. There were compromises to be struck around this bill, but unfortunately they didn’t become part of the legislation.”
A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.