• by Dr. María “Cuca” Robledo Montecel • IDRA Newsletter • May 2014 •Dr. María “Cuca” Robledo Montecel, Ph.D.

IDRA commends the San Antonio City Council for its resolution passed on April 17 to encourage local school districts to choose the distinguished level of achievement as the default in graduation plans for all of their students. The recommendation was made by the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, ¡Presente! and IDRA. This distinguished achievement designation signifies that high school students have taken Algebra II, which is required for them to be eligible for “top 10 percent” automatic college admission. Also the SAT and ACT require knowledge of Algebra II. Making the distinguished achievement designation the default affirms the intention of school districts to prepare all students for college.

San Antonio’s action is consistent with its “smart city” initiatives and investments in creating a college-going culture, citywide. San Antonio ISD and several other school districts across the state have already announced plans to make the distinguished level of achievement the default for their students, including Austin ISD, Houston ISD, and Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD.

TG examined data on high school graduates whose parents did not go to college and who enrolled in a four-year institution (2006). The TG study found that of these students who took only Algebra I and geometry, only 11 percent went on to college. For the students who also took Algebra II, the percentage jumped to 34 percent who went to college. And those who took math beyond Algebra II, 64 percent went to college.

The City Council’s action and hopefully subsequent action at the school district level is an important first step to ensuring our schools provide an excellent education to all students. To have the option to attend college and graduate, IDRA’s Quality School Action Framework™ demonstrates that students must be prepared with high quality curriculum and high quality teaching.

Even though the Texas Legislature took the state several leaps backwards by eliminating the 4-by-4 plan as the required path for all students (16 high quality core curriculum courses – four years each in English, math, science and social studies), school districts can encourage and even require their students take a high quality curriculum that prepares all of their students for college entrance and graduation. This includes requiring Algebra II for students to earn the distinguished level of achievement as well as requiring English IV, chemistry, physics, world history, and world geography. Until the recent legislative changes, most Texas students were taking these courses.

Rigor and high expectations work. IDRA recently released a report, College Bound and Determined, showing how the PSJA school district in south Texas transformed itself from low achievement and low expectations to planning for all students to graduate from high school and college. In PSJA, transformation went beyond changing sobering graduation rates or even getting graduates into college. This school district changes how we think about college readiness.

The rigor of high school curriculum is a key indicator for whether a student will graduate from high school and earn a college degree. A study by the U.S. Department of Education shows that the rigor of the high school curriculum is the most important factor in a student’s success and graduation from college – more important than the education level of the parents, their income, and their race-ethnicity (Adelman 2006).

Education has been shown to be correlated with increases not only in individual wealth but also with greater civic participation, health and well-being, and economic competitiveness. This holds for adults across race and gender.

To create true opportunities for all of our children, we must commit to high quality curriculum for all students. The young people in San Antonio and across the state – students of all backgrounds and every zip code – need our support to be prepared for the opportunities of today and tomorrow.


Adelman, C. The Toolbox Revisited: Paths to Degree Completion from High School Through College (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education., 2006).

Bojorquez, H. College Bound and Determined – For One School District Transformation Went Beyond Changing Sobering Graduation Rates or Even Getting Graduates Into College. This District was to Change How We Think About College Readiness (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, 2014).

Cavazos, R.A. “Make Algebra II standard requirement,” San Antonio Express-News (April 12, 2014).

Cesar, M.L. “Local groups build a case for tougher graduation plan,” San Antonio Express-News (March 17, 2014).

IDRA. Tracking, Endorsements and Differentiated Diplomas – When ‘Different’ Really is Less (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, 2013).

Robledo Montecel, M., & C.L. Goodman (eds). Courage to Connect: A Quality Schools Action Framework™ (San Antonio, Texas Intercultural Development Research Association, 2010).

TG. State of Student Aid and Higher Education in Texas (Austin, Texas: TG Research and Analytical Services, April 2006).

Comments and questions may be directed to IDRA via email at feedback@idra.org.

[©2014, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the May 2014 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]