• by Hector Bojorquez • IDRA Newsletter • May 2018 •
In 2013, the Texas Legislature established the foundation high school program, which represents one of the most substantial changes to Texas graduation requirements in recent history. The new policy (HB5), lowered graduation requirements for mathematics, science and social studies; implemented a new graduation requirement for career readiness, called endorsements; and added a “distinguished level of achievement” designation that closely resembles the previous graduation requirements.
Each one of these changes has implications for the future of Texas students. Lowering graduation requirements across the board could possibly affect college readiness and preparation. How these changes are implemented and what this implies for students, families and schools can have a deep impact on post-secondary preparation, access and completion, particularly for students underrepresented in degree attainment.
With funding from the Greater Texas Foundation, IDRA conducted a mixed method study to examine the early effects of the new graduation requirements. This article presents highlights of the study’s findings. The full study will be available online as well (at http://www.idra.org/research_articles/ready-texas).
Our findings also point to troublesome trends in how students in high-poverty schools are declaring non-college bound endorsements vs students in low-poverty schools… Before Texas weakened graduation requirements, 80 percent of students graduated with a plan that provided courses required by most institutions of higher education.
Weakened Graduation Requirements
The new foundation high school plan replaced the previous more rigorous recommended and distinguished graduation plans with a 26-credit school program, including four “endorsement” credits. Courses that are no longer required are: English IV, Algebra II, chemistry, physics, speech, world history and world geography (replaced with a choice of either world history or world geography or a combination of the two). Chemistry was replaced with a choice of integrated physics and chemistry or other science.
The new requirements also introduced a new concept called “endorsements.” Each eighth grader must consider possible careers and choose one or more of five endorsements to take in high school that focus on specific areas of study. Endorsements are referred to as “pathways” for students to take in high school that require successfully completing 26 credits to include four math credits, four science credits, and two additional elective credits. Endorsement choices require parent approval and written notice from the student as he or she enters ninth grade. These endorsements include STEM, business and industry; public services; arts and humanities; and multidisciplinary studies.
Students may add the “distinguished level of achievement” designation by taking Algebra II and a fourth advanced science credit, in addition to the credits for at least one endorsement. Only students earning this designation are eligible for automatic admission into a state university upon graduation from high school.
IDRA Ready Texas Study
The effects of this massive shift in graduation requirements have yet to be fully known. The class of 2018 will be the first class to graduate under the new requirements. However, this we know: high expectations in the earlier requirements led to increases in college access and success. Before HB5, most Texas students graduated with at least Algebra II. We also know that students who took Algebra II, regardless of socio-economic background, remained and succeeded in college at higher rates than students who did not take Algebra II (Wiseman, et al., 2015).
At a time when students of color, economically disadvantaged students and students who are in at-risk situations face uncertain futures due to a unpredictable educational opportunities, it is important to have research concerning any changes that could affect what had been positive growth.
The first research question in IDRA’s Ready Texas study was: Statewide, what effects has HB5 had on course-taking patterns, specifically Algebra II? The study concluded the following.
- Rural districts lost 24 percent in Algebra II course enrollments in the latest year of HB5 implementation.
- Forty-five districts studied chose to require the “distinguished level of achievement” designation as part of their default graduation plan for their students, thereby mirroring the previous graduation requirements. Losses in Algebra II course enrollment are more pronounced when removing these districts from the analysis.
The second research question was: How are educators, families and students in school districts navigating the implementation of the new high school graduation requirements? What does this mean for post-secondary preparation? IDRA’s study concluded the following.
- Earning endorsements as a graduation requirement is perceived by students and parents as lacking meaning. This is so even with increased, more clear or purposeful information about endorsements.
- Responses by students and parents pointed to an understanding that there are no real-life counterparts to endorsements.
- Most counselors were concerned that endorsements may derail students’ college plans because they often are seen equally as important to college preparatory coursework. Counselors reported having to consistently emphasize coursework over endorsements, especially for high-achieving students.
Additional Findings – Economically Disadvantaged Students
IDRA researchers also reviewed the latest endorsement declaration data from the Texas Education Agency. This information showed some startling results.
In districts with high percentages of economically disadvantaged students, nearly a quarter of students declared public service as their endorsement, compared to 14 percent in districts with the lowest percentage of economically disadvantaged students. This is an early troubling trend as it indicates an equity gap in opportunities presented to students since the multidisciplinary studies and STEM endorsements are described as the endorsements most likely to prepare students for college. The public service endorsement, as is stands, does not require the rigor of other endorsements.
Similarly concerning is the finding that 38 percent of students in districts with the lowest percentage of economically disadvantaged students declared the multidisciplinary studies endorsement compared to just 20 percent in schools with highest percentage of economically distressed students.
The future is uncertain. Economic shifts change the value of certain careers and vocations overnight. While one industry may call for an increase in workers for its factories, fields and laboratories, any sudden downturn, technological change or simply a shift in fortune, can decimate what was once a lifelong career path.
It is up to us to prepare students for a constantly changing world, not a path set in eighth grade, long before students have a chance to fully experience their own career wishes and desires or even before given an education that can withstand the whims and chaos of the modern world.
Because of these uncertainties, we must constantly examine the effects of how expectations are played out in graduation requirements. This is why early findings on HB5’s impact must be taken seriously and revisited as new data are released.
Downward turns must be taken seriously. The 24 percent decrease in rural Algebra II enrollment is troubling for areas of Texas that have only recently begun to send larger numbers of students to flagship universities due to the earlier requirements of higher coursework and to the Texas Top Ten Percent Plan. Our findings also point to troublesome trends in how students in high-poverty schools are declaring non-college bound endorsements vs students in low-poverty schools.
After years of advocacy, professional development for effective teaching, requiring high expectations and providing high levels of support – prior to HB5 – there was evidence that Texas students were beginning to reap the benefits of a high-quality education. This was accomplished, not by tracking students into vocational careers, but by remaining true to a vision of a solid education for all students. Before Texas weakened graduation requirements, 80 percent of students graduated with a plan that provided courses required by most institutions of higher education.
We do not know the full extent of how students will fare under the new system. But we must remain vigilant that trends in this study revealed to do not signal a negative sea change in college access for all students.
IDRA. (2017). Ready Texas – A Study of the Implementation of HB5 in Texas and Implications for College Readiness, unpublished (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association).
IDRA. (2018). Ready Texas – A Study of the Implementation of HB5 in Texas and Implications for College Readiness, published (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association).
IDRA. (2016). Ready Texas: Stakeholder Proceedings Report (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association).
Wiseman, A., Hamrock, C., Bailie, C., & Gourgey, H. (2015). Pathways of Promise: Statewide Mathematics Analysis (Austin, Texas: E3 Alliance).
[©2018, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the May 2018 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.]