Texas to offer 2 new algebra II alternatives

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The Texas Board of Education adopted two new math courses on Thursday that are designed to cover much of the same material offered in algebra II, which will no longer be required for high school students under the Legislature's academic curriculum overhaul.

The move came despite many of the board's 15 members bristling at having to scrap the state's algebra II mandate, which was a hotly debated part of a sweeping education law overwhelmingly approved by lawmakers in May. The overhaul was designed to give schools and students more flexibility to focus on vocational training for high-paying jobs that don't necessarily require a college degree.

"We've got a piece of legislation that we've got to put some lipstick on," Republican board member David Bradley said.

The changes — poised to transform classrooms for the state's 5 million-plus public school students — still allow school districts to require algebra II, it's just no longer a state mandate. The law also cut the number of standardized tests in high schools from 15 to five.

The board voted 13-2 on Thursday to create two high-level math courses that could be alternatives: statistics and algebraic reasoning. Both will be developed by local schools under the guidance of the Texas Education Agency, and are designed to cover many of the same concepts covered in algebra II.

Board members must cast a final vote Friday to formally implement the new graduation standards, which are set to take effect next fall. But that should be largely ceremonial since the major sticking points over dialing-back the algebra II mandate have now been resolved.

Creating the new courses was necessary because, in November, the board complied with the Legislature and voted to drop the algebra II graduation requirement for most students. Only those pursuing honors diplomas or focusing on coursework in math and science will still have to pass the course.

But in many school districts, especially smaller ones, students would have ended up taking algebra II anyway because they are still required to take math as part of their normal coursework and there aren't many alternative classes offered. Now, they will have more options.

"I think we've reached a compromise that everyone can be comfortable with," said Sue Melton-Malone, R-Waco.

Algebra II has been a hot-button issue for months — especially since Texas was the first state to require the course for most students in 2006. Since then, 16 other states and the District of Columbia have imposed similar algebra II mandates.

Board of Education member Lawrence Allen, a Democrat from Fresno, estimated that 60 or 70 percent of Texas students would still take algebra II under the new curriculum. He said students who don't take the class will now have a chance to master many of the same mathematical and problem-solving concepts, however.

But fellow Democrat Ruben Cortez of Brownsville described the algebraic reasoning course as "watered-down algebra II."

Martha Dominguez, a Democrat from El Paso, said that without proper guidance, many students, particularly minorities, may not challenge themselves and therefore wouldn't be properly prepared for college or life beyond it when they would have otherwise succeeded.

"We're not doing what's in the best interest of our students," Dominguez said.

Bradley, the Republican board member from Beaumont, emphasized that the board's hands were tied because the curriculum shakeup was now state law. But he said opponents were focusing too much on the course.

"Algebra II's becoming the whipping boy," Bradley said. "I walk out there in the community and I don't see any kids walking around brain dead and maimed and mangled because they had to take algebra II."