Lawmakers: New curriculum may be too complicated

(AP Photo/LM Otero)
(AP Photo/LM Otero)

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Some Texas lawmakers complained Wednesday that sweeping new high school curriculum and standardized testing rules were too complicated for even those who approved them to understand — much less students, parents or academic counselors.

“When we create these kinds of, I don’t want to call them monsters but this is massive and very difficult to understand … are we building a mousetrap for our children where failure is guaranteed?” asked Rep. Alma Allen, a Houston Democrat who is vice chairwoman of the House Public Education Committee.

As committee members heard hours of testimony from state experts on what the new law will look like when it’s fully implemented this fall, Allen finally wondered aloud if the measure may be “beautiful on paper, not implementable.”

For months, questions about whether Texas was over-testing students and whether the state should require high school students to pass algebra II dominated the educational debate. That led to a new law that the Board of Education is now implementing to cut the number of high school standardized tests from 15 to five while scrapping the algebra II mandate for most students.

What remains to be seen, though, is what the new curriculum will look like once it’s fully in place. Listening to all of its facets, Rep. Harold Dutton, also a Houston Democrat, was only half-joking when he said, “I don’t think anyone up here understood all of that.”

The law abandons previous requirements that most students take four years of math and science, including algebra II. It’s instead designed to provide teenagers hoping to land high-paying jobs right out of high school the flexibility to focus on vocational training.

But some school districts will have to offer new courses, or retool existing ones. Also, there’s no requirement that all schools provide every course the law lists as meeting new standards, meaning students with specific academic focuses may have to travel to other campuses to take a class like auto repair.

And committee members expressed alarm that counselors will have to meet with eighth-graders for all-important discussions on what kinds of courses they will take all through high school to ensure they stay on track to meet all the new rules — an especially daunting task since some counselors in urban school districts are assigned to as many as 400 students each.

Still, the committee’s chairman, Killeen Republican Jimmie Don Aycock, said Wednesday that any tweaks to the law won’t be discussed until later this year. Until then, he said, the focus remains implementation.

Meanwhile, the debate over algebra II continued to rage — though in a different form.

Previously, education experts and even powerful members of Texas’ business community complained that the new academic standards weakened curriculum since studies have shown that completing algebra II can be a key predictor for a student’s success in college and beyond.

But Raymund Paredes, commissioner of Texas’ Higher Education Coordinating Board, told the committee that taking four years of any math could actually be more important than taking algebra II. He pointed to statistics on college readiness compiled by the ACT college entrance exam and showing that Texas students who had three years of rigorous math were no more likely to be considered college-ready than those who took three years of math including algebra II.

“If you want to go to university, you better take four years of math,” Paredes said.

Committee members pushed back, noting that many critics of the new curriculum law had billed algebra II as the “holy grail” or “silver bullet” of primary education and harshly criticized the Legislature for de-emphasizing it.

“It’s not the end all,” Paredes con ceded, “but it’s an important benchmark.”

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