Members of the State Board of Education are expected to decide on the final shape of proposed graduation standards by the time they adjourn on Friday, January 31, but debate continues in the meantime. The key issue of the role of Algebra II remains unresolved. On the one hand, SBOE members, guided by legislative intent, do not want to make Algebra II a requirement for graduation. On the other hand, the legislature and SBOE have left Algebra II in place as a gauge of college readiness and as a hurdle for automatic college admission of students who graduate in the top 10 percent of their class. Given this continuing role of Algebra II as a gateway course for college, Texas AFT and civil-rights organizations have testified, the state must take responsibility for ensuring equitable access to the qualified teachers and the resources needed for all students to have a fair shot at taking and passing Algebra II.
The notion that Algebra II deserves to be a continuing criterion of college readiness or a gateway course was strongly challenged in testimony by Dr. Uri Treisman, a highly respected math educator from the University of Texas at Austin. Treisman testified that neither Algebra II in high school nor the standard college course in algebra is really necessary for post-secondary or career success for the vast majority of students. Just one out of 100 students ever goes beyond that college course in algebra, he asserted, and it would be better to emphasize skills such as statistical analysis in a college-prep math course that would help prepare students for what they need on most career paths. Treisman stressed that educators at all levels should work with business and industry representatives to decide on the content of suitable college-prep courses. He also echoed a key point made in Texas AFT’s testimony, urging SBOE members to plan to revisit soon whatever new standards they adopt this week, because we are all still feeling our way in the transition to new graduation standards.