AUSTIN, TX (Texas Tribune) - Though a new law removes algebra II as a core requirement for a high school diploma, many Texas universities say they will not change their admissions standards to drop the advanced math course anytime soon.
Instead, universities will likely continue to raise the threshold for new applicants, said Dominic Chavez, spokesman for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.
In January, the State Board of Education finalized new graduation requirements under the guidelines lawmakers passed in 2013 as part of House Bill 5, which changed curriculum and testing requirements in Texas schools. Starting this fall, algebra II will no longer be a part of the default “foundation graduation plan.” Instead, students will choose diploma "endorsements" in specialized areas like science and technology, business, or humanities, which will determine the math courses they take.
But if students intend to continue on to a public four-year university after high school, they will likely still need to take algebra II to have the widest range of higher education choices.
The state’s two largest public university systems, the University of Texas and Texas A&M University, said they will continue to require the course for admission. The University of North Texas System, which has four schools in the Dallas area, will follow suit.
While Buchanan said A&M would still review a student under the new foundation plan, the minimum preferred coursework includes algebra II and is going to remain the same.
Along with state institutions, many private universities have also declined to change their admissions standards in response to HB 5. Administrators at Rice University in Houston and Southern Methodist University in Dallas said students admitted there usually have taken at least precalculus.
The new law requires students to take the advanced math course if they want qualify for automatic admission under the state’s top 10 percent rule, which grants automatic admission to students at most public universities if they graduate in the top 10 percent of their high school class. Students must also take the course if they opt for a diploma endorsement in science and technology, one of five high schools may offer. But students can also opt to graduate under a “foundation plan,” which does not require an endorsement or the advanced math class.
Proponents of the law argue that HB 5 will help not just the brightest students, but will prepare all students to enter the workforce, whether or not they attend college.
The foundation plan and its different endorsements are more rigorous than the previous graduation plans, which included a minimum plan. Nearly 20 percent of the class of 2012 graduated under the minimum graduation plan, which did not include algebra II, said Thomas Ratliff, a Mount Pleasant Republican who sits on the State Board of Education.
Students will have the option to specialize early on and to take more courses that will directly benefit their careers, he said.
But the new law has attracted vocal critics, among them business leaders and education advocacy groups such as the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, who have raised concerns about the new law’s effect on students’ preparation for college.
The new diploma requirements may pressure universities into lowering their admission criteria, said Bill Hammond, president and CEO of the Texas Association of Business.
Texas Southern University, a historically black institution in Houston, also said it would also change its admissions policy in response to the new law.
The two other state university systems, Texas State University and the University of Houston, are still deciding whether to keep algebra II as a prerequisite for admission.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2014/03/04/algebra-ii-will-still-remain-required-course-most-/.