Newest state curriculum changes questioned

By Will Weissert
Associated Press

AUSTIN — 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.