Texas is changing the requirements for a high school diploma, and Tyler ISD officials say it will offer students more flexibility and the potential for better college and career preparation.
As a part of House Bill 5, passed during the recent legislative session, Texas will scrap its current graduation requirements that allowed students to choose between three diploma levels.
Instead, the state will offer one diploma level and provide students the opportunity to earn endorsements and other recognitions that go beyond that.
“I can see students in high school being able to take courses that are much more in their area of interest than they have been able to take before,” said Marty Barbieri, TISD’s director of guidance and counseling.
The board discussed the graduation requirements during this month’s workshop on Monday. It was the first of several planned discussions about House Bill 5, and the changes it will bring.
“As far as changing graduation plans, curriculum, (and) state accountability, it’s huge,” Tyler ISD Superintendent Gary Mooring said of the bill.
One of the key changes of the bill — the graduation requirements — will be fully implemented for high school freshman during the 2014-15 school year. However, starting with this year’s seniors, the basic component of the new requirements must be offered.
That basic level of the new Foundation High School Program will be a 22-credit plan that all students must complete.
This plan includes four credits of English language arts, along with three credits each of math, science and social studies.
It also requires one physical education credit, two foreign language credits, one fine arts credit and five elective credits.
The law doesn’t require students to have one-half credit of speech, but the State Board of Education still can require it.
A student can graduate with just the 22 credits and no endorsement and attend a four-year university, which was not the case under the state’s previous minimum graduation plan.
However, district officials are recommending students receive an endorsement.
An endorsement goes above and beyond the basic 22 credits. It is a four-credit program in one of five categories: business and industry, science technology engineering and mathematics (STEM), public service, arts and humanities and multidisciplinary studies.
Some students likely will choose to earn more than one. With each endorsement, a student will complete one additional credit each in math and science, along with two elective courses in their area of interest.
Some examples would be accounting or welding for business and industry, environmental science or technology for STEM, health science or culinary arts for public service and cultural studies or political science for arts and humanities.
The multidisciplinary studies endorsement includes courses from each of the other four endorsements and is primarily designed for smaller school districts that can only offer one endorsement.
Beyond an endorsement, students have two more ways to set themselves apart.
This is through distinguished achievement and performance acknowledgement.
To attain a distinguished level of achievement, a student must successfully complete four math credits including Algebra II and four science credits in addition to the base-level curriculum and at least one endorsement.
A performance acknowledgement comes through outstanding performance in one of several areas such as a dual credit course, bilingualism and biliteracy, an Advanced Placement test or International Baccalaureate exam, or college admissions exams.
Another way to receive a performance acknowledgment is through earning a nationally or internationally recognized business or industry certification or license.
District officials said there are still unknowns about the graduation changes. The State Board of Education has the authority to make decisions about many aspects of the program and has yet to do so.
This includes determining which courses will count as advanced English, math and science; whether students will be required to take speech; and whether Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate courses will be allowed to count for certain program requirements.
The board is scheduled to have a first reading of the bill in November, followed by an official public comment period in December.
The second reading and final adoption of the bill by the board is scheduled for January.
TISD’s Chief Academic Officer Dr. Christy Hanson said district officials are looking at how they can integrate the plans for the coming career and technical education center with the requirements for the endorsements.
Both programs will require professionals who have different industry-level and teacher certifications.
Board President the Rev. Orenthia Mason emphasized the need to inform parents, teachers and principals about the changes.
The district is expected to have meetings with parents and the community early next year.