State lawmakers reviewing new graduation requirements that go into effect in the fall say they’re confusing and districts may not be prepared to implement them.

Story airing on KERA radio.

Most affected with be eighth graders who in the next few months will be choosing the diploma specialty they want to pursue as they enter their freshman year.

In an effort to prepare students for college or a job, lawmakers last year passed House Bill 5, which requires students to choose one of five “endorsements.” An endorsement is an area of concentrated study that will be listed on a student’s diploma when he or she graduates. 

The choices include business and industry, public services, arts and humanities, multidisciplinary studies and STEM (Science, Technology Engineering and Math).  

House Public Education Members Concerned 

In a meeting of the House Public Education Committee on Thursday, Texas Education Agency staff briefed lawmakers with a dizzying array of jargon, acronyms and choices students will have to tackle as they decide which endorsements to select and which electives to take.

Rep. Alma Allen, D-Houston, a former state board of education member, admitted confusion.

“I think all of these things are wonderful for kids to be in but is it too much? Is too complicated?  I don’t even understand it,” she said.

Allen also questioned the premise that parents will be able to help their children navigate the process.

“When you say parents will sign this contract (agreeing to pursue a specific course of study), think about students who don’t have parents.  Think about students who are homeless. Think about students who live in foster care. Have we built a trap for our children to fall into?” she asked.

Veteran lawmaker Harold Dutton, D-Houston, wanted to know who will help families sort all of this out.

“Is there somebody at the school who will be responsible for advising the student about each of these options and which options are available at that school?” Rep. Dutton asked TEA staff member Monica Martinez. 

“My understanding is that would be the role of the counselors,” Martinez responded.

Not Enough School Counselors

But State Board of Education Chair Barbara Cargill admitted school counselors alone can’t educate the thousands of parents and students.

“We are very concerned about that initial meeting that a counselor has with the student at the end of eighth grade because the approximate ratio of counselors to students is like 400 and some students to one counselor,” Cargill said.

Cargill says the shortage of counselors is so great many don’t have time to meet with students individually. Instead they meet with 20 to 30 members of a class at the same time.

“So how does that individual student understand the effect of not taking the foreign language class? Will they understand that somewhere down the road their college requires that? Of course, parents need to be involved but how are we going to education the parents?”

In addition, lawmakers heard many districts will not be able to offer all of the endorsement choices.

By law, they must at least offer the multidisciplinary endorsement, which includes the more rigorous, college prep classes.

Rep. Michael Villarreal, D-San Antonio, suggested districts meet and share suggestions. He says San Antonio schools have talked about setting up call centers or online chat rooms where families could get help in handling the new graduation requirements. 

Resources

This chart compares the new Foundation School requirements with those in place for current high school students.

Comparing Foundation School requirements

The Texas Education Agency has posted an overview of class choices facing freshmen in the fall.

Texas House Bill 5, Foundation Overview, And High School Graduation Requirements

This report is part of KERA’s ongoing American Graduate Initiative.