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Commentary: HB 5 graduation paths will prepare students for success

Something important, perhaps revolutionary, is happening in Texas public education. High schools, colleges and industry are working together with unprecedented frequency and effectiveness to better prepare students for the rigors of college and the opportunities of our evolving economy. It’s happening because the Texas Legislature has fundamentally improved the expectations we set for high school students.

The American-Statesman recently published an editorial lamenting the state of college readiness among Texas high school graduates. The editorial erroneously blamed a lack of college readiness among 2014 and 2015 graduates on House Bill 5, an education reform measure that was passed by the Legislature and signed into law by then-Gov. Rick Perry in 2013. However, the students whose performance was cited in the editorial were not subject to all the standards of House Bill 5, but instead to previous graduation requirements. (Editor’s note: The Statesman corrected the error in a subsequent edition.)

The first class of students who will graduate under the rules and standards of House Bill 5 are now sophomores and will graduate in 2018. Blaming House Bill 5 for the performance of students who graduated in the last two years is like blaming someone for a crime that occurred before they were born.

The goals of House Bill 5 are simple: Allow students to take meaningful courses that suit their interests; align those courses with the expectations of higher education and the workforce; provide opportunities for students in all sectors of our economy; and increase collaboration among K-12 schools, colleges and the business community. Instead of being forced into a one-size-fits-all system that assumes every student will move straight into a four-year university, House Bill 5 created five endorsements — STEM, business/industry, public services, arts and humanities, and multidisciplinary — for students to choose as their academic focus as they prepared for college, be it a technical or community college or a four-year school. This legislation has been carefully written and implemented to ensure that attending a four-year university is a viable option for every student. But it also recognizes that not all students will pursue that option, which is why it so methodically works to show students other avenues to success, almost all of which require some form of education beyond high school.

One early benefit of House Bill 5 has been an increase in the number of students taking dual-credit classes, which are college-level courses that can count toward both a high school diploma and a college degree. Since 2013, as schools have begun to implement House Bill 5, the number of students taking dual-credit courses has increased 34 percent. Many of these students are the first in their families to take college courses, and these classes represent a critical step toward ensuring that every student receives some form of higher education credential. Our ongoing challenge is to increase the number of quality dual credit courses available to all students.

After the passage of House Bill 5, the State Board of Education called for the creation of two new advanced-level math courses in high schools: Statistics and Algebraic Reasoning. Many students will begin to take these classes next year, and, along with Algebra II, they will provide meaningful and useful options in advanced math. Algebra II is useful for some students going into certain fields, but in other areas, it isn’t nearly as helpful. Many colleges require courses such as Statistics or Algebraic Reasoning as part of their degree plans, and we think the creation of these two courses is a significant move toward true college and career readiness.

Employers want workers who have the ability to solve real-life problems, to work in a team setting while solving those problems, and to communicate and explain the problem they just solved. Prior to House Bill 5, these skills were not taught to the level that today’s economy demands. In fact, we’ve been preparing students to take a test that has little to do with what the workforce wants.

House Bill 5 allows our schools to better prepare students for higher education and long-term career success. To effectively do this, our high school students must see relevance and meaning in their coursework and experiences. House Bill 5 provides this relevance through a sound and meaningful path for each student.

Chambers is superintendent of Alief ISD. Arnold is senior government affairs manager for BASF Corp. and chair of the workforce development committees of the Texas Association of Manufacturers and Texas Chemical Council.

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