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Richardson School District Opts For Tougher Graduation Requirements

The State Board of Education approved new high school graduation requirements last month. Among the changes – students don’t need Algebra II or a fourth year of social studies to graduate.


Here’s how one district – Richardson – is pushing its students beyond the state requirements.


Lori Shaw, who oversees counseling for Richardson students says coming up with a graduation plan for high schoolers hasn’t been easy.

“We just have to be really careful as counselors work with students, looking at the future and maybe where they might possibly want to go so that they have all those courses on their transcript so that they can have a chance to be accepted,” Shaw said.

Last spring, legislators set the table for the new graduation changes by adopting major changes to the state’s high school curriculum. The idea behind House Bill 5 was to give students more flexibility, especially those who aren’t headed to college and want to focus on a career training track. Under the new rules, high school graduates need to complete 22 credits. That’s called the foundation program.

“If a student graduates under a foundation high school program they can apply to a four year university, but that does not mean that they necessarily will meet the requirements for that university,” Shaw said.

That’s why districts have the option to beef up the minimum plan. Richardson is adding Algebra II and a fourth year of social studies to the requirements. That means students don’t have to choose between World Geography and World History. In sciences, students will have to take biology, chemistry and physics. Also added to the required list – a half credit each of technology and health, something the state doesn’t mandate.

“We didn’t want to take a step backward. We wanted to maintain those expectations,” said Superintendent Kay Waggoner. “We’ve had a lot of conversation, a lot of debate about what is best and ultimately, we are making recommendations that are in the best interest of the students.”

Waggoner says some students, like those with learning disabilities, can opt out of taking certain classes like Algebra II. They can also substitute a course if it’s determined another course is better suited for them.

But students also have the option of taking four additional credits to go toward their chosen field of study, called an endorsement.These tracks gives students a chance to focus on areas like business and industry, the arts and humanities, science and technology, public service or multiple disciplines. Ron Griffen, principal at Berkner High School, says it’s like choosing a college major.

“In college I was a finance major and to get my finance degree, there were certain courses that I had to complete to get my finance degree, and so the endorsement is no different,” Griffen said.

So what about students who want to go above and beyond all of that? There’s a plan for them, too. Under the Distinguished Level of Achievement, students would have to pick a track (an endorsement) and take Algebra 2, along with one additional advanced math course and one additional advanced science course. Doing all of that gives the student a shot at consideration for automatic admission to a Texas university under the the top 10 percent law.

The school board is expected to vote on these changes at its February 17 board meeting. You can read more about Richardson’s recommendations here.

Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35.