It's important to note that HB 3's "flexibility" to choose enrichment courses was contested during public testimony. The warning of this legislation's outcomes resulting in the scenarios that are expressed in this article were made public.
By TERRENCE STUTZ / The Dallas Morning News
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
AUSTIN – High school students may be able to load up on athletics, band and physical education classes to meet graduation requirements under a new state law that gives students more freedom to pick electives.
In passing the legislation in May, lawmakers increased the number of electives that most students can take in high school, but they put few restrictions on what classes can be taken to comply with the new course requirements.
As a result, according to Texas Education Agency officials, students could take more than a fourth of their classes in PE or PE substitutes – such as football, band and cheerleading – to meet the requirements.
The author of the legislation said Monday that in writing the law, he never considered the possibility of a student taking so much PE. But Debbie Ratcliffe, a spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency, said, "It now appears there is no restriction to prevent a student from taking seven credits in PE classes."
Students in the "Recommended High School Program," the plan followed by most Texas high schoolers, could take seven credits in PE or PE substitutes as part of the 26 credits required for graduation. That includes one regular PE credit – equal to two semesters – and six electives.
Students are now limited to two credits in PE and PE substitutes during their four years of high school.
State Board of Education members are expected to discuss the new course requirements at a meeting this week, but Ratcliffe said it is an "open question" as to whether the board could place limits on the number of PE credits a student may count toward graduation.
While the board has some authority over graduation standards, it cannot add new requirements that affect "enrichment" courses – generally those available to students as elective classes.
The Legislature approved the new graduation requirements as part of a massive school accountability bill during its regular session. The new rules were intended to give students more course options in preparing for college or post-secondary training programs.
House Public Education Committee Chairman Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, author of the legislation, said Monday that while he didn't think about the PE credits, he is not worried that a large number of students will follow that path.
"I don't think it occurred to anybody that a student might take seven PE courses to meet graduation standards. We didn't sit around and discuss how to game the system," Eissler said.
"But I don't think it's going to happen. And if a bunch of kids tried to do that, local school officials could step in and adjust their course requirements. That's what we call local control."
Eissler said he remains a strong proponent of increased electives for students and would not want to see students lose the ability to choose so many of their classes.
"The reason we freed up students to take more electives was so that school would be more relevant for them and satisfy more of their interests," he said. "If they see value in a course, it might lead to a good career. It is also going to better prepare them for college."
Academics not ignored
Eissler also noted that students will have to take rigorous academic classes under the state's "four-by-four" requirements, requiring four years of instruction in English, math, science and social studies.
State Board of Education member Geraldine Miller, R-Dallas, said she is concerned that some students may abuse the system and would like to see the board take steps to restrict the number of PE credits counted toward graduation.
"I see this as an easy way to beef up your GPA and meet graduation requirements," Miller said of the changes. "Human nature says that some students are going to pick the easiest road to graduation, and this may be it."
Miller said if there are no limits on the number of PE credits, academic standards in Texas high schools could decline.
"Seven credits for PE courses is way too many and would lead to abuses in the system," she said.
Miller also said the Legislature made a mistake in eliminating health education and computer technology as requirements – particularly if students take more PE and similar nonacademic classes instead.
For several months, board members have been studying a plan backed by high school coaches that would allow high school athletes to get twice as much credit toward graduation for playing football, baseball, basketball and other sports.
The plan would allow four years of sports to count toward graduation instead of the current maximum of two years, or two credits.
Whatever the board decides, any changes could not be implemented until January 2010 at the earliest. Normally, curriculum revisions for a new school year have to be approved by July so that districts can make necessary preparations.