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Texas Dropped Algebra 2 as a Requirement. Its Schools Didn't

In 2014, the Lone Star State controversially dropped the requirement for high school students to take Algebra 2. But new research shows that, in the wake of that policy, Algebra 2 completion and failure rates roughly remain the same—so far.

The main conclusion from the research, conducted by the Regional Educational Laboratory Southwest and released on Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences, is that a change in policy doesn't immediately lead to a change in the kinds of courses that schools offer. 

But it's important to note that the results show the effects on only one year. In another few years, a different pattern could emerge.

The state dropped Algebra 2 as part of a revamp of its graduation requirements, which some critics said were too rigid. Instead of requiring Algebra 2 as part of four required math courses, the state allowed students to take two classes above geometry, such as "algebraic reasoning" and statistics. The new requirements began with the 2014-15 cohort of 9th graders.

Those opposing the change feared that this would ultimately cause fewer students to take Algebra 2, which might affect their college and job prospects.

Nationally, there has been much debate over whether Algebra 2 should be a requirement—and experts say that there isn't firm agreement on what mathematical concepts and practices the course should encompass.

For the study, the researchers followed cohorts of entering Texas freshmen from the 2007-08 through the 2014-15 school years. It also surveyed the state's school districts on what they did to promote Algebra 2 in 2014-15; over 80 percent responded.

Here are some of the findings.

  • 74 percent of districts reported promoting the state's Distinguished Level of Achievement, a diploma endorsement for those who take Algebra 2 and other requirements; 72 percent specifically promoted Algebra 2.
  • About 37 percent of districts made Algebra 2 a requirement for all students in their districts despite the new flexibility.
  • The alternatives to Algebra 2 weren't all that popular. Only 30 percent said they were offering algebraic reasoning and 44 percent said they offered statistics.

What's more, overall rates of Algebra 2 completion weren't different for the 2014-15 class, compared to earlier classes, nor did the changes lead to fewer students of color or disadvantaged students taking Algebra 2—though there is still a large gap in the proportion of such students who enroll in the class compared to white and Asian-American students. Here's a chart that illustrates this:

Snip20180208_1.pngRates of Algebra 2 failure were also steady over the time period studied.

The study concludes, though, that further years of analysis will be necessary to gauge the long-term effects of the policy.

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