AZ schools math requirement hiked
Capitol Media Services

Dec. 11, 2007

Mandates for graduation increasing, starting with current 7th-, 8th-graders

By Howard Fischer

Tucson, Arizona | Published:

PHOENIX Students now in eighth grade will have to take a third year of math two are now required to graduate from high school under a new policy adopted unanimously Monday by the state Board of Education.

For this year's seventh-graders and beyond, the bar will be even higher. They will have to take four years of math, and a third year of science, to get a diploma.

That includes the already required algebra I and geometry courses, plus a new requirement for algebra II or its equivalent, and a fourth course that includes "significant math content" as determined by the local school board.

Board members did agree to let some students, with parental permission, get out of that fourth year of math.

But board President Karen Nicodemus said this "personal curriculum" should not be seen as an "opt out" for youngsters who simply don't like math. Nor does she believe youngsters should be advised ahead of time this is an option.

"The personal curriculum is intended to be an exception," said Nicodemus, who also is president of Cochise College.

State School Superintendent Tom Horne said the process of getting out of that fourth year of math is deliberately meant to be difficult. In fact, he said it should be for students who just barely pass the math portion of the AIMS test, which measures whether students have learned the essentials of algebra I and geometry.

Horne said students who qualify for the personal curriculum still would have to take a third math-related course in their senior year. But he said it wouldn't have to be a "math" course in the traditional sense.

"You could take a career technical education course that had math involved with it, you could take an arts course that had math involved with it," he said. Similarly, Horne said some economics courses might also qualify if they have math components, like calculating interest rates.

Representatives of education groups who spoke to the board Monday were generally supportive of the change, though Penny Kotterman, associate director of the K-12 Center, which works on teacher-development programs, said some teachers fear the new mandate might result in more students dropping out.

But Mildred Norman, who runs a non-profit organization offering after-school programs, questioned mandating more math for all students. She said all youngsters are different and have different needs.

"I'm afraid you're trying to make little robots out of all of them," she said. Norman said there are many professions where higher-level math is unnecessary.

Nicodemus, however, said that ignores the changing nature of the economy.

"In the 21st century, the majority of the jobs that pay high wages will require the kind of skills that we're putting in place," she said.

She agreed there will be professions that don't require more than basic algebra and geometry. But Nicodemus said Arizona should not be in a situation where many of its graduates are competing for what may be fewer and fewer jobs.

Board members also agreed to scrap, for now, plans to require all schools to also offer a new "regents diploma," which would be awarded to students who completed more than the basic graduation requirements, including two years of a foreign language as well as specific science and math courses.

Some foes of that plan said it would result in a two-tiered system, reducing the perceived value of the regular diploma.

Nicodemus said she hopes to revive that plan at some future date.