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BISD hears about grad requirement changes

By Carolyn B. Edwards BCC Staff Writer

Bandera ISD's board of trustees received a report at the February regular meeting about the changes in graduation requirements that will be made due to House Bill 5, passed by the last session of the Texas Legislature. The report was presented by Bonnie Hale, who is in charge of the testing and at-risk programs in the district, and Bandera High School Principal Gary Bitzkie.
HB 5 gives the State Board of Education (SBOE) the decision-making authority in setting the standards for new high school graduation requirements. The board adopted new rules for what is called "the Foundation High School Program" on Jan. 31 of this year. The SBOE is expected to adopt new rules regarding which courses school districts will be required to offer in April.
In the meantime, school counselors and administrators here already have plans in motion to inform their students and parents of the changes that will be coming.
According to Bitzkie, the standards will be almost like having students choose a major. "Students will choose their 'endorsements' in eighth grade," said Bitzkie. "The endorsements are like having majors and minors in college."
Changes can be made to the student's graduation plan as he advances in high school.
Bitzkie and Hale both acknowledged the new program will put a heavier than usual burden on the district's counselors. "It'll take one-on-one meetings with students and parents to work out these new schedules," said Bitzkie.
On the whole, both administrators said they think the changes will be good for students in the long run. "We will still offer AP and college credit classes, but we will be able to offer more in the form of 'electives,'" Bitzkie said. "Not only will we be offering a diploma, but some of our students will be pursuing certifications in various fields, like welding and culinary arts, that will allow them to get jobs right out of high school."
Under the Foundation Program, graduates will need to complete four credits in English, three in math, three in science and three in social studies. They will also need to complete one credit in physical education, two in languages other than English (which can be a computer language), one in fine arts and five credits in electives.
Students may earn a variety of endorsements, including a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) endorsement, a business and industry endorsement, a public services endorsement, or an arts and humanities endorsement and multi-disciplinary studies.
Graduates may receive performance acknowledgements on their diplomas by earning outstanding placements in their classes, excellent scores on college placement exams and other accomplishments.
It is entirely possible that the SBOE's final rules and regulations sent down to school districts in April will differ slightly from these. No doubt there will be a big push to inform students and parents about the new standards as quickly as possible after that, in order to get class schedules formulated for the 2014-15 school year.
"This is the biggest change in standards since HB 72," said Bitzkie. HB 72, passed by the Legislature in 1984 was the well known "No Pass, No Play" bill. HB 5, like its predecessor, will take awhile for everyone to make the adjustments.