Editorial: Diplomas need to mean students are ready for next step - Albuquerque Journal

Editorial: Diplomas need to mean students are ready for next step

Algebra II may not be for everyone, but practically every job these days requires some math, from plumbing to mechanic, cashier or stock clerk to medical technician.

Public Education Department officials are exploring possible changes to the state’s graduation requirements — which now include Algebra II — that would provide students more room to explore their interests. That’s well and good; one size does not fit all and not everyone belongs in a four-year college program.

But first note that the Legislative Education Study Committee reported last year that New Mexico already “specifies more time for elective units in a student’s schedule than many other states” — 7.5 units — and “this may allow for New Mexico students to have a more dedicated carve out to take courses of their own choosing, which may enhance student choice in education.”

And then recognize that basic core proficiencies are needed for our high school graduates to be ready for college or career, whichever path they take, as well as to attain a level of financial independence.

New Mexico’s high school graduation rate was 77% in 2021, while the national rate is about 85%. Dumbing down the curriculum here to graduate more students might jack up the numbers but would do students no favors.

The director of PED’s College and Career Readiness Bureau, Elaine Perea, says student schedules are so crowded “there is not room for student voice, for student choice, for community concerns, for honoring our heritage.” The LESC report disputes that. PED is suggesting ditching some courses like Algebra II, New Mexico history and physical education from graduation requirements to make space “for students to pursue whatever their thing is.”

Alternatives for Algebra II include finance, information technology and STEM education concentrations. Substitutions for science courses could include health and agriculture. Possible substitutions for language courses include journalism, communications and debate. New Mexico history has already been woven into standards for U.S. history.

OK, but serving as a yearbook photographer isn’t a substitute for being able to read a rental contract or instructions to a prescription medication. Computer programming should not replace a basic understanding of budgets, loans and interest rates.

PED officials also recommend discontinuing standardized exam requirements for graduation. So how, exactly, will we know our students are ready for the next chapter in their lives, be it college or career?

With no alternative recommended, it is difficult not to chalk this up to PED stripping away yet another measure of academic achievement and school accountability. The LESC report says high-performing education systems have “high reading and math scores as scored in The Nation’s Report Card (NAEP) … high teacher-quality and learning standards, a strong and consistent accountability system, and aggressive and effective school turnaround models.” Right now New Mexico has none of those.

New Mexico is right to recognize that some students are college bound and others want to head right into the workforce, that some thrive with academics and others with hands-on learning. We need to prepare both groups to compete in a global marketplace, without watering down curriculum and selling students short on necessary life skills.

A PED spokeswoman says the recommendations are very preliminary and there’s still a lot to consider before lawmakers make changes. Good. Education officials and lawmakers need to proceed cautiously. There’s a fine line between giving students more options and making graduation requirements so meaningless a diploma isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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