Advanced math course has benefits in high school and beyond

At Young Men’s College Preparatory Academy, math teacher Saul Cantu has one message for students wondering if they should take Algebra II: Take the class.

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“The lack of Algebra II slams doors shut,” said Cantu, who has been teaching for 15 years. “Every college major – even history and business – requires at least one year of college algebra. Students will end up in a remedial math class if they don’t have exposure to Algebra II in high school. They will have to pay for it in college, and it doesn’t carry any credit hours.”

In January, the Texas Board of Education gave final approval to a new high school graduation program with three graduation plans, two of which do not require Algebra II. That doesn’t mean, however, that HISD students are off the hook.

“Although new legislation no longer requires today’s eighth-graders to take Algebra II in high school, HISD’s expectation is that every high school student in the district will take the course,” said Director of School Support Services Mark White. “We don’t want our students to be limited in the future because they didn’t take Algebra II.”

Under House Bill 5, next year’s ninth-graders and those after them must take Algebra II to graduate under the Distinguished Level of Achievement graduation plan. Choosing not to graduate under this plan means they give up the opportunity to be automatically admitted to Texas public colleges and universities under the state’s Top 10 percent Rule – students in the top 10 percent of their graduating class are automatically accepted to state universities.

“I hear it all the time from students – ‘Why do I need to take this? I’m never going to use it,’” said Jonathan Trinh, Dean of Instruction/Associate Principal at YMCPA and a former science teacher. “If you’re planning to attend a four-year university or technical school, you’re going to need it, regardless of your major. Algebra II is essential to passing your college math requirement. Without Algebra II, you can’t ever become a scientist or engineer.”

Cantu also pointed out that students live in a world of high-stakes testing where a few points can make a huge difference in their future-earning power. “Algebra II will help students score higher on the math portions of the SAT and ACT,” he said. “Higher scores equal admission to better colleges and universities, which in turn impacts life after graduation.”

Michael Suber, a junior at YMCPA, credits Algebra II for dramatically raising his test scores. “Thanks to Algebra II, my PSAT scores went up a lot from sophomore to junior year,” said Suber. “Algebra II is teaching me how to think logically and solve problems. I think it will help me if I decide to go into corporate law.”

Algebra II can help students in other areas as well. “Algebra II introduces students to exponential functions,” said Cantu. “Money grows exponentially, so students need to understand that in order to understand how money grows when it’s invested. Eventually they will need it to manage their retirement funds. Algebra II has many real-world applications.”

If students opt out of Algebra II, they still have to take a third math course in addition to Algebra I and Geometry. Besides what is currently offered, the Texas State Board of Education is directing the development of two new courses – Algebraic Reasoning and Statistics – that will be available in the 2015-2016 school year.

For complete information on the state’s new high school graduation program, visit HISD’s Plan Your Path website.

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