Bill to overhaul graduation requirement passes first committee

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Efforts to rework New Mexico’s high school graduation requirements took a step forward Monday. House Bill 126 cleared the House Commerce & Economic Development Committee Monday on an 8-2 vote. 

Albuquerque Rep. Andres Romero’s bill comes as the state’s graduation rate slowly recovers from a recent low of 63% in 2011. The graduation rate was 76.8% in 2021 – still nearly 9 points lower than the national average of 85%. 

“It’s now or never for some of our kids,” said Whitney Holland, the New Mexico president of the American Federation of Teachers. “Something’s gotta give, and it’s not going to be our teachers. It’s not going to be our students. So something’s got to shift a little bit.” 

Romero’s bill would drop the total number of required credits from 24 to 22. The bill also changes requirements inside certain subjects listed below: 

English (4 credits required – no change) Would require a sequence of three units, allows for English language development courses to count for core units 

Math (4 credits required –  no change) Removes Algebra II requirement, instead requires a sequence of Algebra I and Geometry 

Science (3 credits required – no change) Still requires two units of laboratory based science. 

Social Studies (4 credits requires – 3.5 now) Removes one-half unit of New Mexico history. Requires 1) U.S. history & geography, including course content that contains New Mexico history; 2) government & economics, including course content that contains civics; and 3) world history & geography. 

Health & P.E. (1 credit required –  no change) Requires one-half credit of health, one half-credit of physical education 

Electives (4 credits required –  7.5 now) Must include a two-unit pathway concentration of the student’s choice in world language, fine arts, health, military, a career technical education (CTE) program, community learning with a capstone, or two units of work-based learning. 

District Choice (2 credits required) Local school districts and charter schools will set two credit hours of graduation requirements. Can be electives or core proficiencies.

There will no longer be a single credit requirement for a career cluster, workplace readiness, or language other than English course. The bill would also require school districts to develop graduate profiles. Those profiles are supposed to define the skills and knowledge students should have when they leave high school. 

“What this is doing is taking a really in depth look at what we know about how kids learn and what we want to see kids doing in the future. And it’s taking in that consideration that not all kids go to college, and that’s okay,” said Holland. 

Both Rep. Romero and Holland believe the proposed requirements are more flexible for students and teachers. Holland says that could increase students’ willingness to attend school in the first place. 

“Instead of looking at a cookie cutter, one size fits all model, we’re going to open the door for interest, and my hope is we’ll see some of the absence issues, we have a huge chronic absentee issue in Mexico, see some of that kind of simmer down a little bit, because kids are going to be emotionally fulfilled, and they’re going to want to go to school,” said Holland.  

During Monday’s committee meeting, some state lawmakers questioned the removal of the Algebra II requirement. Recent standardized test results show only 16% of high school juniors are proficient in math. 

“I think if we just turn this over and not require things like Algebra II for SAT exams and these other things, I think we’re dumbing down our students, and I’d hate to see that madame chair,” said Gallup Rep. Patty Lundstrom. 

Holland disagreed with those concerns. She says it’s important to remember these are the states’ minimum requirements to graduate high school. She guesses most schools will still offer Algebra II for students who want to take the course. Some districts may even require the course if they believe it’s best for their students. 

“It’s like a recipe, like we’re going to offer you the fruit and vegetables, but it’s up for the district to figure out how you spice it up a little bit,” Holland said. “I think we’re taking a more critical look at what is successful, and what is the ready for college and career and Algebra Two is not necessarily it.” 

The superintendents from Santa Fe Public Schools and Hobbs Municipal Schools have cast their support for the proposed changes. Representatives from Albuquerque Public Schools and Rio Rancho Public Schools could not be reached for comment Tuesday. 

If approved, the new requirements would go into effect for students entering ninth grade in the 2024-2025 schools year.