State Senate supports some algebra II exemptions in high school graduation requirements

Dave Murray | The Grand Rapids Press
GRAND RAPIDS -- High school students taking specialized career courses could soon be exempt from taking the state's required algebra II course -- provided algebra elements are added to their other classes. The state Senate unanimously approved Sen. Wayne Kuipers' bill Wednesday calling for the change, while a bill proposing similar changes to the graduation requirements cleared the House Education Committee. West Michigan educators praised the bills, saying they would make it easier for students to take career-oriented classes at programs such as the Kent Career/Technical Center. Previously, students needed to take the required classes at their high schools and use the career course to fulfill elective credits. The bill from Kuipers, R-Holland, calls for material required in algebra II classes to be woven into career classes, such as electronics, welding and computer-assisted design. "Instructors would be able to include the algebra into those courses where it's logical," said Ronald Koehler, assistant superintendent at the Kent Intermediate School District, which oversees the career/technical center. "We still have among the most stringent algebra requirements in the country. But instead of sitting in a class and taking algebra II, they'd be taking their aviation mechanics classes and seeing how algebra elements apply." Koehler said elements that don't fit into the career courses could be addressed with online classes to cover the requirement. Jon Felske, superintendent for Wyoming and Godwin Heights, said the moves make sense, since districts have for years been running elaborate career centers with up-to-date equipment that prepares students for real-world jobs. "You've got intermediates across the state that have spent millions of dollars on these career/tech centers, and the requirements were making it difficult for students to take advantage of them," he said. The requirements went into effect with the class of 2011: four years of math and English, three of science and social studies, one of health or physical education, and one of visual, performing or applied arts. Kuipers said the bill expresses the original intent of the requirements, saying he, Gov. Jennifer Granholm and state Superintendent Michael Flanagan all agreed that students could master the materials while following career education paths. "But the state Education Department told districts something quite different when they distributed the guidelines, and I think it's important we get something out there on record so the schools know what they can do," Kuipers said. He said it's possible that the House version could be approved quickly, and a bill could be headed to Granholm's desk.