Evaluation of the Texas Foundation High School Program (House Bill 5)

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For many decades, high schools focused on preparing students for either postsecondary education or entry-level jobs. Career and technical education (CTE) was expected to serve the needs of students who did not anticipate going to college, including students with low academic achievement, while students preparing for college were expected to complete more credits in core academic subject areas.

Over time, this approach has changed. Reform models that integrate CTE and academic preparation are intended to elevate career pathways and make them more relevant to students’ academic coursework, and vice versa. The hope is that a more integrated, career-focused approach will improve student engagement and motivation as well as the transition to higher education, workforce education programs, or entry-level jobs.

Texas House Bill 5 Evaluation

In 2013, Texas enacted House Bill 5 (HB 5), which modified Texas’ high school graduation requirements. Known as the Foundation High School Program, HB 5 placed greater emphasis on career preparation by including five career-area endorsement options to provide students with the opportunity to gain in-depth knowledge of a subject area. Both the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and the Texas Legislature expressed a commitment to examining the impact of the state’s new high school graduation requirements on student outcomes.

In response, AIR partnered with TEA on a five-year research grant to examine the impact of HG 5 on student outcomes, including high school graduation, college readiness, 2- and 4-year college enrollment, remedial mathematics course-taking in college, two- and four-year college persistence, college completion, and completion of workforce certificates. A secondary goal of the research grant, and a focus of the December 2021 progress report, is to examine how the new graduation requirements are being implemented in public school districts across Texas.

Key Findings

  • The 50 high schools varied in the number of career-area endorsements they offered. Almost three quarters (72%) of the schools opted to offer all five endorsements. To meet the new requirements, principals reported making curriculum and staffing changes, with a mostly neutral impact on staff. However, both principals and counselors stated a need for more funding, staff, and training. Teacher shortages, especially in the state’s rural districts, limited the quantity and quality of endorsement options that could be offered to students.
  • Principals and counselors reported using a range of methods to share information about the Foundation High School Program with school staff, caregivers, and students. However, despite these efforts, these groups often did not seem to have a firm grasp of the graduation requirement details.
  • Counselors reported making several changes to help students navigate the Foundation High School Program, including changes to advising processes to help students select which career-area endorsements and course pathways to complete. Half the counselors reported they had adequate time to help students navigate the new graduation requirements and half reported they did not.
  • Principals and counselors were mixed in their comments about how well the Foundation High School Program enabled schools to expand career pathway opportunities for students and to prepare them for postsecondary education, employment, or military service.
  • The student survey found that many seniors had sought and received guidance on the new graduation requirements and endorsement options while in high school. Most seniors went on to earn the endorsements they had reported pursuing. However, although three quarters of seniors said they aspired to attend college, fewer than one third were enrolled in an in-state college during the fall semester after high school graduation.

The research reported here was supported by the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, through Grant R305H170006 to the American Institutes for Research®. The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not represent views of the Institute or the U.S. Department of Education.