Inappropriate Sequencing of Science Courses

In the spring of 2007 Texas Senate Bill 1031 was passed to repeal the TAKS tests. The TAKS tests were to be replaced by end-of-course (EOC) exams for core courses. In their original conception, there were going to be 15 EOC exams, including Biology, Chemistry and Physics for science. The number has recently been reduced to 5, leaving only the biology exam as the representative science test.

This sent districts into a tizzy causing them to jump to some improper and frankly, bad decisions. Most districts thought it was a good idea to enroll all freshmen in Biology, sophomores in Chemistry and juniors in Physics. One of the reasons that I have heard frequently is, “If we get them in the course early, they will have more opportunities to retake the test if they fail”. On the surface, this sounds like a great idea, but in action, it is a failure.

It is a failure because it assumes a negative position from the beginning. Instead of examining why so many students are not being successful, schools have chosen to just offer them more opportunities to be unsuccessful on the tests. One of the main reasons that students are not being successful is because they are not developmentally ready and lack the requisite skills.

Ten years ago the typical sequence of science courses for on-grade level students was:

9th-Integrated Physics and Chemistry


11th– Chemistry


Students in this group were usually enrolled in the following sequence of math classes:

9th – Algebra I

10th– Geometry

11th-Math Models or Algebra II

12th– Algebra II or Pre-Calculus

There is a direct correlation between the math level of a student and their ability to be successful in chemistry and physics. The following is an actual Chemistry TEK (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills):

(I)  define pH and use the hydrogen or hydroxide ion concentrations to calculate the pH of a solution; and

To calculate the pH of a solution, you must use logarithms. According to the TEKS, logarithms are not taught until Algebra II which means that until a student has passed Algebra II or is concurrently enrolled in it, then they are not mathematically suited to be enrolled in a chemistry course.

Physics requires the use of Trigonometric functions such a sin, cosine, and tangent to calculate vectors and trajectories. These are skill taught towards the end of the Algebra II. If a student hasn’t completed Algebra II, then they are not mathematically suited to be enrolled a physics course.

It is time to return to a process that was working to the benefit of the students and move away from this madness that works for politicians.

Grade Math Course Science Course
9th Algebra I Integrated Physics and Chemistry
10th Geometry Biology
11th Math Models or Algebra II Chemistry. Environmental Science, Earth Space Science or any approved Science Credit
12th Algebra II or Pre-Calculus Physics, Aquatic Science, Anatomy & Physiology or any approved Science Credit.

This sequence is suitable for most students in a high school. Yes, there will need to be a more advanced sequence for students that are advanced math students. The same basic guidelines will apply that they must have passed or be enrolled in Algebra II to be enrolled in chemistry and passed Algebra II or be enrolled in Pre-Calculus to be enrolled in physics.

It is very difficult to teach students how to calculate certain quantities and values when they lack the math reasoning skills to manipulate a simple formula and solve for the missing variable. There are so many formulas and calculations with missing data in both chemistry and physic that most students are not prepared for when they are enrolled at an early age.

Allow the students to have an opportunity to mature so that they increase their chances of success. By pushing the Biology test back to the sophomore year, it also reduces the number of tests they are required to take as a freshman from three tests to two tests. They would take the English 1/Language Arts and Algebra I tests as freshmen, Biology and English 2/Language Arts test as a sophomore and American History as a junior.

The transition from middle school to high school is tough enough for most students, why must we make their freshmen year more difficult by holding the students accountable for three (EOC) exams as freshmen. By reducing the number from three to two, there is a higher likelihood that there will be an increased level of success because of the reduced level of stress.

The transition to the HB5 graduation requirements is another reason that will also require all schools to reevaluate their science course sequences and class offerings. The new requirements are very different from the old requirements. There is no longer a need for four science courses unless the student obtains an endorsement. The only requirement for science credits is that they must have one biology credit. The other science credits may be from a variety of courses.

Foundation School Program:

(3)  Science–three credits. One credit must consist of Biology, AP Biology, or IB Biology.


(5)  An additional credit in science that may be selected from one full credit or a combination of two half credits from two different courses, subject to prerequisite requirements, from the following courses:

When you read the Texas Administrative Code, Chapter 74, Subchapter B there is not a single requirement that say a student must take Chemistry or Physics. If a district is still forcing students to enroll in those courses when they are not appropriate or required, then they are doing a disservice to those students.

It’s time for a change and the time is now.

David R. Taylor

27-year Teacher, Coach, and Principal

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1 Response to Inappropriate Sequencing of Science Courses

  1. Pingback: Rethink and Rollback the Expansion of AP and IB | David R. Taylor-Thoughts on Education

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