By 2012, Arizona students will be able to apply 3.5 credits of qualified career and technical education coursework toward their academic requirements.
On the last day before vacation, students in Keith Tomaszewicz's class got to work on a problem: how to determine the area of various shapes drawn up on a handout.
Calculators and pencils in hand, the young men and women in the Basha High School class quietly went to work.
It wasn't in a math or geometry class, but introduction to engineering design, a career and technical education course offered at the Chandler Unified School District campus.
In the future, students may also receive math credit for the class.
Arizona schools and career and technical education leaders are working with the state on what's needed to allow engineering, drafting, automotive technologies and manufacturing courses to fulfill a math credit requirement.
Starting with this year's freshmen, students in Arizona must have four years of math to receive a high school diploma. Three of the courses must be algebra I, geometry and algebra II. The last course has to have "significant math content as determined by district governing boards or charter schools," according to the state's Web site.
The state's career and technical education team, along with educators and members of the State Task Force for Mathematics, met late last month to work toward that goal for engineering programs.
"This crosswalk will be provided to local districts as a potential guideline for use in granting academic credits in engineering for mathematics," Milton Ericksen and Barbara Border, deputy associate superintendents for career and technical education, wrote in an e-mail to the Tribune.
This year's freshmen must also have an additional year of science - from two credits to three credits. School districts are also trying to determine what courses can meet that requirement.
By 2012, Arizona students will be able to apply 3.5 credits of qualified career and technical education coursework toward their academic requirements. That grows to 5.5 credits by 2013, Ericksen and Border wrote. Each district school board or charter school can determine how to award the academic credits.
In the Mesa Unified School District, one example of this "crosswalk" led to biotechnology classes counting as a science credit, said Marlo Loria, director of career and technical education for the Mesa district.
Next year, Mesa will offer a financial services program, with a focus on business math. The curriculum design will mean it may count as a math academic credit, Loria said.
"Industry tells us students are not necessarily prepared for basic business math," she said. "They're good at algebra II or higher levels, but sometimes those basic computations they're struggling with."
Besides the curriculum content, instructors of these courses must meet the "highly qualified" requirement of the federal No Child Left Behind law in order for it to count as an academic credit. That means teachers need at least 24 hours of college credit in the topic area or a passing grade on the state teachers test for that topic.
While many of teachers have that, some have years of work experience that qualify them to teach the class. But that does not necessarily qualify them as a "highly qualified" teacher under the federal law, Loria said.
Loria said the district offers professional development courses to prepare teachers for the state subject tests.
Districts are hoping to inform students and parents of the requirements and the benefits of the career and technical education classes.
Some may not see the benefit of an engineering or manufacturing course, Basha's Tomaszewicz said. In some cases, classes have been cancelled because of a lack of enrollment.
"Here, we're fighting with that, the state standards of kids having to take four years of math," he said. "This is an elective. Parents may want to put them in a strict math course instead of engineering, but it's a shame because there's so much math going on in my course. It should be counted."
That's the goal, state educators say.
"The thing about CTE (career and technical education) is it's ever changing and responsive to the needs of our society because there is relevance to what our courses are offering," said Meg Gianesello, director of instructional services for the Chandler district.
In fact, in the last three years state funding has grown for bioscience and engineering programs.
"Arizona never has enough engineering technicians to fill the needs of major industry in Arizona. Bioscience is an emerging industry in our state that will create many new jobs for the future of Arizona," Ericksen and Border wrote.