December 05, 2009|By Childs Walker | childs.walker@baltsun.com

Students applying to the state university system will have to have four math courses and will be required to take math their last year in high school under new admissions requirements passed Friday by regents.

The requirements, which will take effect for those starting ninth grade in 2011, passed unanimously after a spirited debate in which several regents and university presidents questioned whether the standards would be the best fit for all students.

Skeptics expressed particular concern about students who reach a high level of math early in high school and want to try other subjects as seniors. Some also worried that the requirements might drive excellent writers and artists to out-of-state universities. Others worried that they might penalize students from less-affluent districts.

"It seems a little odd that the requirement is not to get to a certain place in math," said regent David Nevins, alluding to the senior-year requirement.

But Chancellor William E. Kirwan argued firmly that such concerns place the needs of a few over the needs of the many students who struggle with college math after avoiding the subject as seniors.

"You're allowing the impact on a small number of exceptions to get in the way of a strongly demonstrated good," Kirwan said. "The question is, 'How do we organize to best prepare students to pass college math?' The experts have looked at it, and the best way is for them to take math their senior year."

He noted that the Maryland State Department of Education supports the tougher requirements and is prepared to adjust its curriculum. Students will have to take Algebra I, Algebra II and Geometry, just as they do now. But if they complete Algebra II by junior year, they will have to take another math course of equal or greater difficulty as seniors.

That might seem unfair to some. But Irv Goldstein, senior vice chancellor for academic affairs, said even exceptional students often struggle with college math after avoiding it as seniors.

Students who take noncredit remedial courses are often miserable, he added.

Even with the requirements in place, Kirwan said, universities will have some leeway to allow exceptions (up to 15 percent of an admitted class). Given the concerns raised by some, the regents asked Kirwan to report at their next meeting on how such exceptions will fit into the implementation of the standards.