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The School Calendar Question

September 1, 2008

Last year, August 27th was the earliest permissible start date for Texas public schools. What impact did the new school calendar have on learning?

For elementary and middle school kids, probably not much. It’s at the high school level where the new calendar wreaks the most havoc.

First, the final 3 to 5 weeks of the year is wasted.

  • TAKS testing finishes 5 weeks before school ends, so for those students and teachers who were focused on passing TAKS, the last 5 weeks are time to blow off steam, relax, and chill. Once TEA implements end-of-course exams, this issue will be solved, but that’s not until 2014, when they will be phased in for 9th, 10th and 11th grades. So for the next 5 years, it will still be an issue.
  • Students taking Advanced Placement (AP) tests actually have to continue their focus for another 1 or 2 weeks after the TAKS, but, again, the last 3 weeks of school are wasted for them. Because AP tests are national, the Texas Education Commission cannot mandate a change in AP test schedules, so this will always be an issue.
  • Dual credit students’ college classes finish in early May, so they mentally start summer vacation, but still have high school classes to attend for several more weeks.

Secondly, the high school calendars are out of synch with college calendars.

  • College applications are due in January, before the high school semester ends, so Texas students cannot provide an official transcript of their first semester grades with their college applications. This isn’t an issue for students in other states, where semesters end before Christmas, so it puts our students at a disadvantage.
  • Dual credit students’ college schedules change before their high school schedules change because the semesters end at different times, which can cause conflicting class times. When two classes meet at the same time, which do you attend?
  • Students who graduate at mid-year cannot start college in January,  because the spring college semester started before their high school semester ended. So what’s the advantage of graduating early?

If the Texas Education Agency continues to insist that the school calendar must start no earlier than the fourth Monday in August, our high school kids will continue to suffer the consequences.

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