Changing the School Year: The Texas Experience in Moving to a Twelve-Grade Academic Program



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Today?s American public school student begins schooling with the anticipation of kindergarten, and perhaps some preschool, followed by twelve grades. The senior year is the twelfth grade, the traditional exit year for most students in most states. However, in the state of Texas, this tradition is younger than that of other states because in Texas, before 1946, there were only eleven grades. While official adoption of the twelve-grade system occurred in 1946, the statewide transition from eleven to twelve grades took nearly 20 years, beginning in 1927. This qualitative study used explanatory history to answer the following research questions: What were the issues and conditions of the educational community in Texas between 1925 and 1950 that influenced the decision by school districts and eventually the State Department of Education to change from eleven to twelve grades? How did districts make the transition from eleven to twelve grades when they adopted the twelve-grade program?

Under the leadership of Superintendent George Sims, Port Arthur, Texas, acted upon a recommendation from a school survey conducted by George Strayer, making Port Arthur the first Texas school district to move to a twelve-grade system. From there, the movement spread slowly across individual districts throughout the state. As discussion and debate over the change grew, the educators on the ground in the state of Texas?teachers, administrators, superintendents, and educational researchers, not state level authorities or the legislature?were the ones who eventually called for statewide change. The Texas State Teachers Association officially supported the twelve-grade system and requested that the State Department of Education supply firm instructions for implementation. When the State Department of Education finally addressed the change to twelve grades, it did so gradually; after over five years of developing guidelines and encouraging state schools to make the change, the State Department of Education made twelve grades a requirement of Texas schools in order to receive accreditation. With the twelve-grade tradition currently undergoing national challenge, a review of the history of adding the twelfth grade seems to be a relevant issue to investigate.