From the desk of Dr. Kirk Lewis

Updates from the Superintendent


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The Tipping Point in Testing

Teachers and administrators have grown increasingly frustrated at the high stakes testing pushed by the State of Texas in recent years. I think the introduction of the STAAR exam and the explosion of end-of-course exams linked so closely to graduation finally brought the issue to its tipping point with parents. It’s great to see common sense returning to the system.

 Representative Jimmy Don Aycock from Kileen and the Honorable Dan Patrick from Houston, both of whom chair the education committees in the Texas House and Senate, respectively, have championed a major change in graduation requirements and the amount of testing required for our high schools students. The House passed a bill this week that reduced the number of required end-of-course exams to five: Algebra I, Biology, U.S. History and English II (with a separate Writing exam). That is welcomed news. The Senate version of the bill adds two additional tests including English I with its separate writing exam. Debate continues on the merits of adding Algebra II into the mix. What seems clear now is that the number of tests required in high school will be reduced from 15 to somewhere between 5 to 8 exams. The provision for testing in late May instead of April will give teachers additional time to cover the material. That’s welcomed news for students, teachers, and campus administrators.

The House bill’s shift in graduation requirements also gives students greater choice and flexibility in pursuing a diploma plan that more closely matches their college or career interests. The current requirement that every student take four years of math, science, English and social studies limited student options, particularly for those interested in a career or technical field. Under the House plan and versions proposed in the Senate, students are required to take four years of English, but only three years in the other core subjects, enabling them to take more electives in areas of personal interest. To maintain the push for rigor in all areas, diploma endorsements will be encouraged in the areas of arts and humanities, business and industry, public services, science and math and multidisciplinary studies.

This has been a good week for public education in Texas. Now, the legislature just needs to finish the good work by reducing the number of tests required in grades 3-8. Another bill. Another day. Keep contacting your legislators.


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Creating Academic Choices

The student’s sense of frustration was evident in the letter he wrote to me asking for clarification on the state’s graduation requirements. The current system requires four years of math, science, English and social studies (4 years in 4 subjects…4 x 4) if a student in Texas wants to enter a four-year state university. The intent of the state’s 4 x 4 provision fell under a tag of “college readiness.” The law suggests that one cannot be “college ready” without successfully completing the 4 x 4 requirements and earning a Texas Recommended diploma. If a student does not complete the 4 x 4 requirement, the student falls to a Texas Minimum Diploma, with negative connotations attached to it that demean the student’s work while in high school.

Before I suggest that now is the time for change, let me first share that I believe in high expectations and academic rigor for every student. There was a time when far too few of our students were considering a college education. I believe we have changed that culture. Given the high level of poverty in our school community, far more of our students that one might expect now know they are capable of college work. I also want to ensure that every possible pathway to a four-year university education is available to all our students through expanded Advanced Placement and Dual Credit offerings. With more than 3,100 AP tests taken last year (up from just 400 only a few years ago) and new Dual Credit opportunities expanding at each high school, I believe we’ve started down a successful path.

However, not every high school graduate desires or needs a university degree. In addition, our local businesses and industries need a wide-ranging work force to fill employment needs including high school graduates, holders of job certificates and associate’s degrees, as well as those with university diplomas.

That’s why I believe the proposed legislative changes offered by Sen. Dan Patrick and Rep. Jimmy Don Aycock offer flexibility in graduation plans that address the varied needs of our students and our communities. Their proposals, though slightly different, call for four years of English, three years each of math and social studies and two years of science. Most of the remaining 26 credits are essentially elective courses that allow students to dig more deeply into their personal career interests to earn “endorsements” in business/industry, STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), public services and arts/humanities.

There are those who will suggest that the change from the 4 x 4 requirement is a retreat in rigor. It’s hard to argue that point; however, when the number and type of proposed credits in Patrick’s and Aycock’s bills match what the University of Texas and other Texas state universities require of their out-of-state students.  In other words, we allow out-of-state students a more diverse path to university study than we do our own Texas children. Something about that feels wrong.

Students and parents are growing frustrated with the restrictive nature of the Recommended and Distinguished graduation plans. Whether or not you feel the course requirements need to change, now would be a good time to contact your legislators. The bills are being discussed now in Austin.

The young man who wrote me was going to have to sacrifice earning a Recommended Diploma because he wanted to substitute some rigorous high school courses for the fourth year of math and science he was being forced to take…courses that would mean little toward his chosen profession. It just seems to me that he ought to have that option without affecting his future.


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A Case for Flexibility

As we reflect upon our life achievements, it may be that graduating from high school would stand as our first significant accomplishment. The focus on what a high school diploma means has evolved over the years. When I graduated high school in 1972 B.C. (Before Computers), that little piece of paper meant only that I had met the requirements for graduation from high school. It did not reflect my readiness for college or career training. The assumption was that if I wished to attend college, I’d prove my readiness by scoring highly enough on the SAT/ACT and subsequently by passing the college curriculum. The proof was in the pudding, in my ability to make the grade. Today, a Recommended or Distinguished high school diploma is supposed to mean a graduate is college ready.

At the heart of a debate swirling through the legislative halls in Austin today is the idea that not every student desires to be prepped for a four-year college experience, nor does every community need that level of proficiency for the job market that sustains its local economic growth. As Shakespeare might say, “There’s the rub.” The conflict in philosophy depends on whether your company needs engineers or welders, whether your community is supported solely by high-tech industries or a mixed employment environment like Pasadena that requires four-year degrees and/or certifications and associates degrees.

There is absolutely no question that public education needs to push toward more rigor in preparing our students for the university experience. Too many of us in the past were unprepared for the challenges of college curriculum. It is a commitment Pasadena ISD made eight years ago with Expectation Graduation. However, there is no question that students need scheduling flexibility allowing allows them to gravitate toward career interests that match their dreams and ambitions.

New graduation plans are being discussed in Austin. These plans propose a Foundation high school diploma with multiple endorsements in a number of fields of study…in essence a high school major…rather than the Minimum, Recommended or Distinguish Diploma Plans currently in place. A Foundation diploma would indicate that students have demonstrated they are college or career ready. The Foundation diploma gives students more options for a satisfying life and career.  The proposals offered by Sen. Dan Patrick, Sen. Kel Seliger, Rep. Jimmy Don Aycock, Rep. John Davis and others deserve serious consideration by the Texas Legislature. 

Any plan that offers increased flexibility is a positive move for our students, for the Pasadena community and for the State of Texas.


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I Love It When a Plan Comes Together

Ensuring that all students are career and college ready stands at the heart of the mission of Pasadena ISD. Our students have big dreams and we must help make their dreams come true.

Plans developed by the Pasadena ISD Strategic Planning Committee in 2012 and by the Future Facilities Committee in 20011 are on the verge of becoming reality. In the next few days, you will see bulldozers clearing land near the intersection of Genoa-Red Bluff and Beltway 8, the first phase of construction for the new Career and Technology High School. Scheduled for completion in 2014, the new campus will serve 1,700 students in  six different career academies with dozens of pathways from which our students can choose. Most students who graduate from this campus will earn a high school diploma and career certifications. Some students may even earn an associate’s degree from San Jacinto College by the time they complete the 12th grade.

In the end, the new campus will meet the needs of a growing number of our students while meeting the work force needs of area businesses and industries.

I love it when a plan comes together and this plan will be an incredible opportunity for our community.

For more information follow this link.