Column: Lewisville ISD apparently not influenced by state measures on special education enrollment

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By TERRI MAGNOTTI
LISD Parent

Lewisville ISD does not work against our students by denying them Special Education services. How do I know this? The data tells me so.

I researched this in reaction to The Houston Chronicle investigation published this week “Denied: How Texas keeps tens of thousands of children out of special education” written by Brian Rosenthal.

This investigation covers much ground and suggests that the Texas Education Agency has created a reporting system that implicitly encourages Texas public school districts to reduce the percent of students in Special Education. It is a serious claim that I will not try to support or refute. My only goal is to understand how this relates to Lewisville ISD.

In the article, Rosenthal explains that TEA created a monitoring protocol known as the Performance-Based Monitoring Analysis System, or PBMAS. The article goes on to say, “The instructions were clear: School districts could get a perfect score on that part of the scorecard by giving special education services to fewer than 8.5 percent of students.” The implication is that school districts would work to reduce their percentages of students in Special Education so as to meet this 8.5 percent goal even at the cost of denying services to students who qualify.

To understand this issue, I read about PBMAS on the TEA website.

I then called TEA and spoke to Rachel Harrington, TEA regional director of performance-based monitoring. Ms. Harrington explained that the PBMAS indicator at issue in the article is found on the PBMAS District Reports. You can search your district’s PBMAS District Report.

The specific indicator on the PBMAS District Report in question is on the Special Education page. Look for “SPED REPRESENTATION” – typically at indicator No. 13 (sometimes No. 14 and the earliest report of 2004 has no numbering system). Once you locate it, you will see the “8.5” under a column head “PL 0 CUT POINTS” (Place zero cut point). Then you will see the school district’s number under a column head “DISTRICT RATE”.

The zero cut point refers to the numbering system TEA uses to categorize these indicators. It ranges from zero to three. For example, LISD had 10 percent SPED REPRESENTATION in 2015, and that falls into an indicator of one.

From looking at Lewisville ISD’s PBMAS reports from 2004 to 2015, we can see that LISD’s percentage of Special Education students and their corresponding performance indicator level has not changed much from year to year. Here is LISD’s PBMAS SPED REPRESENTATION data.

2004 – 11.3% (ind. level 1)
2005 – 11.3% (ind. level 1)
2006 – 11.2% (ind. level 1)
2007 – 10.9% (ind. level 1)
2008 – 10.5% (ind. level 1)
2009 – 10.0% (ind. level 1)
2010 – 9.9% (ind. level 1)
2011 – 9.9% (ind. level 1)
2012 – 9.8% (ind. level 1)
2013 – 9.8% (ind. level 1)
2014 – 9.8% (ind. level 1)
2015 – 10.0% (ind. level 1)

Reports from 2016 come out soon if you need to confirm the pattern continues. What this tells us is that LISD has not been influenced by PBMAS to delay or deny Special Education services to its students.

Rachel Harrington, TEA Regional Director of Performance-Based Monitoring, explained that the PBMAS percentages and performance levels or PLs were for the school district officials to use to compare year-to-year performance and make their own analysis should they see any significant or sudden changes in the programs covered in the PBMAS report. The PBMAS data is a look at what is happening and not meant to be a final assessment or judgment.

However, we see on page 10 of the PBMAS 2015 Manual PLs range from zero to three and each range “has an established set of cut points.” The manual says, “the higher the PL is, the lower the district’s performance is.” She further explained that TEA may request explanations from districts that have many indicators at level three. On occasion in extreme situations, TEA may ask for phone conferences or site visits. As you can see above, LISD is at indicator level 1 from 2004 to 2015.

So, again, LISD has consistent percentages and is two levels away from even catching the eye of TEA. This tells me that LISD has not been influenced by PBMAS to delay or deny Special Education services to its students.

PBMAS was TEA’s answer to multiple federal and state requirements for reporting on school districts’ special performance-based programs that prior to 2004 had been reported separately. In 2004 TEA bundled them and called it PBMAS. The performance-based programs in the report include Bilingual/ESL, Career and Technology, No Child Left Behind (NCLB) data, and Special Education.

PBMAS is separate and not connected to the complex and punitive A through F school rating system.

At issue over whether PBMAS is or is not implicitly encouraging school districts to deny or delay Special Education services to students is the arbitrary 8.5 percent cut off for level zero indicator for Special Education. And this week the Houston Chronicle reports “After extensive report, officials vow to end limits put on special ed.”

I can see how PBMAS and it’s 8.5 percent cap on the lowest and presumably “best” indicator level of zero plus the other issues Rosenthal explores could have had negative influences, but it did not have that impact in Lewisville ISD.

We all should be suspicious of what comes from the Texas State Board of Education and TEA— that is our job as stakeholders in our public neighborhood schools. For this reason, I’m glad Brian Rosenthal wrote his investigative report. Yet, for now, in Lewisville ISD, I am most glad to know we have yearly PBMAS District Reports to show us all that LISD has not been influenced to delay or deny Special Education Services to its students.

In LISD, the needs of the students are being placed ahead of a PBMAS data point and we have data to prove it.

14 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you, Terri Magnotti, for this analysis. It is too easy to accept generalities and criticize “Public Education” as though it is one behemoth. Once again, the narrative of “Public Schools Failing at Something” doesn’t hold up to actual data in our district. Thank you, LISD administration, for educating our children all across the spectrum of abilities.

  2. Two additional questions:

    Why would LISDs identification of special education students be trending down while national averages are trending up?

    This is surprising to me given the general reputation that LISD has a good special education department and is a MAGNET to special needs families and many move within its boundaries to access it.

  3. The 8.5% is the cap. The reality is that LISD should be reporting close to 15% not 10% if it was doing everything it can for the students. 1.5% above the states cap does not mean the district is doing it’s job. I am a parent of a special needs child and I can tell you that elementary school for my child sucked. The school (blue ribbon winner as well) did nothing but make us feel inadequate. They did everything short of laughing at us. So yeah LISD is not doing everything it can.

  4. The 2016 PBMAS reports are now published on the Texas Education Agengcy (TEA) website. Lewisville ISD’s 2016 percentage is 10.3%. The slight trending down and then up is not considered significant. As I said in my letter, this shows that LISD was not influenced by TEA’s PBMAS system to restrict or delay admittance into Special Education services. Contact LISD administration for further analysis. That is your right, and I know LISD uses PBMAS data to analyze this because that is the purpose of PBMAS data. As with all things public education, it is a matter of public record.

    The SpEd testing and admittance process is fully controlled by detailed state and federal regulations. As a teacher and parent I have personally experienced the process multiple times, and I agree that it can be frustrating. My goal is to convey that Lewisville ISD Special Education administrators and educators follow a tightly regulated process that the Texas Education Agency defines.

    If you believe your campus has not followed proper regulations, you should pursue that up the LISD administration chain. What you are likely to find (but confirm this for yourself) is that your child’s school followed a protocol that was defined by the state (TEA). If not, then absolutely I know LISD administration should and will address it. And you’ve done the right thing to bring that to their attention.

    • Ms. Magniotti, which comment is your reply above addressing?

      If your sentence that states “the slight trending downward and then upward is not considered significant” is a response to my previous comment, I must not have been clear enough in my question. I am wondering why the percentage of students who are served by LISD is below the national average. Even though LISD’s numbers have not dipped as low as the 8.5% TEA “target”, its percentage is still significantly lower than what experts believe to be the national average. And given the large numbers of “at risk” students in LISD (poverty, ESL, uninsured, etc), this would mean that LISD probably should have numbers closer to or above the national average (US 13.5% in 2014 vs LISD 9.8%).

      • Look at LISD’s STAAR tests broken down to populations. Being at risk does not mean they have learning disabilities. The target percentage was created to prevent schools from inflating sped numbers, which has been done because they wanted to keep funds or to avoid scores that would lower their rating.

  5. About 9.8 percent of students in LISD received special education services in 2014.

    That is -11.5% different than in 2004.

    How many more LISD kids would be receiving special education services if still at its own 2004 rate: 694

    How many more LISD kids would be receiving special education services if at current rate outside of Texas (13.5 percent): 1,814

    Source: Houston Chronicle article referenced above.

  6. Here’s anotjer update. Note that the PBMAS 8.5% target was set by Texas via TEA. So, this time it was a Texas regulation, not the fed. It’s hard to tell which upper layer is the source. http://m.chron.com/news/houston-texas/texas/article/Feds-order-Texas-to-eliminate-special-ed-caps-9648347.php

    Regarding the comment about “at-risk” students… that is not the same category as special ed (SpEd). They are not related. Special education (SpEd) is a designation for students who meet a specific set of criteria based on a series of testing to determine if the child has an official learning disability. This testing and qualifying is all highly regulated (state/federal). Lewisville ISD does not just make up their own criteria for SpEd qualifying. SpEd is not a designation for any kids who struggles or is behind in school.

    But, your question about why LISD has a SpEd that has fluctuated and is now slightly below this national average is a valid question for the district. Just email that question to LISD’s communication dept, and they will research it and reply. Certainly, there are many variables, but see what they say. It’s valid to ask and to be watchful but also to be aware of many variables involved.

    A higher percentages in previous years or in other states does not automatically mean that today LISD is denying SpEd devices to kids who should have qualified. There are many variables including past years or other states that over-identify due to language acquisition and gaps in education (those are at-risk indicators, not SpEd).

    To assume that LISD’s lower SpEd percentage is indicative of wrongdoing or neglect is jumping way too many logical hops to be fair or useful. So, email LISD’s communications dept and ask them for their analysis. That’s fair and right that they answer that. It’s a valid question, and again… being watchful is good… but be mindful of many variables. Let us know what they say.

  7. Ms. Magnotti,

    I was not equating “at risk students” with students who receive special education services. Rather I bring up the population of “at risk” students because children with risk factors like poverty, etc. have a higher rate of having disabilities and therefore are in greater need of special education. Districts with high poverty rates should have — if you believe the statistics — higher rates of special education students. That’s one reason that the Houston Chronicle’s investigation is so alarming as it found that inner city school districts like Dallas and Houston had dropped their rate of special education students to below the “target” 8.5% (Dallas 6.9% and Houston 7.4%). In reality, urban districts like those should have special education rates in the high teens (NYC has 19%, Detroit has 18%).

    I guess it comes down to this: Whereas you reviewed the data on LISD and arrived at the following conclusions –

    “that Lewisville ISD does not work against our students by denying them Special Education services” and

    “LISD has not been influenced to delay or deny Special Education servuces to its students”

    I do not see how those conclusions hold up to scrutiny. While they may be accurate I don’t think the data you cite supports them.

  8. Mr. Always a Skeptic (love that name!),

    You can find research and reports from credible sources that claim data show that there is a problem with over identification of “at-risk” students in SpEd across the U.S. You also can find research and reports from credible sources that there is not a problem with over-identification, and there are actually too many barriers to getting those kids formally identified as SpEd (meaning they are under-identified). It is a developing situation that parents and educators (and politicians) are trying to figure out. Your commonplace assertion that at risk kids have higher rates of learning disabilities is not a proven fact. They have educational gap and special needs, but not necessarily a learning disability (which is what SpEd means). There are other ed interventions besides SpEd. It’s all about matching the kids with the best-most appropriate help.

    My concern is that people understand that the terms SpEd and “at-risk” have formal and strict definitions in the field of education. These definitions and procedures for addressing the needs of these kids is defined and dictated from levels higher than LISD (state & federal). Concerns should be first addressed at the LISD level to get their analysis. Then, take that perspective to TEA. They are a phone call away and they seriously will talk at length to parents or any taxpayer who call them. They are well aware of the PBMAS controversy. That’s what I did… I did not just look at the data.

    My article makes the claim that LISD did not (and is not) “juking the stats” by ignoring or denying kids who should be identified as SpEd. That is actually illegal. I stand by my analysis.

    Yet your concern is valid….but your target is higher than LISD.

    Here’s where you should spend time…does the state of Texas (meaning TEA which implements regualatuin created by Texas politicians and bureaucrats) have a systemic prejudice that is causing at-risk kids to be under-identified in SpEd? I don’t know, but I can tell you THAT is the question. I can also tell you that would have been my conclusion had I written the Houston Chronicle article.

    I believe the reason the author didn’t draw that conclusion is a lack of understanding of the public education system as whole. He thinks ISDs have enough flex in the system to “juke these stats”. I can tell you that I believe they don’t.

    The only way to attack the question at the state level is to deeply understand the local level and work up.

  9. Ms. Magnotti, your repeated reference to children who qualify as special education as those who have a “learning disability” shows me your analysis lacks the precision and thoroughness that is warranted by having the platform that the Lewisville Texan Journal has given you with this article.

    Children who meet the qualificans of special education are not just those with learning disabilities. Children who qualify for special education may have orthopedic disabilities, speech impairments, vision and auditory impairments, etc. These children may not have a diagnosed learning disability at all but still need specialized instruction and/or the accommodations that are provided by qualifying for special education.

    Unlike you, I disagree that the data from the Houston Chronicle’s investigation definitively proves that Lewisville ISD has not been influenced by the state target.

    Although the percentage of children identified as qualifying for special education percentage has not fallen to exactly 8.5%, it has continued to move in the direction of that target.

    What could these mean? It could indicate that LISD personnel are trying to get to that TEA “target”.

    Further your analysis that the change from 11.3% to 10% means that the rate “has not changed much from year to year” is a harmful generalization to publicize. A 1.3 percentage point is an 11% decline which means 700 less LISD children are not being served!

    And stepping back and looking at the big national picture — after all Texas is not an island — the data says that if Lewisville was at the national average, 1800 more kids LISD would be getting services!

    While it seems that you have great confidence in district personnel, I can assure you that there are many, many parents who have learned the hard way that decisions of LISD special education personnel is deserving of scrutiny.

    But from what this investigation shows, it would appear that this is a pervasive problem across the state.

  10. Yes, of course SpEd includes students with physical, visual, auditory impairments and more. I did not mean to imply otherwise, and I did not imply otherwise in my article.

    I’m sure you are referring to my last reply when I was attempting to speak strictly about the confusion many people have about the difference between “at-risk” students who struggle academically due to educational gaps or the range of things that fall into the “504” category versus those who struggle academically because of a learning disability.

    I didn’t read past your declaration that I was not qualified to submit my article to LTJ, so I can’t respond any further to your specific comments. I’m not here to make this about me, and I’ve made it clear that LISD and TEA are your ultimate sources if you want to drill down further.

  11. Ms. Magniotti,

    You’re right, my ultimate concern may be with LISD and most definitely is with TEA on the issue of a “target” percentage rate of 8.5% for special education students.

    However, I believe your column was a disservice to the community. Your conclusions don’t stand up to scrutiny and may give parents & community stakeholders a false sense of security about vulnerable members of the greater Lewisville community.

    Further, precision matters, Ms. Magniotti. I do not think it’s responsible to write an article that attempts to analyze data about the school district on this issue if your conclusions don’t stand up to review.

    As far as my assertion that you refer to special education students as those with learning disabilities, I directly quote from you:

    “Special education (SpEd) is a designation for students who meet a specific set of criteria based on a series of testing to determine if the child has an official learning disability.”

    “Your commonplace assertion that at risk kids have higher rates of learning disabilities is not a proven fact. They have educational gap and special needs, but not necessarily a learning disability (which is what SpEd means).”

    Further, no where in my comments did I make the “commonplace assertion” that you accuse me of, that “at risk” children have a higher rate of learning disabilities.

    These were my 2 references to the “at risk” population:

    “And given the large numbers of “at risk” students in LISD (poverty, ESL, uninsured, etc), this would mean that LISD probably should have numbers closer to or above the national average (US 13.5% in 2014 vs LISD 9.8%)”.

    “…children with risk factors like poverty, etc. have a higher rate of having disabilities and therefore are in greater need of special education.”

    I thank you for your responses and your good intentions. I’m sure you wholeheartedly believe in what you wrote.

    I however am interested in more objective analysis and that was my intent in writing. For too many years, students with disabilities have been underserved, wrongly served or harmfully served by Texas schools. I am interested in objective data being used to guide decision-making and my intent in commenting was to draw your and members of the community’s attention to the possibly mistaken analyses asserted in your column.

    • What is your true agenda? I know how SPED really works, and for kids with low normal IQ and up, it is a detriment to their work ethic, problem solving skills, and confidence, with little academic benefit. They do however learn to give up easily, and let others take over for them. Their grades do not reflect what they know, but their parents are pleased because they think SPED is working.

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