Let TEA know how to make training relevant and timely

TEA proposes to provide statewide professional development to all teachers on special education as part of its initial draft corrective action plan (CAP) in response to orders from USDE's Office of Special Education Programs to address various special education problems in Texas public schools.

TEA will begin with training institutes that address inclusive practices and instructional techniques as well as broader identification and Child Find practices.  

This training is among a series of proposals in TEA’s initial corrective action plan on which TEA is seeking public comment through Feb. 18. We strongly encourage our members to give TEA input on the draft plan, and in particular on the professional development component to ensure not only that the content is relevant and valuable, but that the delivery mechanism is appropriate and timely. (Click here to read TCTA's submitted comments.)

TEA says that the content development for the training will be informed by the perspectives of educators, special education students and field experts. Additionally, the proposal provides that “all participants will be required to demonstrate content proficiency and implementation before being noted as having participated in the full program.” 

Given long-standing concerns that we have heard from our members about being made to attend irrelevant, one-size-fits-all training, we are hopeful that our members will use this opportunity to try to make sure that the training TEA intends to offer is useful. TCTA is submitting comments along these lines as well as well as requesting that TEA provide clarity about the meaning of the provision that all training participants will be required to demonstrate content proficiency and implementation (e.g., how will this be accomplished?).

Written public comments are due by Feb. 18. Comments may be emailed to TEA at TexasSPED@tea.texas.gov. (Click here for more about another method for input, a confidential, online survey.)

TEA also will hold focus groups for general and special education educators (among other constituencies) in each region. Those wishing to participate in the focus groups should email TexasSPED@tea.texas.gov. Finally, per TEA, a specific calendar of engagement opportunities will be posted/regularly updated on TEA’s special education webpage.

Other aspects of the special ed draft plan

TCTA commented on several other sections of the corrective action plan for special education, including:

  • A provision that TEA will require every school district/charter school to identify all students who were in Response to Intervention for six or more months, only had a Section 504 plan, or were exclusively in a dyslexia program. TEA did this in response to OSEP’s instructions to provide OSEP with a plan/timeline by which TEA will ensure that each school district identifies, locates, and evaluates children who should have been referred for an initial evaluation under IDEA, but were not due to TEA’s former 8.5% special education representation monitoring target. 

    Additional provisions are that specific guidelines will be put into place around a formal process for these students, and districts must report these outcomes to TEA on a periodic basis. TEA will monitor this process through newly established TEA “Review and Support Teams” and “Special Education Escalation Teams”.  Also, the monitoring process will involve TEA having unrestricted access to the school and staff; the flexibility to make both unannounced and scheduled visits to schools and districts; and the ability to review all necessary records and conduct confidential interviews with stakeholders (including staff).

    TCTA supports the provisions for unannounced and scheduled visits to schools/districts, unrestricted access to schools/staff, the ability to review all necessary records, and conducting confidential interviews with stakeholders (including staff). However, we suggested that TEA should establish a mechanism (in addition to interviews) by which teachers/staff and parents can confidentially report to TEA any students falling into these categories who may not have been identified by the school district. Additionally, we suggested that TEA identify, at least generally, the conditions that would trigger an unscheduled visit, and include the confidential reports from teachers/staff and parents among those conditions that trigger an on-site visit. TCTA also urged that the monitoring and confidential reporting process be for not only past, but current and future incidents of students being denied/delayed in referral for special education services.

  • During its investigation, OSEP found that, although Texas law now prohibits the use of a special education representation indicator, the indicator’s use in the past contributed to a statewide pattern of practices that show that TEA did not ensure that all school districts properly identified/evaluated all children with disabilities who were in need of special education and related services (Child Find), thus failing to make a free and appropriate public education available to all eligible children.

    Specifically, the “pattern of practices” included use of RTI, Section 504 and the state Dyslexia Program to delay or deny a child’s right to an initial evaluation for special education services under IDEA. OSEP found that, as reported in a series of Houston Chronicle articles, teachers and staff were being instructed that all RTI tiers had to be completed prior to a student’s referral for special education. Other OSEP findings on this issue included:

    • “A general understanding among teachers and parents in Texas that completing all tiers of RTI was required prior to a referral for special education, particularly for children with SLD (specific learning disability), but this practice cannot be used to delay or deny a timely evaluation of a child who is suspected of having a disability and in need of special education and related services.”
    • Regarding teacher referrals, OSEP interviews with school and district staff revealed that although the staff referral would be considered, schools might deny the initial evaluation if the child had not completed all tiers of the RTI process, even if there was reason to suspect the child has a disability.
    • Across the 12 school districts OSEP visited, teachers could not always define what level of progress would be sufficient for a child to stop receiving interventions provided through an elevated tier of RTI. In different schools within the same districts and across different school districts, staff expressed a lack of clarity as to which children enter tiers two or three, how long children are served in each tier, and when children move from one tier to the next within the RTI framework. 

Accordingly, OSEP instructed TEA to provide OSEP with a plan/timeline by which TEA will provide guidance to school district staff in the state, including all general and special education teachers, necessary to ensure that school districts:

  • ensure that supports provided to struggling learners in the general education environment through RTI, Section 504, and the state’s dyslexia program are not used to delay or deny a child’s right to an initial evaluation for special education and related services under the IDEA; 
  • are provided information to share with the parents of children suspected of having a disability that describes the differences between RTI, the state dyslexia program, Section 504, and the IDEA, including how and when school staff and parents of children suspected of having a disability may request interventions and/or services under these programs; and 
  • disseminate such information to staff and the parents of children suspected of having a disability enrolled in the ISD’s schools.

In response, TEA’s draft CAP provides that TEA will contract with an outside entity to create a suite of resources for parents of children suspected of having a disability that will describe the differences between RTI, the state Dyslexia Program, Section 504 and IDEA. The resources will be developed in conjunction with extensive stakeholder feedback and will include how and when school staff and parents may request interventions and/or services under these programs.

TCTA commented that TEA should include teacher/staff among the stakeholders TEA will include in developing the resources.

After the public comment period for the initial draft plan ends on Feb. 18, TEA will consider the comments in creating a proposed plan, which will be available around March 1 with public comments accepted through March 31. A final corrective action plan will be submitted to USDE on/around April 18.