State looks at TISD's problem areas

TYLER (TYLER MORNING TELEGRAPH) - A three-person team from the Texas Education Agency spent the past week with Tyler ISD analyzing programs and assessing progress after flagging three problem areas in the school district.

The state selected TISD for an on-site review this year "due to the identification of substantial, imminent, or ongoing risks across programs," specifically those tracked by the state's Performance-Based Monitoring Analysis System.

That is according to a TEA letter addressed to Superintendent Gary Mooring dated Feb. 26.

The state assigned TISD to intervention Stage 3 of 4 for special education, Stage 2 for bilingual education/English as a second language program, and Stage 2 for Data Validation Monitoring Leaver Records.

The stage determines the type of steps a district will have to take to meet its improvement plan. The higher the stage — Stage 4 being the highest — the greater the intervention.

When the state assigns a district an intervention stage, it is because officials "feel that there are some risks involved with the programs, and that they could be failing to properly serve the students within the program," TEA spokeswoman DeEtta Culbertson said. "Normally, it just takes a corrective action plan to get things back on track. That (is what) … this is all set up to do, to get those programs back on track and properly serving students."

The monitoring system reports annually on school district and charter school performance in specific areas, such as bilingual education, career and technical education and special education, according to the TEA website.

State officials also monitor certain data, such as that related to dropouts, discipline and student assessment, according to the website.

When that data fails to meet certain standards, the state can flag that category as being troubled.

Then based on many factors, such as how the district's performance compares to the state, how long it has been subpar and the degree to which intervention is necessary, the state will assign the district to an intervention stage from one to four in the programs where there are problems.

In the special education category, which is at Stage 3, the state found TISD identified too many African-American students as needing special education services.

In 2012, African-Americans made up about 30 percent of TISD's student population, but about 48 percent of its special education population, according to state data. The 2012 data is the most recent available on the TEA website.

The district also had a higher percentage of special education students being sent to in-school and out-of-school suspension when compared to the general population.

Students who receive special education services fall along a spectrum. They can be students who are mentally retarded, emotionally disturbed, deaf, blind or autistic.

They also can be students with some type of hearing, speech or visual impairment, a learning disability or multiple disabilities, according to the Texas Administrative Code.

TISD's overall special education population has decreased in the past few years from more than 2,000 students in 2008-09 to slightly more than 1,700 in 2010-11, the most recent year available on this report.

Kim Tunnell, TISD's executive director of strategic planning and continuous improvement, said the district was at Stage 4 in special education in 2010-11, so it has improved.

In the bilingual education/English as a second language population, less than half of the district's 46 English language learners who graduated in 2011 graduated under the Recommended High School or Distinguished Achievement Programs. The standard was 70 percent.

Only 63 percent of the 65 English language learners in the class of 2011 graduated. The standard was 75 percent, according to the state data.

An English language learner is a student whose primary language is not English and whose English language skills make it difficult for them to perform regular class work in English, according to the TEA website.
"Too many of our bilingual students graduated on the minimum plan," Ms. Tunnell said.

Ms. Tunnell said the district already had an improvement plan in place and added specifics to address these issues.

She said the TEA visitors talked with teachers as well as campus and district administrators during their visit.

"Their job was to help us create more effective systems," she said.

The state also took issue with the number of court-ordered GEDs TISD had last year.

Ms. Tunnell said the state instituted a new category last year for districts to use with students who leave. The district could request the Justice of the Peace in his or her role in the truancy court to order students to get their GED. The district could then document that on the student's record.

TISD started doing that, but had too many students fall into that category, according to state standards, Ms. Tunnell said.

She said the district already encouraged students, especially juniors and seniors who were chronically absent, to get their GED.

However, she said, it likely would carry more weight and provide more motivation for the students if a judge ordered it. She said the district already has changed its process to address the issue.

Ms. Tunnell said TISD is not alone in terms of the TEA monitoring specific areas of the district. And numbers confirm that.

For this school year, 688 of the state's more than 1,200 districts and charter school operators fall into some intervention category under this system.

Ms. Culbertson said the state uses this system to make sure school districts are serving students appropriately and that students are achieving the state-determined performance standards.

Because Robert E. Lee and John Tyler high schools received academically unacceptable ratings in 2011, the state representatives also met with principals and intervention teams at those campuses to make sure they were following through with improvement plans.

Ms. Tunnell said the district does have improvements to make and is working toward those. She said the state should complete a report based on its site visit.

"We still have work to do in creating effective systems, and the main goal is quality first instruction," she said adding that it all begins there. "The stronger our first instruction, the stronger our Response to Intervention, the better support for our special populations."


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