How Texas keeps kids out of special ed

Roanin Walker was diagnosed with a condition resembling autism as a preschooler but his mother Heidi says he received no help when he entered kindergarten in Humble, Texas.

Texas cut the percentage of disabled students by one third since 2004 by threatening to audit districts that let more than 8.5 percent of students get special-ed services, reports the Houston Chronicle.

The Texas Education Agency saved “billions of dollars but denied vital supports to children with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyslexia, epilepsy, mental illnesses, speech impediments, traumatic brain injuries, even blindness and deafness,” the Chronicle reported.

More than a dozen teachers and administrators from across the state told the Chronicle they have delayed or denied special education to disabled students in order to stay below the 8.5 percent benchmark. They revealed a variety of methods, from putting kids into a cheaper alternative program known as “Section 504” to persuading parents to pull their children out of public school altogether.

Nationwide, 13 percent of students receive special-ed services. Texas, which used to be close to the national average, fell to “exactly 8.5 percent” in 2015.

In a statement, Texas Education Agency officials said the 8.5 percent number is a performance “indicator,” not a cap.

However, special-education limits will be abandoned, officials pledge.

Is AP for average kids? More schools say ‘yes’

Charter and magnet schools dominate the list of most challenging high schools, according to Jay Mathews’ 2016 index.

BASIS Oro Valley, an Arizona charter school, ranks first on the Challenge Index with the highest percentage of students taking the Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and/or Cambridge tests. Other BASIS schools rank second and fourth.

BASIS also has three schools in the top 10 of the U.S. News list of best high schools, which is based on test scores and graduation rates.

Ninth-graders can take AP Chemistry at BASIS Oro Valley in Arizona.

Ninth-graders can take AP Chemistry at BASIS Oro Valley in Arizona.

Mathews designed the Challenge Index to identify “schools that have done the best job in persuading average students to take college-level courses and tests.” That’s why he doesn’t look at passing rates, which reward schools that restrict AP/IB/Cambridge to top students. He created a separate “public elites” index for schools that enroll “a high concentration of top students.”

Charters, which are 7 percent of high schools nationwide, make up one third of the top 100 schools on the list.

Skilled teachers can show show even “habitual slackers” that “struggling with a challenging course is less boring than sitting through a painfully slow remedial course,” Mathews believes.

At IDEA charter schools in Texas, where most students come from low-income Mexican-American families. 99 percent of graduates go on to college.

At IDEA charter schools in Texas, where most students come from low-income Mexican-American families. 99 percent of graduates go on to college.

I’m not sure I agree that all or most students belong in what are supposed to be college-level courses, especially if the “average kid” is now a remedial “slacker?” But some schools are getting students to take and pass high-level courses.

“In some of the poorest parts of Texas,” six schools in the IDEA Public Schools charter network made the top 50 on the Challenge Index, he writes. At 11th-ranked IDEA College Mission, for example, 91 percent of students qualify for a free or subsidized lunch.

Last year they had AP test participation rates twice as high as those of affluent public schools such as McLean and Whitman high schools, or private schools such as National Cathedral and Holton-Arms.

. . . Low-income students who take AP courses “are significantly more likely to graduate from college than students who never take an AP course,” said Michael Franco, the network’s vice president for secondary school programs.

The network has increased pass rates while expanding access, Franco told Mathews. “Last year, 81 percent of our seniors graduated with AP credit.”

Why poor kids don’t try for top colleges


Genesis Morales works on the computer at Bryan Adams High School in Dallas. Photo: Cooper Neill, Texas Tribune

“One Dallas-area high school sent more than 60 students to University of Texas-Austin last year,” report Neena Satija and Matthew Watkins in the Texas Tribune. A few miles away, a high-poverty, high-minority school sent one.

Students who rank in the top 10 percent of their senior class are guaranteed a spot in any state university. (At UT-Austin, a student usually needs to be in the top 7 percent.)

Yet, across the state, many low-income, first-generation students don’t apply to top colleges, write Satija and Watkins. Some fear they don’t belong at elite schools like UT-Austin.

Genesis Morales, a senior who ranks 8th in her class at Bryan Adams High, qualifies for automatic admission to UT-Austin, but didn’t apply.

. . . her parents, who are from Mexico, didn’t graduate high school. Her dad is a landscaper, and her mom is a factory worker. For years, her only impressions of college came from watching television shows.

“It’s people who have money, people who are, like, prodigies and stuff, [who] end up there. For me, I was never surrounded by those people — people who went to college.”

Persuaded to aim higher than community college, Morales set her sights on going to Texas Woman’s University in Denton. She prefers a lower-ranked school. “I feel I’m not going to be as smart. So when it comes to tough schools, I kind of stay away,” she said.

Many top-ranked students at Bryan Adams are applying to UT’s less-selective campuses in the Dallas area, reports the Tribune.

. . . most low-income students of color prefer to stay close to home, said Jane Lincove, an assistant professor at Tulane University who studies college access.

In addition to that, at the branch campuses, “there’s more students who look like them, and there’s more students who went to their high schools,” Lincove said of minority students.

Despite her high grades, Morales’ SAT score is in the 43rd percentile, which is low for UT-Austin students. She believes she’d have trouble completing a degree.

“At the state’s two flagships, UT-Austin and Texas A&M University, 72 percent of Hispanic students graduate within six years, compared with 49 percent at Texas Woman’s,” write Satija and Watkins. Of course, that ignores the apple-orange issue: The flagship schools enroll academically superior Hispanic students compared to Texas Woman’s.

Some believe affirmative action can hurt minority students by getting them into top colleges, where they’ll struggle academically, instead of less-elite colleges, where they’ll be as prepared as their classmates. Mikhail Zinshteyn looks at the debate on “mismatch theory.”

How NAEP scores match Core results

If a fourth-grader scores proficient on a Common Core-aligned test, will she be proficient on a National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) exam? Not necessarily, writes Marianne Lombardo on Education Reform Now.

Except for eighth-grade math in Missouri and Vermont, students were more likely to test proficient on Smarter Balanced exams than on NAEP.

PARCC is better aligned with NAEP. Students were somewhat more likely to test proficient in reading on PARCC, but slightly less likely to reach proficiency in math.

Some blame Common Core for the overall decline in NAEP scores, notes the Hechinger Report. However, NAEP scores also fell in the four non-Core states – Virginia, Nebraska, Alaska and Texas – in most cases.

Fourth-grade reading scores were up in Nebraska. But math scores fell in Texas and in Minnesota, which didn’t adopt the math standards. “On the eighth-grade math test, Pennsylvania saw the biggest drop at six points, but Texas wasn’t far behind with a four-point decrease.”

Texas, Florida do well with disadvantaged kids

Texas and Florida “turn out to be educational powerhouses once you adjust for student demographics,” according to Breaking the Curve, a new Urban Institute report.
How-to-Become-a-Teacher-in-Florida

Matt Chingos compared states’ NAEP scores based on students’ race, ethnicity, poverty levels and the percentage of English Learners.

Adjusted for students’ disadvantages, Massachusetts remains the highest-achieving state, followed by New Jersey. Texas and Florida leap up to the number three and four spots.

“Utah, which is about average based on test scores alone, slides nearly to the bottom when adjusted for demographics,” writes Vox’s Libby Nelson. Other low-scoring states on Chingos’ index are California, which is just above Utah, Hawaii, Alabama and West Virginia.

Accountability worked — for some — in Texas

Texas’ test-based accountability system, introduced in 1993 under Gov. George W. Bush, improved academic performance and earnings (by age 25) for students in schools at risk of a low-performance rating, but hurt students in higher-scoring schools, according to a study reported in Education Next.

. . . pressure on schools to avoid a low performance rating led low-scoring students to score significantly higher on a high-stakes math exam in 10th grade. These students were also more likely to accumulate significantly more math credits and to graduate from high school on time. Later in life, they were more likely to attend and graduate from a four-year college, and they had higher earnings at age 25.

These schools increased math courses for students who’d failed the eighth-grade exam and boosted staffing and instructional time, the analysis found.

However, higher-performing schools seeking a “recognized” rating were likely to more low-scoring students to special education to exempt their scores from lowering the school’s overall rating.  These students were less likely to complete college and earned less at age 25.

“High-stakes testing creates strong incentives to game the system,” conclude the authors.

Texas educates ‘Generation One’

In Texas, one in three children has a parent who’s an immigrant — or they’re immigrants themselves, reports KERA News in Generation One.

Students protest ‘patriotic’ history

In a Denver suburb, a conservative school board member proposed focusing U.S. history courses on citizenship, patriotism and respect for authority. Naturally, students walked out in protest.

Students protest outside of Ralston Valley High School, in Arvada, Colo.  (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

Students protest outside of Ralston Valley High School, in Arvada, Colo. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

Some students waved American flags and carried signs, such as “There is nothing more patriotic than protest.”

Other carried signs supporting teachers. “The youth protest in the state’s second-largest school district follows a sick-out from teachers that shut down two high schools,” reports AP.

The school board proposal — which has not been voted on — would establish a committee to review texts and course plans, starting with Advanced Placement history, to ensure materials “promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free-market system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights” and don’t “encourage or condone civil disorder, social strike or disregard of the law.”

“There are things we may not be proud of as Americans,” board member Julie Williams told Chalkbeat. “But we shouldn’t be encouraging our kids to think that America is a bad place.”

“In South Carolina, conservatives have called on an education oversight committee to ask the College Board, which oversees Advanced Placement courses, to rewrite their framework to make sure there is no ideological bias,” notes AP.

“Politics, propaganda and faith” have distorted history in textbooks written to meet Texas’ standards, historians complain.

Free college — but will they graduate?

Tennessee, Oregon — and possibly Texas — are offering two free years at a community or technical college to high school graduates. But “Promise” programs are struggling to get unprepared students to complete college credentials.

$10K degree isn’t impossible after all

When Texas Gov. Rick Perry challenged public universities to craft four-year degrees costing no more than $10,000, many said it was impossible. Three years later, 12 Texas universities have announced $10,000 bachelor’s degrees and the idea has spread to Florida, Oklahoma and Oregon.