Two Galveston County school districts are in need of state intervention for their special education services, according to the recently released 2015-16 Texas Academic Report.
Galveston ISD and Texas City ISD both received the second-most severe rating from the Texas Education Agency for their low passing rates on State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness tests for students in special education services.
Texas school districts are rated as “meets requirements,” “needs assistance,” “needs intervention” or “needs substantial intervention.”
Hitchcock is the only other Galveston County school district to have issues with its special education services, receiving a designation of needing assistance.
The ratings come as school districts across Texas face criticism for their handling of special education services. That criticism stems from what some critics assert is an arbitrary cap instituted by the Texas Education Agency that limits the percentage of student population that can receive special education services at 8.5 percent.
Various school districts across the state have been accused of deliberately excluding students from receiving special education services as a means to reduce costs and meet the 8.5 percent target.
Criticism culminated with the U.S. Department of Education telling Texas officials to remove the target or show the policy has not prevented students from receiving special education services.
“TEA strongly disagrees … educators have been engaging in concerted, widespread efforts to deny eligible students with disabilities with needed special education services,” Texas Education Agency officials said in their response. Agency officials went on to say that while the percentage indicator was a guideline and not a cap, it would review the policy.
For its part, district officials have echoed the state line.
“The needs of the students drive our programming and placement, not some arbitrary number,” said Melissa Knop, director of special education for the Galveston district, in a previous interview with The Daily News.
“GISD has increased the variety and types of programming offered to students to better meet their needs. We continue to support and promote increased training and specialization for staff, including certification as an autism specialist, to provide support for students and general education staff.”
The 2015 TEA snapshot for Galveston ISD placed the percentage of students receiving special education services at 7.1 percent.
According to the 2015-16 report on Galveston ISD, the district received scores of “3” on STAAR end-of-course exams in mathematics and science and a “4” in English language arts for students in special education services.
Only 15.7 percent of Galveston ISD’s students in special education services passed the English language arts section of the STAAR test in 2016.
Texas City ISD received the same scores in the same areas.
Any score of a “3” or higher requires districts to come up with an intervention plan.
Galveston ISD received scores of “3” across the board for the passing rate of its STAAR testing between third grade to eighth grade. Texas City ISD received scores of “2” in all but social studies, for which it received a “3.”
In addition to the improvement plan, districts are required to assign an intervention team, designate a coordinator for the project and get the improvement plan approved by the board of trustees, along with several other requirements.
Texas City officials have hired two specialists to assist classroom teachers with writing and tracking student progress.
“This provides our students with more access to the general curriculum so they are more successful on the STAAR tests,” said Melissa Tortorici, spokeswoman for the district. “These special education students take the exact same test (some with accommodations) as non-special education students.”
Texas City officials criticized the dependence on STAAR scores for evaluating special education services.
Hitchcock ISD received a “3” in its social studies end-of-course examination and “3s” in mathematics, reading, science and writing in third through eighth grade.
Some educators have blamed the lack of funding as a reason for the growing problem with special education services in Texas school districts.
“Special education in Texas has never been fully funded, but through local funds our students are receiving the support and materials that they need,” said Susan Bowles, director of special education services at Hitchcock ISD.
If money for education has hampered county districts from improving special education services, that amount of money could soon decrease even more.
The 85th session of the Texas Legislature began Tuesday.
For the next 140 days, and more if a special session is called, legislators will debate new laws and work to pass a budget that will fund state programs for the next two years.
That budget is expected to be tight.
Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar released a revenue estimate Monday that was significantly lower than the one legislators got two years ago.
The state will have $104.87 billion in general funds to allocate this session, Hegar announced. In 2015, the state had $113 billion to spend.
State Rep. Wayne Faircloth, of Galveston, said it was unclear to him whether lower revenue would mean cuts to specific state programs or a general shortfall all around.
“We’ll have less money to work with than the previous session,” Faircloth said. “I’ve not heard anyone dare discuss cuts.”
Knop did not respond to requests for comment by deadline Tuesday afternoon.