Falling through the cracks: Hays CISD struggles to support bilingual, special ed students

Concerns are rising within Hays CISD after results from a Texas Education Association (TEA) audit showed the district is dropping the ball when it comes to supporting and instructing bilingual and special education (SPED) students.      

Hays CISD District 4 Trustee Merideth Keller said district administrators must change their approach to academic management or the district will likely become the Texas Legislature’s “poster child” for charter school vouchers.

Hays CISD is in its third year of an academic management audit by the TEA due to low performance rates. The 2015-16 Texas Academic Performance report revealed that monolingual Hays CISD students scored below the state average on standardized state tests in every academic subject. Students receiving English language learning (ELL) services and SPED scored even lower.

In most subjects, students receiving bilingual and special education are performing at half the rate of their monolingual counterparts.

“While all our scores are so low in every subject, you even see a bigger dip when it comes to bilingual education and our special ed students … That achievement gap keeps growing and growing and growing. So yes, it is time to stop and do something and focus to make sure that that gap doesn’t grow so large that we can never close it.”
 Esperanza Orosco, District 5 Trustee 

The Performance Based Monitoring Analysis System (PBMAS) is an accountability system that monitors the programs receiving federal title funds. Those include special education, bilingual/ELL services, and career and technology education. The annual PBMAS report stages each program’s success on a scale of 0 to 4, with zero being the best score.

According to the 2015-2016 PBMAS report, Hays CISD’s special education program is in stage two and the bilingual and technical education programs are in stage four. Keller said the results were the worst performance levels she has ever seen in her seven years as a board trustee.

“I’m really concerned with all of our numbers, but, again, especially with those of our students that are the most vulnerable,” said District 1 Trustee Teresa Tobias. “They’re falling through the cracks and this is our proof right here. We really need to do some reevaluation across the board.”

As a consequence of the staging, Hays CISD must undergo a TEA audit and produce a comprehensive targeted improvement plan aimed at improving performance rates. TEA representatives will visit the district next week to discuss the plan with administrators.

Although the audit could end after the visit, it’s possible that it could be extended to include classroom observation, review of student work and even district finance reports.

“My philosophy is that the only way you can make improvements from where you are to where you want to go is to acknowledge where you are, and we spent an awful lot of time on an awful lot of things that don’t have anything to do with the education of kids,” Keller said.

She added that she wants to be “laser focused on the things that matter to student achievement.”

“We have got to get back on target,” Keller said.

Keller told district administrators to take the needs of teachers into greater consideration during the next budget season. The other trustees echoed the same sentiment.

Keller said Hays students will continue to suffer if district leaders don’t start proactively listening to what teachers feel they need to better do their jobs, and answering those concerns with tangible solutions.

As an example of what she sees as the district’s shortcomings, Keller said that in one of the only formal surveys sent out by district leaders, special education and bilingual education teachers expressed a desire and need for instructional coaching.

However, they were given consultation services instead.

“We’ve talked a lot up here as a body corporate about going to the people who know – and those are the teachers in the classroom – to tell you what they need and what they’re lacking because they want to do a good job,” Keller said. “We have to start listening because what we’ve done the last three years is not working.”

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