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TCSA's Comments on Performance-Based Monitoring Analysis System

June 22, 2016

The Texas Charter Schools Association submitted the following comments to Commissioner Morath at the Texas Education Agency on Monday, June 20, 2016. The comments pertain to 19 TAC Chapter 97, Planning and Accountability, Subchapter AA, Accountability and Performance Monitoring, §97.1005, Performance-Based Monitoring Analysis System.

The Texas Charter Schools Association (TCSA) is the statewide membership organization for effective charter schools of all types, proudly representing nearly 228,000 students in more than 628 open-enrollment charter school campuses. We appreciate the opportunity to provide comment in response to the proposed rules for 19 TAC Chapter 97, Planning and Accountability, Subchapter AA, Accountability and Performance Monitoring, §97.1005, Performance-Based Monitoring Analysis System (PBMAS).

TCSA appreciates the Agency’s responsibility to the general public and to the federal government to monitor the performance of students in special populations. Our comments are aimed at helping the Agency demonstrate the efficacy of charter schooling in support of these students and their educational outcomes. Above all, our concern is for TEA’s measure of student success to match the mission of the school. Foremost, we recommend that PBMAS offer greater flexibility for school districts and charter schools that are under the Alternative Education Accountability System.

Special Education Indicator 10
In the proposed 2016 PBMAS Manual, Special Education (SPED) Indicator 10 measures the percent of enrolled students who receive special education services at each district or open-enrollment charter school in Texas. Though the specific indicator number has changed over the years, TEA first introduced this indicator in 2004 and set a cut score of 8.5 percent. Setting such a low performance standard is concerning for three reasons:

First, all schools have a federal responsibility to evaluate and identify all students suspected of having a disability. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and its implementing regulations, do not set a ceiling or floor to the number of students a school can refer to or identify for special education services. Federal regulations specifically require each state to adopt policies and procedures to ensure that “All children with disabilities residing in the State…who are in need of special education and related services, are identified, located, and evaluated.” By setting a performance standard of 8.5 percent, and requiring improvement if a school has a higher cut score, SPED Indicator 10 suggests to schools that they are not allowed to have more than 8.5 percent of students identified as a student with a disability, even though they may believe more students should be receiving services. SPED Indicator 10 is at odds with the federal Child Find mandate from the IDEA and should be changed.

The second concern with SPED Indicator 10 relates specifically to open-enrollment for public charter schools. When TEA approves an open-enrollment charter schools, this means charter schools must accept any student who submits a timely application and is selected through a lottery. Charter schools cannot, and should not, turn away a student simply because the student is already identified as a student with a disability. By accepting all students who were identified by previous school districts, open-enrollment charter schools may have higher than average special education representation. This is especially true for charter schools whose mission is to serve students at-risk or with high needs, which attract families with children with disabilities. Additionally, charter schools have geographic boundaries that often overlap more than one school district, which increases the total percentage of students that may already be identified as a student with a disability. SPED Indicator 10 unfairly penalizes open-enrollment charter schools for serving all students.

Finally, SPED Indicator 10 directly impacts the renewal or closure of charter schools. Charter schools’ Performance Framework report card uses PBMAS scores for Special Population Program Requirements, BE/ESL Program Requirements, and CTE Program Requirements. If a school receives lower performance level scores on the Special Education PBMAS indicators, these may be reported on the Charter School Performance Framework as not meeting the performance standard. This is particularly troubling for charter schools with a larger than average special education student population who are meeting the unique needs of these students. By attracting families with at-risk students and students with disabilities, a charter school is putting themselves at risk of receiving a low performance level on SPED Indicator 10 and impacting the school’s SPED performance standard on the Charter School Performance Framework, which could result in non-renewal or closure. This is especially true for charter schools serving highly mobile students, such as a drop-out recovery program.

In order to ensure that all schools are able to identify, evaluate, and serve students with disabilities, while also collecting data to ensure schools are not ‘over-identifying’ students, we ask that TEA change SPED Indicator 10 to a Report Only Indicator and remove the cut points. By changing SPED Indicator 10 to a Report Only Indicator, it will allow charters to continue accepting all students without fear of negative accountability scores, meet state and Federal identification requirements, and meet the needs of all students. It also allows TEA to maintain data and monitor identification rates in charter schools.

STAAR Assessment
We appreciate TEA’s willingness to adapt the proposed 2016 Accountability Manual to address the various issues raised during the administration of the 2016 STAAR assessment, as well as acknowledging the continued phase in process of the STAAR assessment. However, the 2016 PBMAS Manual does not take into account the same considerations. Currently, the 2016 PBMAS STAAR and EOC assessment indicators set a higher cut score than the 2016 Accountability Manual. Charter schools will meet the 2016 Accountability Standards with a score of 60 percent or higher, but the PBMAS indicators penalize schools that receive anything less than 65 percent on the Math, Science, Social Studies, Reading, and Writing assessments. The lower PBMAS performance scores will negatively impact a charter school’s accreditation, even though the school will meet the accountability requirements. Such inconsistency is confusing to both school operators and the public. TCSA encourages TEA to change the PBMAS STAAR and EOC indicators to match the same phase in requirements as seen in the 2016 Accountability Manual. Additionally, TCSA asks TEA to consider the 2016 STAAR assessment administration issues and exclude affected assessments in calculating the PBMAS scores, similar to the 2016 Accountability Manual.

Alternative Education
The proposed 2016 PBMAS Manual does not address unique alternative education campuses. The PBMAS Manual does not treat alternative education campuses (AEC) differently from non-AEC’s. By treating AECs the same as non-AECs, AEC’s are held to a higher standard for PBMAS than seen on the Alternative Education Accountability (AEA) system. TCSA asks TEA to provide more flexibility to AECs by creating a distinction between standard accountability and alternative accountability in the PBMAS, as seen with the AEA.

In closing, thank you for your careful consideration of these suggestions concerning the Performance Based Monitoring Analysis System. We look forward to working with you to make the PBMAS an even stronger tool for measuring the performance of students in special populations.

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