Report shows HISD has taken steps to improve special education program

 The American Institutes for Research (AIR) released a comprehensive new report that finds HISD has already taken specific action that will enable the district to improve outcomes for students with disabilities and implement the report’s recommendations more effectively.

The report, Special Education Program Review, was commissioned by the Houston Independent School District. The HISD Board of Education contracted AIR to assess the district’s strengths and areas in need of improvement with respect to its special education program. The results of the review were presented at the March HISD Board of Education meeting by experts from AIR.

“We are fortunate to have a Board of Education that is committed to ensuring our students with special needs have access to the services they need to be successful,” said HISD’s Chief Academic Officer Dr. Grenita Lathan. “AIR’s report is confirmation that the work we’ve done to overhaul the Special Education department over the last year has us on the right track. We know we still have some areas where we could serve our students better, and we’re committed to making that improvement for them and their families.”

The review was conducted by AIR after being commissioned by Superintendent Richard Carranza in December 2016. The third-party, independent behavioral and social science research and evaluation organization executed the review over a 10-month period between May 2017 and February 2018. It identifies recommendations for HISD to consider as it continues its efforts to improve services for students with disabilities in the district. The report follows a similar review conducted during the 2010-2011 school year by Thomas Hehir and Associates.

“Throughout the review, we noted several areas where HISD has already begun the improvement process and has built a strong foundation on which to increase opportunities and outcomes for students with disabilities,” said Allison Gandhi, Managing Researcher for American Institutes for Research and the study’s lead author. “Our report recommends comprehensive, systemic change throughout the district. Making these types of changes is hard work and will take time and resources. It will also require stakeholder buy-in, professional development for teachers, and ongoing monitoring to ensure the recommendations are fully implemented and the improvements can be sustained in the future.”

Areas of strength include:

  • Proactive approach to addressing stakeholder concerns regarding HISD special education
  • Dedicated and knowledgeable staff ready to support program improvement
  • Initial implementation of districtwide Intervention Assistance Team (IAT) process
  • Increase in professional development opportunities to support principals and teachers in supporting students with disabilities.

“The report is thorough. It gives us deep insight as to where we need to target our work,” said Dr. Joan Anderson, Assistant Superintendent of Special Education Services. “It also gives us very specific recommendations on which we can build a strategic plan to address the recommendations brought forth.”

Five major recommendations geared toward addressing the findings outlined in the report and improving outcomes of struggling students and students with disabilities at HISD are outlined in the report. They are grounded in the findings of the review and are based on best practices supported by research that are being implemented successfully in similar school districts nationwide. The recommendations are aligned with conversations and initiatives that have begun already in HISD and are as follows:

  • All schools should provide proactive, preventative services for struggling students through implementation of a schoolwide, tiered system of support.
  • Simplify and clarify special education procedures for referral, identification, and eligibility determination to ensure meaningful family engagement and data-driven decision making about how to meet the needs of students with disabilities.
  • Ensure students with disabilities have access to high-quality core instruction and specialized instruction and interventions, in accordance with state and federal laws.
  • Develop a comprehensive professional learning framework for ensuring sustained improvement in educator effectiveness to support students with disabilities.
  • Appropriately empower the special education district office to have greater oversight of the special education budget, staff, placement, and resources to ensure efficient and equitable distribution of special education services.

Appropriately empower the special education district office to have greater oversight of the special education budget, staff, placement, and resources to ensure efficient and equitable distribution of special education services.