Author’s note:Due to the length and complexity of this article, it will be divided and published as two separate articles.
The Texas Education Agency (TEA) is the regulatory agency which enforces education law as specified in the Texas Education Code (TEC). There are some federal laws, such as adherence to the Title I laws, which they bear the responsibility of overseeing and enforcing as well. The TEA stays in its offices in Austin for the most part, occasionally sending monitors to districts which are of concern, and the districts around the state send their information to the TEA electronically so that the TEA can theoretically make sure that they are all following the TEC. Very rarely does the TEA go to a district to collect or review data on site.
The TEA sent Mike Miles a letter on December 13, 2013 to notify the Dallas ISD that they would be visiting the district from February 10 through 14, 2014. They have cited several areas of concern, such as the large percentage and number of low-performing schools, the special education, CTE, and bilingual programs. We are thrilled that they are taking the time for a personal visit. In an effort to prevent another El Paso debacle, we have enumerated several areas of concern to the Dallas community which we hope the TEA will include in their evaluation of the district.
For those who do not remember what happened in El Paso in 2010, the TEA was called in to investigate testing irregularities and improper handling of vendor contracts. The 2013 audit by the Texas State Auditor, John Keel, concluded that, “The Texas Education Agency (Agency) failed to perform a thorough and effective investigation of serious cheating allegations in the El Paso Independent School District (EPISD)….After the Agency concluded in 2010 that the allegations of cheating could not be substantiated, two independent investigations confirmed that widespread systemic cheating had, in fact, occurred.” After the FBI investigation, there were multiple indictments, convictions, and the superintendent, Lorenzo Garcia (the former deputy superintendent of Dallas ISD) was sentenced to 42 months in federal prison.
The following are some of the issues which are of great concern to the parents, taxpayers and teachers of the Dallas ISD:
Class Size Waivers
Since the arrival of Mike Miles, the district has requested a shockingly high number of class size waivers from the TEA. In 2012, Miles requested 435 waivers, an increase of 676% from the previous year. The reason cited was “Financial Hardship,” despite being able to fund the new Principal Academy program for $5 million that year.
This year, Miles requested 209 class size waivers from the TEA, citing “Teachers/Financial Hardship” as the reason. It is hard to understand how the district could claim that they could not hire enough teachers as a reason for needing class size waivers, as the district had just non-renewed over 400 teachers. It is also hard to understand just what kind of “financial hardship” the district is suffering when they added over $30 million to the reserves, which were already over the TEA recommended amount to have in reserve. View 2012-13 waivers. View 2013-14 waivers.
Many of the class size waiver requests were made for schools which are already on the low-performing list. It seems that these schools in particular should have adequate resources provided to help the school improve, not have resources taken away. Why was even one low-performing school allowed to have excessive class sizes, let alone 9 low-performing schools? These are the grades in which the children are being taught to read, write, and do basic math. They must get a firm foundation in order to succeed in the higher grade levels. If the schools are already struggling, why were they handicapped even further, especially when it appears that the money to hire teachers for these classrooms was available?
We respectfully request that the TEA look into these matters to see whether these requests were truly justifiable.
Part of the function of the PBMAS (Performance Based Monitoring System) is to look at database errors in STAAR participation, discipline and leaver codes. It has been alleged that substitute teachers are filling vacancies, substitute teachers and administrators are being reclassified as teachers, and that the master schedule has teacher identification numbers assigned to classes that are deemed lacking a teacher. It would be wise to ask a few teachers on the side to verify that the master schedule given to the TEA is, in fact, the actual one being used currently. We have all heard of the alleged “shadow master schedule”- one for the reviewers and another one which is the “real” one. It is vitally important that the TEA sort this out.
Some teachers have reported that they have students in their classes (especially immigrant students) who do not appear on the master schedule and never have. As a consequence of not being listed on the master schedule, the school may not be getting the WADA credit for their attendance, but is it possible that their test scores might not show up in the database as well?
PDAS (Professional Development Appraisal System)
Currently, Dallas ISD is still under PDAS when it comes to teacher evaluations. DISD is working on a new teacher evaluation system which will also be used for non-renewal purposes, but this has not been approved as yet. The new system makes use of a number of “spot observations,” (8-10 per year, per teacher) which are 10-15 minutes in duration, maximum. These observations are often carried out by administrators who are not qualified under PDAS to perform teacher evaluations. The district is currently using these spot observations extensively and has gotten around the qualification requirement by stating that these observations by unqualified personnel are being used only to “inform” the PDAS.
As part of PDAS compliance, it would be informative for the TEA to ask a select group of teachers if they have had at least one classroom observation of at least 45 minutes and whether they received a written summary 10 days after the observation; and ask also whether any teacher requested and received a pre- and post-observation conference.
The TEA should check to confirm that all new principals and campus administrators have taken ILT and PDAS training as required by law. If another person on the campus is being used as the PDAS person of record, then that person should put in writing that they have personally observed each teacher being evaluated for at least 45 minutes, as required under PDAS.
Dallas ISD has implemented a massive testing program which violates the spirit of Sec. 39.0262 and may even violate the actual statute. The law states that a school district may not administer locally required assessment instruments designed to prepare students for state-administered assessment instruments to any student on more than 10% of the instructional days in any school year. That is about 18 days, or 1 1/2 weeks in the fall and 1 1/2 weeks in the spring. The district mandates a fall and spring exam called the ACP in the STAAR subjects and in just about every other subject, down to the kindergarten level, and includes testing in subjects such as art, music, and PE.
The district also administers “benchmark tests,” which take away additional instructional time. The district may count only the administered hours of the tests as the time taken, but they do not take into account the entire days of lost instructional time. For example, the total hours for a test may be 6 hours. However, the test may be administered in 3 hour blocks over 2 days. Each day starts with the 3 hour test, then the rest of the classes are either on a reduced time schedule (such as 20 minutes per class instead of 45) or some classes are skipped entirely for that day. Therefore, the actual instructional time lost is more than the one day which a 6 hour test might imply.
Some teachers have reported that up to 6 weeks of instructional time are lost in actuality due to the excessive testing by the district. Other school districts do not lose this amount of class time to testing. Why are the children in DISD being subjected to so many days of testing? Many of the new ACPs this year were designed solely for the purpose of being used in the new teacher evaluation system (TEI) being proposed by the administration.
It is advised that the TEA request information documenting the actual testing schedule followed in DISD to determine accurately the true number of lost instructional days.
The Dallas community respectfully requests that the TEA look in to these matters. Our children are most precious to us, and we know that a good education is essential to their future success as productive citizens. We understand that the DISD has stated over and over again that everything they do is “for the children.” We would like the TEA to reassure our community that the words of DISD are indeed matching their actions, as we have many reasons to doubt the veracity of their claims.
Topics to follow will include: SBDM, PEG, teacher churn, and EOC failure rates. Stay posted.