An independent review of HISD’s Special Education Department commends the district’s existing practices to serve the needs of the 16,000-plus special education students within HISD, and suggests several areas where it can focus its efforts to further improve the program.
The report, prepared by Dr. Tom Hehir of the School Leadership Program at Harvard University, outlines several recommendations for the district.
Hehir will present his findings and recommendations to HISD Board members, principals, and district staff later this week. Parents and community members are also invited to hear more about the report at a public meeting with Hehir on Friday, March 4 from 3-4 p.m. at the Hattie Mae White Administration Building, 4400 W. 18th.
HISD asked Hehir in October 2010 to conduct an evaluation of its programs. After meeting with staff, parents and students and collecting and analyzing data for several months, Hehir’s report concludes that while “there are many aspects of the special education program in HISD that are commendable” there are also areas where the district “can focus its efforts on improving the program.”
Areas of strength mentioned in the report include:
- The HISD Special Education leadership team is an asset to students with disabilities
- Students with disabilities predominantly attend their home schools
- Schools are satisfied with the level of district-school communication
- There are many examples of quality instruction for students with disabilities taking place in Houston’s public schools
Since the beginning of the school year, HISD’s Special Education Department has taken numerous steps to improve the quality, consistency, and timeliness of the services it provides. Under the guidance of Sowmya Kumar, the assistant superintendent of Special Education Services, the department has implemented a comprehensive “Program Improvement Plan” to ensure that all special education employees have a clear understanding of the department’s responsibilities, expectations, and goals.
As part of the improvement plan, the department was reorganized in an effort to provide more consistent and timely services to students and is using data more effectively to distribute the work and case load among its staff.
In addition to recognizing the improvements the district’s Special Education Department has already made, the outside review outlined some areas where further work is needed, particularly when it comes to identifying special needs students.
The report found that African American students at HISD are dramatically over-represented particularly in the categories of mental retardation and emotional disturbance. Hispanic students, however, are under-represented in special education categories. The report also noted that students with dyslexia appear to be under-identified as needing special education services.
Areas for improvement outlined in the report include:
- Increasing the number of students who spend most of their day in a mainstreamed setting
- Offering parents of students with disabilities more access to the district’s system of school choice
- Offering students with disabilities increased access to technology
- Improving the communication between school and district staff members regarding special education paperwork
“I am pleased with the findings in the report and the recommendations it provides,” said Kumar. “The report will guide our work to create a culture of high expectations, to improve the quality of instruction, and to produce better outcomes for students with disabilities. I believe we are well-positioned to forge ahead. My leadership team and I will develop an action plan and next steps within the next couple of weeks to address the recommendations.”
Hehir and his associates offer several recommendations in their final report including:
- The development of outcome-based school monitoring systems for students with disabilities
- Holding principals accountable for issues identified in the report
- Develop effective models of special education service delivery that emphasize effective universal design principle
- Develop specialized inclusive schools for students with significant disabilities
- Develop polices, procedures and practices for effective services for students with dyslexia
- Develop and distribute a comprehensive easily accessible manual of special education policies and procedures
The report can be viewed online at www.houstonisd.org.