The History of the 8.5% Cap in Texas

Inspired by Governor Gregg Abbot’s statement

I decided to research this topic for myself.

Governor Abbot is referring to the U.S. Department of Education finding that the Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) decision to set a “target” for the maximum percentage of students who should receive special education services had violated federal laws requiring schools to serve all students with disabilities.   This story first broke in 2016 when Brian Rosenthal published a piece for the Houston Chronicle.

I decided to research the earliest references the 8.5% cap in school district and accountability manuals because I believe the dereliction of duty claim was either a claim made out of ignorance of the true source of the problem or as a deflection of blame from some governmental entity towards public schools.

For the record I have worked as a campus and central office administrator for two districts and one charter school and have never been pressured by anyone in those systems or at The Texas Education Agency to reduce our number of students identified as special education. It is also likely however that the TEA’s use of the 8.5% cap as a performance indicator in the Performance Based Monitoring Analysis System (PBMAS) reports did impact the number of students identified as special education.  It is true that districts and charters who did exceed the 8.5% SPED Identification Indicator established by PBMAS did receive lower ratings on their PBMAS Accountability ratings and were subjected to monitoring and intervention for exceeding that 8.5% standard.

What is The Performance Based Monitoring Analysis System or PBMAS?

According to TEA:

“The 2004-2005 school year marked the first year of the new PBMAS. Features of the system included new indicators to evaluate student performance and program effectiveness and the use of performance levels rather than risk levels to report on district and charter performance. These performance levels are one of several evaluation criteria used by the agency to identify districts for further intervention or monitoring. Other evaluation criteria examined by the agency include financial and compliance information, complaints, results of due process hearings, governance issues, and previous monitoring and accountability history”.  (source)

What is the 8.5% Cap

The 8.5% Cap is a performance standard that first appeared in the 2004 PBMAS reports.

Above is a screenshot from the 2004 Dallas ISD PBMAS report.  In 2004 The 8.5% Sped Identification number was “Indicator#1” on the report.

This is a screenshot of a 2005 Dallas ISD PBMAS Report.  In this example you can see that the Texas Education Agency has now added the last column which is titled 2005 Performance Level Indicator. In this example above the district receives a score of “0” because they are below the 8.5% cap.  The 8.5% cap is clearly identified as the standard (which in 2005 is  indicator #13 as opposed to indicator #1 in 2004).

Here is a screenshot of the 8.5% cap SPED Identification Indicator in 2016 PBMAS Reports.  This indicator was removed from 2017 reports.

If you want to look up any other district or PBMAS reports from 2004-2017,  follow this link

What do the Performance Level Indicator Ratings of 0,1,2, ands 3 mean to school districts and charters?

The performance level indicator ratings as defined in the 2005 PBMAS Manual, page 7:

“A performance level is the result that occurs when a standard is applied to a district’s performance on an indicator. The performance levels for each indicator in the 2005 PBMAS are Not Evaluated, 0/0SA, 1/1SA, 2/2SA, or 3/3SA. A performance level of 0 is the highest designation for any indicator, meaning that the district met the standard for the indicator. A performance level of 3 is the lowest designation, indicating that the district performance was farthest from the performance for the 0 – Met Standard designation.”

What happened to districts who did not receive a Performance Level Indicator Rating of “0” which was “met standard” ?

Districts and Charters that failed to meet standard were then evaluated for monitoring intervention and staging beginning in 2009 (source 2009 PBMAS Manual). Staging and intervention ranges from a Level 1 to a  Level 4 (harshest intervention).  Staging and Intervention involves utilizing the Texas Accountability Intervention System.  Depending on the level of staging, charters and districts have to create and provide reports of intervention efforts to the Texas Education Agency.  The higher the level of staging, the more intense the scrutiny and follow-up of those reports.

Required Improvement

Charters and Districts that did not meet the 2005 standards for the Special Education Indicator were expected to improve their performance for the following year.  Improvement meant reducing the percentage of students identified as special education. TEA made the SPED Identification Indicator eligible for Required Improvement starting in 2006.

Source 2006 PBMAS Manual page 16

The SPED Identification Indicator was listed as Indicator #1 in 2004 reports, #13 in 2005 reports, and, #14 in 2006 reports because each year many of the measurement criteria for school districts and charters are modified or moved around in the PBMAS reports.

Required Improvement (RI) is defined as:

This is evidence that TEA expected districts to improve their performance from year to year on PBMAS indicators and that they even provided a mechanism (RI) to reward districts who made significant improvement but did not reach the standard. 

What happened as a result of the 8.5% cap?

Was TEA Aware of problems resulting from the 8.5% cap?

This new note appeared with the SPED Identification Indicator beginning with the 2015 PBMAS Manuals. It indicates to me that they were aware by the 2015 manual publication of problems resulting from the 8.5% cap.

Who is to blame?

The Texas Education Agency? The Texas Legislature? School Districts and Charters?  Other Organizations?

The Texas Education Agencies use of PBMAS, the 8.5% indicator, and the resultant staging and monitoring interventions for failure to reduce the percentage of students identified as special education below 8.5% impacted Local Education Agency (LEA) decision making.  The pressure to meet the PBMAS accountability standards applied by the Legislature, the State, and local communities also impacted LEA Decision making.

However, in search of the root cause, I don’t think the answer will be found by looking at teachers, principals, superintendents, or other campus and district personnel.  Additionally, my uninformed opinion is that the employees at TEA were simply creating rules and regulations based on either Commissioner or legislative guidance and pressure.  The root cause for me, as is my root cause for many of the bad decisions applied to the students and stakeholders of public districts and charters in Texas, would be misguided or malicious efforts to reduce funding for public education in Texas.

Some great reads:

Denied by Brian Rosenthal

Dallas Morning News Article (which also inspired me to write this post)

To access any of the other PBMAS Manuals follow this link

2016 #TXED Accountability System Powerpoint Presentation

Every year Kelly Baehren, the Director of Curriculum and Instruction and Federal Programs for Waller ISD, creates a highly detailed presentation on the accountability system. If you are in the process of preparing a presentation on the 2016 accountability system for your school board, staff, parents or other stakeholders, this Powerpoint is the template you need.

Baehren Imagewaller

Link to 2016 Texas Accountability Powerpoint


Each year, Kelly Baehren (@kellybaehren) of Waller ISD (@wallerisd) creates and shares an explanatory PowerPoint for educators in Texas.

(image credit)

This PowerPoint can be used to explain your soon to be released results to all stakeholders including staff, parents and School Board members.  Kelly has given permission to modify the file for your own use but please credit her for the creation of the document.

There are two options for you to download the File:

Kelly currently serves as the Director of Curriculum and Instruction and the Director of Federal Programs for Waller ISD.  Take a moment to tweet something to Kelly thanking her for all of her hard work again!

Return calendar flexibility to Texas school districts

Currently Texas school districts are not able to start school until the 4th Monday in August.  The legislative guidelines for district calendars have changed many times since 1984.


According to a Dallas Morning News article from January 5, 2015

During a 1984 special session, the Legislature required the first day to occur after Sept. 1. The law was tweaked in 1989 when schools could start on any day during the week in which Sept. 1 fell. But in 1991, the law on a uniform start date was repealed.

In the decade that followed, school districts began setting the first day of class earlier and earlier. Many eventually started the first week of August.

In 2001, schools were required to start class during the week of Aug. 21, but districts found a way around that by asking and receiving state waivers to maintain an early start.

So the travel industry and frustrated parents fought back, pushing for a uniform start date after Labor Day. A state comptroller’s report estimated that an early start date contributed to Texas losing $790 million annually in economic benefits.

In the 2006 special session, lawmakers approved what they called a compromise that amended the start to late August.


In contrast, Texas charter schools are allowed to determine their own school start date.   It allows school systems such as Life Schools of Dallas, where I am employed, to consider a variety of calendar options to best meet the needs of our stakeholders. Texas school districts, and ultimately their governing school boards, should be afforded that same flexibility to create and approve calendars that best meet the needs of their community.

14 questions (and few answers) about SB 276

Today I read a great article from Hudson ISD Superintendent Mary Whiteker about Senate Bill 276 published in the Lufkin Daily News.

(Click here to jump right to the article)

In the piece, Whiteker lists fourteen questions for backers of #sb276 to consider.  I have attempted to answer each one based on my own reading of the bill:

■ Will private schools retain the right to charge tuition above the value of the voucher? (Yes)

■ Will private schools that receive state aid ( vouchers or taxpayer grants) be eligible to request additional funds to provide the necessary services required for the very special high-needs students? (?)

■ Will a private school that receives state aid (vouchers or taxpayer grants) be required to meet the same regulations as public schools? (maybe, but no law passed after 1-1-2015 will apply link)

■ Will a private school that receives state aid (vouchers or taxpayer grants) be required to administer the state-mandated curriculum and student assessments? (not addressed in SB 276, but in HB 1043, any norm referenced test can substitute for STAAR)

■ Will private schools and home schools that receive state aid or taxpayer grants be allowed to teach common core curriculum? (?)

■ Will a private school be subjected to the same accountability standards as public schools? (?)

■ Will a private school retain the right of student refusal based on disability, academic achievement, religious beliefs or discipline? (?)

■ Will a private school, receiving students that are eligible for free and reduced meals, be required to offer meals under this federal program? (?)

■ Will vouchers (taxpayer savings grants) limit the religious instruction (Christian and non-Christian) offered in private schools? (?)

■ Will the state assume the responsibility of managing and monitoring families that receive vouchers or taxpayer grants to home school their children? (?)

■ Will the state offer vouchers/taxpayer savings grants for all students currently enrolled in private schools or home schooled? (After year 1 they would not be eligible according to Sec 42.501 as worded in bill link)

■ Will voucher funds (taxpayer savings grants) be allocated by average daily attendance, requiring private schools/home schoolers to report daily attendance with required hours of instruction to receive the funds for that day of instruction? (?)

■ Will the private school/home schooler have to reimburse the state if the student(s) withdraw from the private school during the year and wish to re-enroll in the public school. (?)

■ Will private schools be required to participate in the PEIMS reporting system? (?)


Consider connecting with me on Twitter (@troymooney) and mention #sb276 if you have any answers to these questions.

SB 276 Taxpayer Savings Grant: Jan 1 2015 provision

Senate Bill 276,filled by Donna Campbell,  which establishes a program of up to 60% reimbursement for private school tuition also contains this provision:

  • A private school selected by a parent for the parent’s child to attend may not be required to comply with any law or rule governing the school’s educational program that was not in effect on Jan 1, 2015

Why do you think the Jan 1 2015 provision was included in the bill text?  (full text of bill)

Connect with me on Twitter and reference #sb276 to offer your insight.

The requirements for nonpublic schools under HB 1043

House Bill 1043 is described as a “voucher” bill in the 84th Texas Legislature.  It involves tax credits to educational assistance organizations that are able to grant scholarships to eligible public and nonpublic schools.

The requirements of eligibility for a non-public school to be a recipient of this form of educational assistance are found in Section 171.153 of the Bill. Those requirements  include that the nonpublic school must allow a student to fulfill the state compulsory attendance requirements, not be in violation of the 1964 Civil Rights act, and have evidence of :

  1. Accreditation or actively be in the process of accreditation from the Texas Education Agency or Texas Private School Accreditation Commission
  2. Annual Administration of a nationally norm-referenced assessment instrument or appropriate instrument required under CH. 39.023 of the Texas Education Code (STAAR)
  3. Valid certificate of occupancy
  4. Policy statements regarding: Admissions, Curriculum, Safety, and Student-teacher ratios

Bill Text

Connect with me via social media and share your comments about HB 1043 of the 84th Texas Legislature.

House Bill 5: Foundation High School Plan Substitution Document

My friend, Kelly Baehren, modified this file originally created by Alief ISD for Texas school districts to keep track of various substitutions allowable for the Foundation High School Program.

Substitutions for FHSP Graduation Requirements – Draft2 Waller ISD

Feel free to share and modify as needed.  Please connect with me via social media if you make any improvements to the file or notice any errors or omissions.

Accountability without Equity is Hilarity

Members of the 84th Texas Legislature who are stressing accountability without equity are being comical at best and disingenuous at worst.

Hold schools accountable, close failing schools, and demand measures of student academic progress.

But don’t also fail to recognize and address the impact of current per pupil funding inequity.

According to Dr. Wayne Pierce of the Equity Center the per pupil funding gap between the richest 100 districts and the poorest 100 districts is equal to $2,641 per weighted average daily attendance (WADA).  This inequity results in approximately 91,000 fewer dollars per typical elementary classroom for the 100 poorest districts (source: 15th Annual School Finance and Legislative Workshop presentation Jan 23, 2015.)

How does anyone think it is acceptable for this to disparity to continue without a planned attempt at mitigation?  Why are the students of one district worth less than those of another, or suddenly worth more when they transfer to a neighboring school system?  This is not a call for more funding but rather a call for at least a move to equitable funding.

In support of stronger accountability, many have suggested schools be required to place A-F letter grades for academic performance on their campus marquees.  Let’s take it a step further and also require schools to place their per pupil revenue numbers on their marquees as well.

Parents deserve to know how well their schools are performing academically, but they equally deserve to know how inequitably they are being funded.

Accountability without equity is hilarity.


List of 84th Texas Legislature bills affecting STAAR Testing

Thanks to twitter user @staartest for spurring the compilation of these STAAR test related bills in the 84th Texas Legislature.

Bills related to number of State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness (STAAR) tests:

  • HB 742 and HB 774 which both eliminate 4/7 writing and 8 Social Studies. HB 742 also eliminates US History End of Course test.
  • HB 959– Would only require testing in subjects for which testing is required by federal law

Bills related to End of Course (EOC) test graduation requirements:

  • SB 149 Establishment of Independent Graduation Committees for students who fail to master all EOCs

Tweet any other bills affecting standardized testing to me (@troymooney) and I will add them to the list