Austin ISD completes all special education evaluations that were overdue from the last school year
Austin ISD has completed all 1,159 special education evaluations that were overdue from the 2022-2023 school year, state-appointed monitors said. The completion is an important milestone in the district's effort to improve services for students with disabilities.
“I’m so happy to report that the backlog of evaluations has been cleared," Lesa Shocklee said. "And the compensatory services for those delayed evaluations and eligibility determinations — all of the compensatory services — have been discussed and determined."
Shocklee is one of two people Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath selected last year to make sure Austin ISD is making state-mandated changes to its special education department.
Morath appointed the monitors after a Texas Education Agency investigation found the district repeatedly failed to conduct special education evaluations within the required timeframe of 45 school days, leaving some families waiting months for assessments. The TEA also said Austin ISD was not providing services that students with disabilities were legally entitled to.
A state order the Austin ISD school board agreed to last September required the district to complete all the evaluations it had gotten parental consent for last school year by Jan. 31. Shocklee said meeting this requirement was a major achievement.
“That is a huge accomplishment and you should all be very proud of that hard work that was poured into that,” she told the board Thursday.
“While the district has made great progress, our work is not done. So, we have to continue the momentum with focusing on those evaluations and continued compliance.”Lesa Shocklee, state-appointed monitor
But while Austin ISD has cleared last year’s backlog, that does not mean there are no overdue evaluations. The district reported last month that it had reduced the number of past due evaluations by nearly 83% from January to December 2023.
Special Education Department staff have also said that while 52% of new evaluations were completed within 45 school days in January 2023, 99% were completed on time in December. The percentage is not as high for reevaluations, which must be conducted periodically for students with disabilities. Sixty-six percent of reevaluations were completed within the required timeframe in December.
“While the district has made great progress, our work is not done,” Shocklee said. “So, we have to continue the momentum with focusing on those evaluations and continued compliance.”
To comply with the TEA order, Austin ISD must have no overdue initial evaluations or reevaluations by December 2025.
The state order also requires the district to create a parent advisory group made up of at least 15 people. The names of the members of the new Special Education Family Advisory Committee must be posted online by Thursday. The group’s first meeting is scheduled for Feb. 21.
Sherry Marsh, the other TEA-appointed monitor, praised the way district staff put the group together.
“They wanted to ensure that the 15 parents on that advisory committee [were] representative of the entire district,” she said.
Marsh said the district has met other requirements in the order to ensure staff receive training to improve how they support students with disabilities. She added that a state-mandated third party audit is underway and it must be finished by April 30.
“We just want to see all that work, all that capacity building that you’re hearing, trickle down to the campus so you can see it and feel it in the classrooms,” she said.
Austin ISD Superintendent Matias Segura has said the district will need to continue to dedicate resources to improving special education services, especially as it works on a new budget.