By Israel Saenz (Contact)
Sunday, September 9, 2007 / Caller Times
CORPUS CHRISTI — As Moody High School instructor Michelle Donahue gave stern graphing instructions using a classroom overhead during the first week of school, Laura Estrada knelt by the desk of one student, troubleshooting his difficulties understanding the lesson.
The math students weren't seeing double -- they had two teachers. It's an image that will be much more common this year in CCISD schools.
Starting this academic year, administrators answered the district's failure to meet federal progress standards with several strategies to decrease the number of students taking alternate standardized tests.
One of those is the co-teaching model, now conducted at 38 of the district's 62 schools. The model will involve a regular instructor and a co-teacher who will supplement math or reading lessons by helping students one-on-one during the class.
At Moody, the only Corpus Christi Independent School District high school to meet federal standards this year, Estrada said the co-teaching model will help keep more students learning at their grade level and keep some from being classified as special-education students. The school missed federal standards for the 2005-06 academic year.
Along with cutting down the student-instructor ratio in the classroom, the co-teaching model is meant for one instructor to act as an in-class tutor, so children leave the class understanding the lesson and avoid falling behind.
"We work off each other," Estrada said. "We both work with students, monitor them and assess them."
The district missed federal Adequate Yearly Progress standards, which rate schools based on students' performance on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, for the second consecutive year based on reading scores at the special-education level. The district's emphasis will be on how it tests the approximately 4,380 special-education students, Superintendent Scott Elliff reported to district school board members last month.
The district's TAKS scores are rated at the federal level with the annual Adequate Yearly Progress report and at the state level when the Texas Education Agency releases preliminary TAKS scores. The state rated the district academically acceptable when test scores were released early last month, exposing a rift in how the two levels of accountability measure success.
Special-education students make up about 11 percent of the district's nearly 39,000 students this year -- but the district's goal is to not exceed the 3 percent federal cap of students taking alternative assessment exams. Federal guidelines classify students beyond that 3 percent mark as failures.
Last year 1,900 of the district's students -- 5 percent of the district's population last spring -- took the State Developed Alternative Assessment II instead of the TAKS.
The district's second consecutive failure to meet federal standards puts it under the first stage of sanctions that require implementation of a districtwide strategy to improve performance in failing areas. The co-teaching model, along with progress exams for all students in October, January and March, are part of the strategy.
The co-teaching model was introduced during the 2004-05 academic year with only a handful of volunteer campuses taking part, said Special Education Director Jacquelene Turner. Turner said 16 campuses took part in the 2006-07 academic year.
Turner said that to date, 255 district instructors have been trained in the co-teaching model. It has not involved hiring extra personnel, Elliff said.
In addition to the co-teaching model, Elliff said district schools will be required to conduct benchmark testing to check students' progress throughout the year.
"In the new world of high-stakes testing, it's a challenge for teachers to know the strengths of all students," Elliff said. "But the truth is it really gets down to teachers having support on campus."
Twelve percent, or 149, of the state's school districts did not meet federal standards this year.
"We see quite a few schools and districts that missed AYP because of special-education students," said Suzanne Marchman, Texas Education Agency spokeswoman. "At this point, the state is at the mercy of federal rules."
Federal progress standards are set under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.
Special-education students -- usually first classified as such in middle and elementary school levels -- can be students with disabilities ranging from dyslexia, speech and hearing problems to severe mental disorders. They are individually reviewed each year to assess whether they must remain in that classification.
Special-education students are not required to take alternative tests, but Elliff said the district has started to review schools' procedures for identifying students as special-education students.
"We are carefully analyzing how many campuses are being referred for special education and what steps are done before students are referred," Elliff said.
The Corpus Christi Independent School District missed federal progress test standards because of the number of special-education students who took alternative tests or failed tests. Preliminary numbers of special-education high school students in the district, as of Aug. 27
Carroll High School
King High School
Moody High School
Miller High School
Ray High School
Source: Corpus Christi Independent School District