House Public Education Subcommittee on Educator Quality Testimony on Educator Preparation Programs Interim Charge

Public Policy Input — 2018

TCDD letterhead May 2017


House Public Education Subcommittee on Educator Quality Testimony on Educator Preparation Programs Interim Charge
June 7, 2018

Hello, my name is Ashley Ford and I am a Public Policy and Communications Specialist with the Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities (TCDD). TCDD is established by state and federal law and is governed by 27 Governor-appointed board members, 60 percent of whom are individuals with developmental disabilities (DD) or family members of individuals with DD. The Council’s purpose in law is to encourage policy change so that people with disabilities have opportunities to be fully included in their communities and exercise control over their own lives.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide testimony. TCDD appreciates the Speaker’s initiative on directing the committee to examine this topic and is interested in helping support future efforts to address this very important issue for Texans with DD and their families. TCDD supports the position that individualized appropriate instruction and related services that enable the student with disabilities to benefit from education must be provided by highly qualified teachers and service providers who understand their shared responsibility for student success.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) address the rights of students with disabilities in school and other educational settings. As widely reported, the U.S. Department of Education has recently found that Texas violated IDEA by failing to ensure students with disabilities were properly evaluated and provided with an adequate free and appropriate public education. English language learners (ELLs) were reportedly disproportionately impacted by this violation.1 The Texas Education Agency (TEA) must now notify all parents that their child may need to be evaluated or reevaluated if they are suspected to qualify for services under IDEA or Section 504. In 2016, Texas’ special education identification rate was 8.6 percent (453,955 students) – the lowest special education enrollment rate in the United States.2 The national average is 12.9 percent.3 If TEA effectively implements the corrective action plan required by the U.S. Department of Education, special education identification rates in Texas should increase among current and future students and be comparable to the national average. However, the availability of special education teachers to serve the anticipated surge in students is expected to be inadequate. One reason for this is the poor rate of retention among special education teachers. Between the 2011-12 and 2015-16 school years, teachers with special education certification left Texas public schools at nearly twice the rate of teachers with other teaching certifications.4

Since 1990, only two teacher shortage areas have been consistently designated every school year in Texas: bilingual or English as a second language (ESL) and special education.5 As two of the fastest growing subgroups of students served in Texas public schools, Texas must examine the current state of services needed by students who are in both subgroups. A major barrier for teachers, schools, and districts is determining whether an ELL is experiencing academic difficulties in school due to issues primarily related to language acquisition, or to disability. As a result, ELLs can be misidentified or under-identified in qualifying for special education services. A lack of adequate training in second language acquisition, cultural sensitivity, ESL instruction and bilingual education, and pre-referral interventions in both special and general education contribute to the prevalence of this issue.6 During the 2017-18 school year, 17.6 percent of all identified ELLs in Texas’ public schools received special education services. 31.8 percent received bilingual services and 57.4 percent received ESL services. Unfortunately, almost 11 percent of ELLs receiving special education services were not provided any services through an ELL program. Reasons for this are unknown; however, language acquisition is a critical component of ensuring that all students with disabilities in Texas achieve their potential for independence, productivity, and full integration into the community.

Current bilingual/ESL certification requirements are deemed overly stringent by many individuals who are interested in obtaining that certification. To help improve the availability of bilingual/ESL educators, these requirements should be examined to see if any could be adjusted to meet the specific needs of existing primary and secondary classroom educators. In addition, a separate and focused ESL certification could be developed specifically for special education teachers.

Some school districts, especially those with a rapidly growing Hispanic student population, now require all teachers to obtain ESL certification and/or training. For instance, Klein ISD began requiring ESL certification for English teachers and new teachers and special training for other core content teachers in 2012. The legislature should examine whether the performance of these districts is improved among ELL students and if so, consider requiring and/or incentivizing all Texas school districts to implement new certification guidelines. State funding to offset the costs of acquiring ESL certification should be provided and widely available to teachers, with priority given to teachers serving a large population of ELL students. The Austin school district is one of the few school districts in the nation with a significant staff of Spanish-speaking teachers certified to teach students with disabilities. It offers a tuition reimbursement/payment incentive program to encourage district teachers to obtain a bilingual and/or ESL certification.

Texas Woman’s University began offering a new “triple crown” teacher certification program in the fall of 2017 to prepare new teachers to meet the needs of all students in the classroom. The degree program offers teacher candidates the potential to graduate with core subjects, special education, and ESL certification. It is believed to be the first of its kind in the state. Additional universities should consider offering such a program that encourages systemic inclusion and benefits future graduates and their employers. Degree programs with a singular focus often fail to prepare teachers for the diverse classrooms of today. First-year teachers frequently work with the full range of students in inclusive settings. When teachers are inadequately prepared to work with a mix of all types of students, teacher retention rates and educator quality suffer.

Federal law requires all students to be evaluated for and provided special education services in their native tongue until competency in English is demonstrated. There is a lack of resources and materials for assessment and interventions in second languages other than Spanish. While almost 90 percent of ELL students in Texas are Hispanic, the state should recognize that resources and materials for assessments are needed in foreign languages other than just Spanish.7 Lack of appropriate and technically sound cognitive and academic assessments in languages other than English is a significant barrier to appropriate identification in students with disabilities. Special education teachers are also unable to provide services in many students’ native tongue. Texas must ensure that it complies with federal law and school districts should be provided assistance in developing appropriate evaluations for all students in their native tongue. The Education Service Center (ESC) Region 13 Multicultural and Diverse Learners program assists Local Education Agencies (LEAs) so that they can meet the educational needs of culturally and linguistically diverse students. Its focus is to provide districts and campuses with technical assistance and professional development in closing the achievement gap between student population groups, increasing cultural awareness, and reducing disproportionate representation in special education. The legislature should consider increasing the allocation of resources provided to the Multicultural and Diverse Learners program. Ways to expand its accessibility and availability to other ESC regions should be examined, particularly in highly-diverse areas. Another option, particularly for rural districts, could be to explore the creation of a tele-assessment system for evaluations in school districts without personnel competent in a student’s native tongue.


  • Create incentives for bilingual/ESL special education teachers to obtain and maintain certification in inclusive general education and self-contained special education settings.
  • Develop a separate and focused bilingual/ESL certification program option specifically for the purpose of teaching special education.
  • Expand availability of dual and/or triple certification programs that include special education and bilingual/ESL to prepare teachers for an inclusive classroom.
  • Facilitate and/or require all teachers to be trained to some extent in ESL strategies and language acquisition. Further, policies should be in place that require any teacher who serves at least one ELL to be trained in the appropriate bilingual/ESL or education strategies necessary in order to meet the language development as well as academic needs of the students.
  • Require that LEAs submit special education program plans that detail their process for the referral, identification, assessment, and provision of services to ELLs with disabilities. These plans should include available personnel qualified to conduct each aspect of the process and the LEA’s strategies for recruiting additional qualified personnel if local workforce supply is inadequate.
  • Increase the allocation of resources provided to the Multicultural and Diverse Learners program housed in the ESC in Region 13. Examine ways to expand the accessibility and availability of the program to other ESC regions.
  • Explore the creation of a tele-assessment system for evaluations in school districts without personnel competent in a student’s native tongue.

Please feel free to contact TCDD for additional information or if we can be of additional service.



Ashley Ford
Public Policy and Communications Specialist
Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities


1. Rosenthal, B. M. (2016). Denied: Texas schools shut out English Language Learners. Houston Chronicle.

2. U.S. Department of Education. (2017). Texas Part B 2017 Monitoring Visit Letter.

3. U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, Annual Report to Congress on the Implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, selected years, 1992 through 2006, and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) database, retrieved October 29, 2015, from National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data (CCD), “State Nonfiscal Survey of Public Elementary/Secondary Education,” 2013-14. (This table was prepared December 2015.)

4. Sullivan, K., Barkowski, E., Lindsay, J., Lazarev, V., Nguyen, T., Newman, D., & Lin, L. (2017). Trends in teacher mobility in Texas and associations with teacher, student, and school characteristics (REL 2018–283). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Southwest.

5. U.S. Department of Education, Office of Postsecondary Education. (2016). Teacher Shortage Areas Nationwide Listing, 1990-1991 through 2015-2016.

6. Salem, L. (2016). English Language Learners and Special Education: One District’s Journey Through the Collaborative Problem Solving Process. Educational Administration: Theses, Dissertations, and Student Research. 270.

7. Slama, R., Molefe, A., Gerdeman, R. D, Herrera, A., Brodziak de los Reyes, I., August, D., & Cavazos, L. (2017). Time to proficiency for Hispanic English learner students in Texas (REL 2018–280). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Southwest.