This story was originally published by The Houston Chronicle and can be found here.

A 2016 Houston Chronicle investigation found that state officials quietly devised a system that kept thousands of disabled kids out of special education who should have qualified for services.

The denials were prompted by pressure from the state to keep the concentration of special education students to no more than 8.5 percent of all students.

The efforts to keep down the special education population, which started in 2004 but were never publicly announced or explained, saved the Texas Education Agency billions of dollars but denied vital supports to children with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyslexia, epilepsy, mental illnesses, speech impediments, traumatic brain injuries, even blindness and deafness, the investigation found.

Before determining that a Texas Education monitoring system led to a 30 percent drop in the percentage of students in the state receiving special education services, the Houston Chronicle interviewed more than 50 education experts and evaluated many other potential explanations for the decline.

Here are 10 alternate theories, and why they’re wrong:

Are special education enrollments declining across the country?

No. While there has been a small decline in the U.S. special ed rate over the past decade, it has been driven mostly by the large drop in Texas. The rate elsewhere has decreased just 3 percent. No other state has had a dip anywhere close to as big as the one in Texas.

Are fewer Texas babies being born with disabilities?

There’s no evidence showing this. In fact, available metrics suggest the opposite. The rate of babies being born at low weight has increased over the past decade, as has the rate of maternal deaths. Premature births are down, but not more so than in the rest of U.S.

Has Texas changed its criteria for which disabilities are covered by special ed?


Has Texas changed its assessment for determining whether a child has a disability?

No. While some schools have started using the “Cross-Battery Assessment,” it is being used only in some districts and only to test for learning disabilities, such as dyslexia. It also was not introduced until after the drop in special ed students had already taken place.

Has Texas changed its formula for funding special ed?

No. The formula has not changed since 1984, long before the drop.

Has Texas changed its rules for exempting special ed students from state tests?

No. The rules have not changed since 1998, long before the drop.

Have preschools or Early Childhood Intervention programs changed?

No. Preschools and the state’s Early Childhood Intervention programs were cut in 2011, but that was after the drop in special ed students had already taken place.

Have schools stopped putting too many African Americans in special ed?

No. The over-representation of African Americans in special ed, which has been an issue for years, has gotten worse – not better – over the past decade.

Is the Texas Dyslexia Law to blame?

No. While some believe the Texas Dyslexia Law lets schools serve dyslexic kids in regular classes (instead of special ed), the law has existed for decades, so it can’t explain the drop. Plus, 28 states have similar laws, and their special ed rates haven’t fallen.

Have innovative new teaching techniques reduced the need for special education?

This is the Texas Education Agency’s explanation, and so to evaluate it thoroughly, the Chronicle brought it to Douglas Fuchs, a Vanderbilt University professor who played a leading role in developing the techniques at issue, known as “Response to Intervention.” Fuchs said the techniques are being used nationwide and haven’t lowered special ed rates anywhere else. “RTI has not reduced the number of kids requiring special ed,” he said. (The numbers bear that out: The states that have passed laws implementing RTI actually serve a higher percentage of kids in special ed than states that have not passed such laws, according to a Chronicle data analysis).

Fuchs also said he doubted the state’s explanation because, he said, if the techniques had reduced the need for special ed, they also would’ve improved test scores. The scores of Texas students on the National Assessment of Educational Progress have slumped over the past decade.

Finally, Fuchs and others said that even phenomenally successful use of the techniques could only explain a decline in learning disabilities, which is only one part of the drop in Texas children getting special ed services. The portion of the special ed population that is receiving services for learning disabilities is actually higher than the national average, suggesting that the problem actually lies elsewhere.

The efforts to keep down the special education population, which started in 2004 but were never publicly announced or explained, saved the Texas

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