Austin ISD completes more than 700 out of 900 special education evaluations by June 30 deadline

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This article was published on KXAN by Alex Caprariello on June 30, 2021.

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin Independent School District has completed more than 700 of the estimated 900 backlogged special education evaluations requested by families, closing in on a June 30 self-imposed deadline the district provided to the public two months ago.

An AISD spokesperson said the district is on track to complete all remaining evaluations by the end of Wednesday.

District executives called the effort “extraordinary” and promised upcoming re-evaluations for students scheduled for September and October will also be complete before the fall 2021 semester begins.

“I wouldn’t say it was a lofty goal or an overly-ambitious goal, but it was based in ensuring exactly what our students and families need,” said AISD’s Assistant Superintendent of Student Programs Dr. Dessynie Edwards. “Our commitment is greater than the number we put in.”

Edwards said over the last two months, staff scrutinized the accuracy and integrity of the backlogged list and found repeated discrepancies. Approximately 100 to 150 students were taken off the original list of 900 after staff discovered duplicate names, names of students whose parents never requested an evaluation, or names of students who had left the district.

AISD has since completed a data-management overhaul, which not only ensures accuracy with the evaluation count, but humanizes the students and their families to ensure each child is being treated as more than a number on a list.

A dedicated team of staffers have been set aside to mine the data, get to know who the students are and continually provide touch points with the families. This change is part of a larger reorganization the department has undergone over the last two months.

“Every single person had to recommit to the new expectations as to how we were holding them accountable, how the department will be held accountable in ensuring that we are meeting all compliance areas,” Edwards said. “We’ve seen improvement and our staff has reported improvement.”

AISD’s special education department also has a new executive director who began in May. Dr. Theresa Arocha-Gill comes from Judson ISD just outside San Antonio. Edwards said she has more than 30 years of experience in education, including nearly a decade in special education leadership.

Arocha-Gill will oversee five other directors, who will lead sub-departments in 504/dyslexia, campus support, related services, compliance and operations, and evaluations.

With around 90% of the reorganization complete, Edwards said she is excited the new direction the special education department is taking and has promised to ensure the list of student evaluations never becomes backlogged to that extent again.

“Are we on target? Yes, we are on target. We are on target not because we made such an ambitious goal, but because we had this as a rigorous goal to ensure that all students would be prepared to receive the supports and services they need under special education guidelines,” Edwards said.

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