Texas Hold ‘Em: Securing and Maintaining Stakeholder Engagement in the Lone Star State

Episode 45

Release Date: April 25, 2024

Guests: Susan Bineham, Texas Education Agency

A key aspect of any state’s SPP/APR is stakeholder engagement, but in a state with as many seats around the table as Texas, bringing people together and keeping them there can require no small measure of special planning. On this episode of A Date with Data, host Amy Bitterman is all in with Susan Bineham, Texas Education Agency’s SPP/APR coordinator and manager of the Office of Special Populations and Student Supports (OSPSS). They’re putting their cards on the table to talk about the importance – and logistics – of how the state brings together parents, community members, and others to get the most of their IDEA data.

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Episode Transcript
00:00:01.52  >> You're listening to "A Date with Data" with your host, Amy Bitterman.
00:00:07.34  >> Hey, it's Amy, and I'm so excited to be hosting "A Date with Data." I'll be chatting with state and district special education staff who, just like you, are dealing with IDEA data every day.
00:00:19.50  >> "A Data with Data" is brought to you by the IDEA Data Center.
00:00:24.78  >> Welcome to "A Date with Data." Authentic and broad stakeholder engagement is required as part of the state performance plan annual performance report, or SPP-APR. And on this episode, I am joined by Susan Bineham, who is a manager in the Special Population Strategic Supports and Reporting Division of the Texas Education Agency. Susan is going to share with us how in Texas they've been able to continuously and meaningfully engage stakeholders in their IDEA data. Welcome, Susan. Thank you so much for joining us.
00:00:59.17  >> Well, thank you so much for having me.
00:01:01.70  >> Great. To get us started, can you just say a little bit about your role, and how long you've been with TEA?
00:01:08.86  >> I started with TEA on August the 1st of 2018. So Texas rolled out a brand new, big monitoring division and program, and I was originally part of that group that created our new monitoring program. And then in 2020, I became the SPP-APR coordinator.
00:01:32.55  >> Great. And you're still the SPP-APR coordinator currently?
00:01:36.25  >> Yes. Yeah.
00:01:36.45  >> Okay. Wonderful. All right. So we're talking about stakeholders, and I know in Texas, you have several different groups that you convene. Can you just start off by telling us who is part of these groups, and what is the purpose for each of the different groups that you have?
00:01:56.17  >> Sure. So first we have our continuing advisory committee, or our CAC -- that's the required committee we have; 17 governor-appointed members from around the state. They represent parents, general education teachers, special education teachers, consumers, special education liaisons. Most of them are individuals with disabilities, or parents of children with disabilities. They meet quarterly at a minimum. Agendas are posted publicly, and public comment is encouraged for this group. Their biographies and meeting minutes and recordings are all posted on the Texas Education Agency website.
00:02:45.48  They advise TEA on standards related to significant disproportionality, and they are required by statute to submit a report to the legislature bi-annually, which recommended changes to state law, agency rules related to special education, and the meeting date agenda and minutes are all published on the TEA website. We also have education service centers. So Texas is divided into 20 regional EFCs, we call them.
00:03:15.35  >> Mm-hmm?
00:03:16.08  >> They're intended to be the first point of contact for the local education agencies, and they are non-regulatory, they provide technical assistance and professional development for the LEAs. So we meet with -- each one of those centers have a special education director; they're not just special education centers. They service LEAs from pretty much anything, any capacity.
00:03:40.61  >> Mm-hmm?
00:03:41.87  >> We meet with their special education directors monthly to discuss new initiatives. But their role might be in providing training, how to support LEAs. They're really the first point of contact for LEAs, and because they're regional, if it's a real rural, small area, it has a different perspective than maybe people from the Houston, Dallas or San Antonio areas. So they provide very meaningful, good feedback to us on how we can support them better, and then they can support schools.
00:04:18.98  We also have a special education director's panel. So each of those 20 service centers, they recommend a special education director from a local education agency. So that is a select group of special education directors who work with TEA throughout the year. As I said, they're nominated to participate by their regional education service center. Their purpose -- it's a closed group -- their purpose is to provide feedback and input on initiatives and projects related to special education, including the SPP-APR. Presenting this panel provides an opportunity to capture the current needs in the field from the perspective of a special education director.
00:05:12.10  Additionally, this panel allows us the opportunity to gather stakeholder input and the time to collaborate with LEA special education directors that are currently in the field. We also have our Texas Continuous Improving Steering Committee, what we call "TCISC." This is the group that really works on a SPP-APR with us. They are an external work group tasked with advising topics as SPP-APR indicators, areas of slippage, Indicators 8 and 14 results in outreach, sampling plans, potential legal rule changes, legislative updates, state assessment participation, and our Indicator 17, our SSIP.
00:06:02.34  This group has about 15 people representing key perspective roles across diverse perspectives. The nature of this group represents parents, teachers, service providers, evaluation personnel, special education directors, campus administrators, districts, EFC's higher education institutions, advocacy, professional groups, other related state agencies, and other stakeholder groups whose mission include education of students with disabilities. So this group really is our in-the-weeds workgroup. We do target-setting with them, and they -- we ask them to commit to about a three-year period so that we have people that are really informed on the process. This group is also, like I said, close, we do not record these meetings, a real work group. We do trainings on SPP-APR each year and discuss potential changes. We discussed our sampling plan this past year, made some tweaks to it for SPP-8, and they really helped us with that. In fact, they're going to help us get the word out on 8 and 14. Some of those advocacy groups are going to help explain why not everyone will be participating in 8, because there's a sampling plan, but we do a census for 14. They're talking to us about putting things on their web pages to help the validity of these surveys. We contract out for those surveys, so some people want to make sure, hey, is this spam, is this okay? So those advocacy groups, which sometimes, you know, people, they can be our worst critics.
00:07:58.45  >> Mm-hmm.
00:07:59.98  >> But that's why they're in the room, because if we had them in on the front end, that's the best place to have them. They can advise us, they can talk to us about potential pitfalls, how to improve things. And even they initiated, hey, can we meet with you separately to help you with these two surveys? So some of these groups, they're really great work groups. People that participate in them want to be there, because their voice is really heard, and we take what they say and integrate it. And if we can't, we tell them why.
00:08:36.03  >> Mm-hmm.
00:08:36.33  >> Like, okay, "Well, this, we can't really do this, but how about we look at it from this angle?" So it's really productive, great work groups. We don't waste their time. We send them information prior to let them know what we're going to talk about, so they can come in with some questions already ready for us, also, for each group.
00:08:54.49  >> Yeah. Wow. So it sounds like you are doing so much in the state, bringing in so many diverse stakeholders, such a broad group. And you're doing just a wonderful job, that's so exciting. And I know other states out there in particular would really like to hear if there are certain strategies you're using that have built stakeholders' capacity, so that you're not every year having to start over again with explaining the indicators, and building that base for them, that they have a lot of that information going in, and being able to sustain the groups, like you said, asking for that three-year commitment. Yeah, what are just some ways that you've really been able to build a capacity and keep them engaged?
00:09:40.58  >> Well, some of it is what you'd typically expect. We present with the audience in mind. So we might have the same presentation for each group, but we're going to tweak it, or adjust it, given who's in the room, or who's in the Zoom.
00:09:56.77  >> Mm-hmm.
00:09:57.45  >> Our special education directors may or may not know some of this information. Our advocacy groups may know more than our special education directors sometimes, because they've been doing it a long time. And parents are coming from the parent perspective. So when we're presenting to a diverse group, we really try to keep all of those points I mind so we can -- people can understand and provide good feedback.
00:10:21.79  >> Yeah, you could tailor it.
00:10:23.59  >> Yeah. With that TCISC group I was talking about, the one that really works with our SPP-APR, we do presentations and training about each indicator, especially when we're setting targets. Even if they've been in the group for a while, because sometimes there's a little tweak to it. But they don't do this every day.
00:10:45.68  >> Yeah.
00:10:46.10  >> So each year, we'll do a little refresh reminder, go through the indicators where the data comes from, how it's used, why we set the targets where we set them. And they help with the target-setting. So they're thinking about things from their -- advocacy groups are thinking about things from the lens of families. So they, again, as I said earlier, they provide input and outreach information for SPPI 8 and 14 surveys.
00:11:14.81  >> Mm-hmm.
00:11:15.22  >> And they've had some really great input on some changes we've made with the digital world and people using their phones, they've provided some really great information for us on getting that response rate to move up a little bit.
00:11:32.23  >> Mm-hmm.
00:11:33.01  >> We also are a continuing advisory committee. They go beyond target setting, that's the regulatory group. Those meetings are recorded. They're posted on our website, the agendas are posted. We encourage public comment for those meetings. So that's the real regulatory meeting, I guess I should call it. The EFC directors, the service center directors, we talk to them about how their data from each of their regions impacts the SPP-APR.
00:12:10.43  >> Mmm.
00:12:10.89  >> So as I was saying earlier, some are real rural, and some are very urban. So we parse out the data to look at the difference between rural and urban, what kind of supports we need to help provide for them. We do presentations on individual indicators, the entire SPP process. And beyond the SPP-APR, we present on our RDA websites any new initiatives that we have coming out. So they don't advise us only on SPP-APR, we talk to them about everything; "Hey, we want to roll this out, what do you think?" And then people from rural committee can tell us, "Hey, we need this," or from urban, say, "We could do it like that." But that's -- we put pretty much everything in front of our EFC directors, because they support statewide.
00:13:04.13  Our special education director's panel, we went through this year our theory of action for our SSIP, and how the data from each LEA impacts the SPP-APR. So we really went through kind of the flow of what we provide, how it goes to EFCs, how it goes to LEA, how it goes to the teachers, the classroom, all the way down to the student level, because the SPP-APR seems kind of nebulous, it's this data-gathering, and we're writing this report, so when we really connected the dots for them, they can see, oh, I understand a little bit better now how this can actually support the students.
00:13:47.23  And there is a high turnover in special education directors, I'm sure all states are dealing with some of that. So this panel is our specifically-selected directors, but there's still some turnover there, so we do repeat trainings. But again, since they don't do this every day, they don't live and breathe the SPP-APR, any training, they're actually much appreciative. And they always say, "Oh, I learned something new this time" --
00:14:16.33  >> Yeah.
00:14:16.43  >> -- or something got tweaked a little bit so they can learn a little bit more about what we mean by significant disproportionality, and those kinds of things.
00:14:26.33  Our TCISC group, we do ask those members to commit to a three-year term. Those meetings are quarterly, but we frequently will give them, like, homework before the next meeting.
00:14:39.54  >> Mm-hmm?
00:14:40.25  >> So we'll send an email out saying, hey, meeting's coming up, these are going to be some of our topics, and give them some information so that when they get to the meeting, we can get right to work.
00:14:52.49  >> Yeah. I was going to ask, like, what's an example of homework that you might have them do?
00:14:57.75  >> We did -- when we were going through our sampling plan, we gave them kind of a draft of our sampling plan for 8 to look at. And it was pretty comprehensive, so it was a lot. We wanted to at least look at it. When we were doing target setting for this new six-year cycle, we had them kind of fill out a questionnaire so we could divide them into some groups. So we divided the SPP-APR kind of by indicators that would go together naturally --
00:15:30.65  >> Yeah.
00:15:31.25  >> -- and then send the information. And they met outside of our group in between our quarterly meetings to work on target setting. They called and met with some of us separately, but we only had the four quarterly meetings scheduled, and then they had separate work groups when we did all that target setting work. We also worked with them -- we'd do trainings and presentations for each individual indicator. We review the targets with them each year to say, these are the targets we're going through. And we also call them for our slippage reasons. So when we got all of our assessment data in January this year, we had a meeting already on the books with them to talk about potential slippage, and talked about what we felt the reasons for slippage were. And then they provided additional reasons. And we included all of that in the SPP-APR, because as I said, this is a very diverse group, working with parents and advocacy groups. So their input is really -- it really has a good pulse of what's going on out in the community.
00:16:41.70  >> Yeah. It's very valued, and you show that. It's not a matter of just checking a box, but you're actually incorporating in very transparent ways what you're getting back from them.
00:16:52.65  >> Yes. And they ask us about it. And they can see it in the SPP-APR.
00:16:58.16  >> Yep.
00:16:58.60  >> We're, like, "Here's the comment you guys provided us." So if -- when we do that, it's also very helpful, and it validates their work.
00:17:06.58  >> Great. Is there a highlight or a story, or something that you're really proud of in particular related to the stakeholder engagement you have going on?
00:17:18.24  >> We have some other stuff that goes on that I'm happy to talk about, because it's the most exciting thing.
00:17:24.76  >> Mm-hmm?
00:17:27.05  >> What I'm most proud of goes beyond what Texas does for the SPP-APR and target setting. We have a family engagement and outreach coordinator who manages our SPEDTex website. This website is available to anyone across the state. Parents can participate in trainings and focus groups. Has many resources provided in English and Spanish. Parents can create an account if they choose to. They can enter their child's IEP, the date of their last IEP, and it will send them reminders saying, "Hey, this is coming up, here's some things you might want to do." It has information on procedural safeguards, any of that. So that website is very interactive. And it's specifically targeted at parents and families --
00:18:22.22  >> Mm-hmm?
00:18:22.69  >> -- to help them understand processes. And they do webinars -- whenever they do a webinar, it's also done simultaneously in Spanish, so that both groups get the same information at the same time; it's not just translated into Spanish. They present in Spanish.
00:18:40.38  >> Hmm.
00:18:41.05  >> So I think that's a really positive effort to include our Spanish speakers across Texas. We're a large state with a lot of different languages.
00:18:52.31  >> Yeah.
00:18:53.34  >> Our Dispute Resolution Process webpage has information on special education complaints, but also resources for special education dispute resolution. And again, this website is available in English, Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Arabic. So we work really hard to not just provide things in English, we want to hit those top languages across the state as best we can.
00:19:23.28  Also, when they're participating in the cyclical monitoring, we had a stakeholder survey for families that have students with disabilities. So if your school district, or LEA, is engaging with us for their cyclical monitoring, we send out this survey. The questions follow three constructs; engagement, like opportunities for staff to collaborate, or parents to collaborate, or how schools provide information out. So there's engagement, and then understanding how data is used when creating IEPs, importance of inclusion, and also competency -- so, areas they can improve. So it's engagement, understanding and competency. So the questions are just general questions, but the answers give a good understanding of this. Do you meet regularly on this, so we can measure a little bit, the best we can. It's kind of like a consumer survey that you would do.
00:20:28.65  >> Mm-hmm.
00:20:29.05  >> And again, these surveys are offered in Spanish, Vietnamese, Filipino, Chinese, Burmese and Arabic. And the way we set them up along constructs, we can run the data mathematically to see how they scored. We don't have to worry about translating all the information back, we can have each answer numbered and run understanding the engagement and competency through that.
00:20:57.19  So all that's pretty exciting. I really like that we work hard to provide different languages, some groups, some supports for parents. We're a big state, we do a lot with Zoom. So some of these stakeholder groups, we're able to reach the far rural areas, because they can participate by Zoom, travel isn't required, because that really hampers people's ability to participate if they have to come to Austin from El Paso. That's a couple of days. They're going to have to fly in, spend the night, go to your meeting -- it's a big ask, asking people to participate in person.
00:21:38.34  >> Yep. Yeah. As much as, I think we, yeah, are all kind of Zoomed out. But it's been a great tool for sure in terms of being able to involve a lot more folks to participate than otherwise might have been able to.
00:21:56.55  >> Absolutely. We definitely have more participation, more regular participation.
00:22:02.06  >> Yeah.
00:22:02.73  >> People can take a couple of hours out of their day pretty easily, rather than having to commit a whole weekend or something, to come into town.
00:22:12.94  >> Yeah. Well, you have so much wonderful activities and initiatives going on. Do you have plans for anything coming up? Any changes you're going to be making? Any new areas you'll be focusing on?
00:22:29.47  >> There are some things that our technical assistant and professional development groups are working on, and some contracts, so they will be touching base with our EFCs and our special education director groups. And we also talked to our TCISC about it, because we want their input on how we can message out to parents, hey, this is stuff that's going on, we want your input also. Or does your student engage in any of these activities? So any time we push out new initiatives, or things we want to change or tweak, we really talk to these groups, because they can also point out to us any unintended consequences, like "Oh, this project's working really great, why are you changing it?" Or, "Just do this little tweak, and this will be great," or, "We can really get a lot of teachers trained if we had this or that." So it's a lot of open back and forth conversations with our professional development groups, our technical assistance groups. And usually, I'm included in that because it affects the SPP-APR.
00:23:35.05  >> Yeah.
00:23:35.16  >> So we work really hard to show those connections, too.
00:23:39.07  >> Absolutely.
00:23:39.70  >> Those LEAs, with all our new special education directors that aren't familiar with the SPP-APR, they can see how, when they look at our theory of action, you can see the direct line from the state all the way down to the student, so it's very helpful. And like I said earlier, we do periodic trainings or reminders about that process also.
00:24:02.62  >> And that's so important to be able to tell the story so that those at the local level see how it directly impacts them and their students, and how their data feed into the larger region and state. But it all matters, and they can kind of see where they fall in it.
00:24:21.27  >> Exactly.
00:24:22.22  >> Well, thank you, Susan, so much. This was such a wonderful conversation. Learned a lot about what strategies you have, and the work you have going on with stakeholders. And hopefully other states will maybe pick up some tips. And we know this is such a big area that a lot of states struggle with in terms of sustaining groups, and finding diverse participants. But it sounds like you all are doing such a fantastic job, and it was so wonderful to hear all about it.
00:24:50.46  >> Well, I really thank you so much for inviting me. And I appreciate the time.
00:24:56.68  >> To access podcast resources, submit questions related to today's episode, or if you have ideas for future topics, we'd love to hear from you. The links are in the episode content. Or, connect with us via the podcast page on the IDC website, at ideadata.org.