The History of the 8.5% Cap in Texas

Inspired by 506-544-7755


I decided to research this topic for myself.

Governor Abbot is referring to the U.S. Department of Education finding that the Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) decision to set a “target” for the maximum percentage of students who should receive special education services had violated federal laws requiring schools to serve all students with disabilities.   This story first broke in 2016 when Brian Rosenthal published a piece for the Houston Chronicle.

I decided to research the earliest references the 8.5% cap in school district and accountability manuals because I believe the dereliction of duty claim was either a claim made out of ignorance of the true source of the problem or as a deflection of blame from some governmental entity towards public schools.

For the record I have worked as a campus and central office administrator for two districts and one charter school and have never been pressured by anyone in those systems or at The Texas Education Agency to reduce our number of students identified as special education. It is also likely however that the TEA’s use of the 8.5% cap as a performance indicator in the Performance Based Monitoring Analysis System (PBMAS) reports did impact the number of students identified as special education.  It is true that districts and charters who did exceed the 8.5% SPED Identification Indicator established by PBMAS did receive lower ratings on their PBMAS Accountability ratings and were subjected to monitoring and intervention for exceeding that 8.5% standard.

What is The Performance Based Monitoring Analysis System or PBMAS?

According to TEA:

“The 2004-2005 school year marked the first year of the new PBMAS. Features of the system included new indicators to evaluate student performance and program effectiveness and the use of performance levels rather than risk levels to report on district and charter performance. These performance levels are one of several evaluation criteria used by the agency to identify districts for further intervention or monitoring. Other evaluation criteria examined by the agency include financial and compliance information, complaints, results of due process hearings, governance issues, and previous monitoring and accountability history”.  (source)

What is the 8.5% Cap

The 8.5% Cap is a performance standard that first appeared in the 2004 PBMAS reports.


Above is a screenshot from the 2004 Dallas ISD PBMAS report.  In 2004 The 8.5% Sped Identification number was “Indicator#1” on the report.

This is a screenshot of a 2005 Dallas ISD PBMAS Report.  In this example you can see that the Texas Education Agency has now added the last column which is titled 2005 Performance Level Indicator. In this example above the district receives a score of “0” because they are below the 8.5% cap.  The 8.5% cap is clearly identified as the standard (which in 2005 is  indicator #13 as opposed to indicator #1 in 2004).

Here is a screenshot of the 8.5% cap SPED Identification Indicator in 2016 PBMAS Reports.  This indicator was removed from 2017 reports.

If you want to look up any other district or PBMAS reports from 2004-2017,  follow this link

What do the Performance Level Indicator Ratings of 0,1,2, ands 3 mean to school districts and charters?


The performance level indicator ratings as defined in the 2005 PBMAS Manual, page 7:

“A performance level is the result that occurs when a standard is applied to a district’s performance on an indicator. The performance levels for each indicator in the 2005 PBMAS are Not Evaluated, 0/0SA, 1/1SA, 2/2SA, or 3/3SA. A performance level of 0 is the highest designation for any indicator, meaning that the district met the standard for the indicator. A performance level of 3 is the lowest designation, indicating that the district performance was farthest from the performance for the 0 – Met Standard designation.”

What happened to districts who did not receive a Performance Level Indicator Rating of “0” which was “met standard” ?

Districts and Charters that failed to meet standard were then evaluated for monitoring intervention and staging beginning in 2009 (source 2009 PBMAS Manual). Staging and intervention ranges from a Level 1 to a  Level 4 (harshest intervention).  Staging and Intervention involves utilizing the Texas Accountability Intervention System.  Depending on the level of staging, charters and districts have to create and provide reports of intervention efforts to the Texas Education Agency.  The higher the level of staging, the more intense the scrutiny and follow-up of those reports.

Required Improvement

Charters and Districts that did not meet the 2005 standards for the Special Education Indicator were expected to improve their performance for the following year.  Improvement meant reducing the percentage of students identified as special education. TEA made the SPED Identification Indicator eligible for Required Improvement starting in 2006.

(207) 547-0663

Source 2006 PBMAS Manual page 16

The SPED Identification Indicator was listed as Indicator #1 in 2004 reports, #13 in 2005 reports, and, #14 in 2006 reports because each year many of the measurement criteria for school districts and charters are modified or moved around in the PBMAS reports.

Required Improvement (RI) is defined as:

This is evidence that TEA expected districts to improve their performance from year to year on PBMAS indicators and that they even provided a mechanism (RI) to reward districts who made significant improvement but did not reach the standard. 

What happened as a result of the 8.5% cap?

Was TEA Aware of problems resulting from the 8.5% cap?

This new note appeared with the SPED Identification Indicator beginning with the 2015 PBMAS Manuals. It indicates to me that they were aware by the 2015 manual publication of problems resulting from the 8.5% cap.

Who is to blame?

The Texas Education Agency? The Texas Legislature? School Districts and Charters?  Other Organizations?

The Texas Education Agencies use of PBMAS, the 8.5% indicator, and the resultant staging and monitoring interventions for failure to reduce the percentage of students identified as special education below 8.5% impacted Local Education Agency (LEA) decision making.  The pressure to meet the PBMAS accountability standards applied by the Legislature, the State, and local communities also impacted LEA Decision making.

However, in search of the root cause, I don’t think the answer will be found by looking at teachers, principals, superintendents, or other campus and district personnel.  Additionally, my uninformed opinion is that the employees at TEA were simply creating rules and regulations based on either Commissioner or legislative guidance and pressure.  The root cause for me, as is my root cause for many of the bad decisions applied to the students and stakeholders of public districts and charters in Texas, would be misguided or malicious efforts to reduce funding for public education in Texas.

Some great reads:

Denied by Brian Rosenthal


To access any of the other PBMAS Manuals follow this link

Whose Life Have You Made Better Today?

Whose life have you made better today?

Photo Credit

Who have you encouraged?

Who have you listened to?

Who have you served?

Who have you praised?

Who have you inspired?

Who have you challenged?

Who have you said please or thank you to?

Too often we spend our day focused only on our own needs and tasks and miss out on chances to impact the people we interact with everyday. Be intentional to make a positive difference in all your encounters each day.

Whose life have you made better today?


Stand on the shoulders of giants.


Photo Credit

In Greek mythology, the blind giant Orion carried Cedalion on his shoulders to be his eyes. Cedalion literally stood on the shoulders of a giant.

Our daily work builds upon the accomplishments of others who came before us.

Collaborating is a way to stand on the shoulders of giants  Take advantage of what your teammates know, what they have done, and what they can imagine as you develop ideas.  Leverage their experiences and perspective to avoid repeating past mistakes or reinventing an already discovered solution. Create something better than any of you could do alone.


Some things I read while preparing this article:


It’s Better When Everyone Owns the Solution

It’s Better When Everyone Owns the Solution.


If the solution is only your idea then you also get to be the person to explain it to everyone, answer all questions, and monitor and enforce its implementation.  If the solution is owned by everyone then explanations and enforcement is handled collectively.

People tend to only own the solutions they have contributed to in development and implementation.

Involve people in decisions that impact them to increase ownership.

Learning to Honor Commitments: A Hidden Benefit of Collaboration

Losing weight is really quite simple: eat less, eat healthy, and move more.  Nearly all of us know that without reading any articles or exploring fitness memberships. However, according to the Center for Disease Control, we find ourselves in the midst of at least a 23 year rise in the increase of obesity and diabetes.


Photo Credit: Nathaniel Tetteh

It is very difficult for most of us to solve our fitness problems alone.  That difficulty has led to the rise of an over 28 billion dollar health and fitness industry in the United states that continues to grow annually. One selling point of the industry is group accountability and providing a venue to make and then honor commitments.  Running clubs, crossfit boxes, weight loss centers, Personal Trainers, and fitness gyms all leverage personal accountability and honoring commitment to help us reach our fitness goals.

Many other behaviors also help us to honor our commitments: writing the commitment down; sharing it with others; taking small action steps; and, constantly revisiting our commitment.

An accountable group that honors their commitments to each other is the basis for any successful collaboration.

Providing students and staff with many opportunities to collaborate together creates a fertile ground for experiencing group accountability and learning the importance of honoring personal commitments.


Some sites I enjoyed reading while writing this post:







The Joy of Shared Creation

There are many sources of joy in your life. Remind yourself often of the things that bring you joy.

Photo credit: Lambert Yuri


Relationships, belonging, achievements, overcoming hardship, learning new things, recognitions, sacrifices, and creating new things are many of the sources of joy.

There is also joy in sharing in the creation of new things, new solutions, and new ideas. Creating allows us to express ourselves, pursue our passions, and leverage our personal talents.  Collaborating allows us to create together and bond with others through that collaborative experience.

Want to help your team learn how to collaborate effectively? Then give them some meaningful task or an important shared goal to accomplish and let them get to work.

Some sites I enjoyed reading while writing this post:





Welcome #TEPSA100 attendees.  Following are any resources referenced during our presentation of Grow your own leaders: Building capacity from within.

Ready to Lead: An entry guide for principals Kindle/Paperback

Life School Leadership Program Competencies:

Primer Competencies

New Teacher Competencies

Resources for developing a leadership program:

Rainwater Alliance: A new approach to principal preparation


Resources for developing competencies:

(813) 231-1577

Robert Marzano’s 21 Responsibilities of a School Leader

Other Resources:

The Gallup Q12


Do you still remember your why?

Looking forward to serving on the Courageous Principals Panel tonight at Deloitte University.

One of the potential questions is why did you enter the field of education and more importantly, what has kept you there.  Do you still remember your why? Take a moment and reflect on why it is you do what you do.  It will refresh you for the next week!

Looking forward to seeing the Life School leaders who are attending as well.