Tag

DESE

Why Taking Competency Tests, like the MCAS, can be Critical for Transition and College Planning

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS
Director of Transition Services; Transition Specialist, NESCA

Most states require some form of competency testing for students, particularly students who will graduate with a state standard diploma. But in the past year, standardized competency testing has become more complicated, if not impossible, to carry out.

In Massachusetts, graduation requirements have been altered for several grades of students. Students graduating in 2021-2023 are being offered alternative options for meeting state competency determination in one or more of the required subject areas (e.g., science and technology/engineering, mathematics, English Language Arts). For more details about those alternatives, see MA Graduation Requirements and Related Guidance on the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) website.

The opportunity for students in the Class of 2022 to graduate without ever sitting for 10th grade MCAS is something that many students, parents, and teachers are excited about. While I understand, and even agree with, criticisms of standardized testing, there are also many reasons that I am disappointed for the students who are missing out on the opportunity to sit for this testing. These students, especially those with disabilities, are missing out on a vital transition planning activity.

Preparing for, and sitting for, (and coping with,) high stakes tests is an important part of life. Whether you pass or fail, being able to show up and perform your best in a high-pressure situation is a valuable life skill. Moreover, being able to demonstrate competency in a test situation is a reasonable and necessary college and career skill.

Additionally, standardized tests like MCAS provide objective feedback regarding the student’s level of achievement with high school material. Grades can be tremendously subjective, and are highly dependent on the teachers and types of classes that the student is exposed to during high school. In contrast, students participating in honors, college prep, and functional math classes all sit for the same standardized math tests. This is especially important when students in all three of those classes are interested in heading off to college after high school, and when we want to get a sense of their readiness for handling college coursework. Generally, students who do not earn passing scores (i.e., students who score in the “Needs Improvement” or “Partially Meeting Expectations” categories) on the MCAS, especially by 12th grade, will struggle with college placement exams, such as the Accuplacer, and may end up needing to take remedial coursework at the start of college. Students have a right to know how ready they are for the academic rigors of college as they are making their college plans, and standardized testing results can be helpful information (although they are by no means the whole picture).

With the new competency determination options, many students in Massachusetts view sitting for MCAS as something that is only worth doing if they are possible candidates for the John and Abigail Adams Scholarship (a merit-based state scholarship program). However, I hope students will also consider the other positive reasons I have listed above when deciding whether to sit for the test. For college-bound students who do choose not to sit for MCAS, I strongly recommend sitting for other standardized exams during high school, such as SAT, ACT, Accuplacer, etc. These experiences are important opportunities to build confidence in high stakes situations, to assess college readiness skills, and to identify skill gaps that may need shoring up.

Certainly, there are many legitimate concerns about standardized test contents and validity, including significant equity issues. I also believe that competency tests and college placement tests provide important information for many college-bound students. They are one metric, among many, that are worth having for transition and college planning.

 

About the Author
Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS, is NESCA’s Director of Transition Services, overseeing planning, consultation, evaluation, coaching, case management, training and program development services. Ms. Challen also provides expert witness testimony in legal proceedings related to special education. She is also the Assistant Director of NESCA, working under Dr. Ann Helmus to support day-to-day operations of the practice. Ms. Challen began facilitating programs for children and adolescents with special needs in 2004. After receiving her Master’s Degree and Certificate of Advanced Study in Risk and Prevention Counseling from Harvard Graduate School of Education, Ms. Challen spent several years at the MGH Aspire Program where she founded an array of social, life and career skill development programs for teens and young adults with Asperger’s Syndrome and related profiles. She additionally worked at the Northeast Arc as Program Director for the Spotlight Program, a drama-based social pragmatics program, serving youth with a wide range of diagnoses and collaborating with several school districts to design in-house social skills and transition programs. Ms. Challen is co-author of the chapter “Technologies to Support Interventions for Social- Emotional Intelligence, Self-Awareness, Personality Style, and Self-Regulation” for the book Technology Tools for Students with Autism. She is also a proud mother of two energetic boys, ages six and three. While Ms. Challen has special expertise in supporting students with Autism Spectrum Disorders, she provides support to individuals with a wide range of developmental and learning abilities, including students with complex medical needs.

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

Compensatory Services for Transition-aged Individuals

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Becki Lauzon, M.A., CRC
Transition Specialist and Consultant

Since the start of COVID, a top concern for many parents and guardians of students who receive IEP services, such as Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, Speech and Language, etc., has been how to make up for those services that were missed during school closures and remote learning. One group of parents and guardians who have been especially worried are those who support students who turned 22 and aged out of special education services or will be aging out in the near future.

As we near the end of summer, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) recently released important guidance for schools and families on this topic. Below you will find the links to specific resources, including the presentation from DESE that was given on August 20th during the Special Education Leaders’ Meeting, the official guidance on compensatory services that was shared on August 17th, as well as a very informative article from the Boston Globe that highlights all reopening models.

There is a lot of important information in these documents. To assist with everyone’s busy lives, I have opted to point out some of the key pieces of information.

Helpful Links:

Zoom Meeting Presentation for Special Education Directors on August 20, 2020

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Special Education Technical Assistance Advisory 2021-1: COVID-19 Compensatory Services and Recovery Support for Students with IEPs

List of Reopening Models by District for Fall 2020 (as of noon, August 18, 2020

Boston Globe Reopening Plan Tracker

Important Information:

  • When a student with services and/or related services on their IEP has not been afforded those services due to a failure on the school’s part, compensatory services (i.e., services to make up for something missed) are a consideration by the IEP team through an IEP team process.
  • “COVID-19 Compensatory Services” (CCS) refers to services that a student’s IEP Team determines are needed to remedy a student’s skill or knowledge loss, or lack of effective progress, that resulted from delayed, interrupted, suspended, or inaccessible IEP services because of the emergency suspension of in-person education related to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
  • COVID-19 Compensatory services are NOT the same as typical compensatory services. These services are for students who are on IEPs that have had a lack of effective progress related to changes in service delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • “Students with disabilities who did not receive or were unable to access any special education services during the suspension of in-person education are likely to require CCS and should be prioritized. Other students with IEPs, including students with significant and complex needs,1 are also likely to require CCS and should be prioritized for consideration.”
  • The Department recommends prioritizing the scheduling of IEP meetings to discuss CCS for several student populations, including “students who turned 22 during the suspension of in-person education or who will turn 22 during the first three months of the 2020-21 school year, and whose transition programs were interrupted or suspended before they aged out.”1
  • For priority populations, the Department recommends that CCS determinations be made as soon as possible but not later than December 15, 2020.
  • Schools and districts are urged to use ongoing parental engagement along with their own judgment when determining which IEP meetings to prioritize this fall.
  • Appendix B Questions and Answers on the Transition to Adult Life for Students Turning 22 between March 17 and December 23, 2020 (pages 14-17 of the Special Education Technical Assistance Advisory)1 has detailed information regarding students turning 22 during COVID.

Transition COVID-19 Compensatory Examples:

There are several examples in the DESE document regarding types of compensatory services that an IEP team might consider providing for transition-aged individuals. I have listed many of the DESE examples below. I have also added some ideas and suggestions in smaller bullets that further break down the examples, which may be helpful for families and teams.

  • Accessing agency/community resources and services
    • Looking at adult resources, such as DDS, DMH, MRC, Centers for Independent Living
  • Instruction in activities for daily living, including personal finance and accessing healthcare
    • Cooking and domestic skills
    • Opening a bank account
    • Learning online banking
    • Make a monthly budget
    • Practice making change
  • Continue specialized instruction for the completion of an MCAS portfolio appeal for students who are seeking to earn a high school diploma
  • Community-based instruction
    • This can still occur!
  • Community participation
    • Accessing local outdoor parks, hiking trails, etc.
    • Grocery shopping
    • Identifying virtual offerings within your community
  • Health and safety
    • COVID safety
    • Learning how to order medication and organize it for the week
  • Pre-vocational/employment support services
    • As the job market has changed for the time being, this may be an opportunity for informational interviews
  • Job search and retention skills
    • Individuals who lost their job due to COVID may need assistance in returning to that place of employment if they are hiring again
  • Job coaching/training opportunities
  • Preparation for college and/or postsecondary training
    • Virtual college tours
    • Making a list of pros and cons for schools
  • Related services, e.g., counseling, occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech-language services
  • Self-advocacy skills
  • Social skills
  • Travel Training
    • Obtaining your Charlie Card
    • Filling out the application for The Ride
    • Studying the driver’s ed manual and taking free online tests
    • Using Google maps to identify distances to and from common places

Our transition team at NESCA is always here to offer consultation and creative options for families and school teams if you find that you and your student are having a difficult time finding ways to make up for lost transition services or implement current transition services.

 

References

1.      Massachusetts Department of Education. Coronavirus (COVID-19) Special Education Technical Assistance Advisory 2021-1: COVID-19 Compensatory Services and Recovery Support for Students with IEPs; Accessed on August 26, 2020.

 

About the Author

Becki Lauzon, M.A., CRC, works with teens, young adults and their families out of the Newton, MA and Plainville, MA offices. Lauzon has unparalleled experience as a Transition Specialist, Transition Consultant and Vocational Program Coordinator. Lauzon will be providing transition assessment (including testing, functional evaluations and observations) consultation, case management, training and professional development for schools; and transition planning, consultation and coaching for transition-aged students and their parents.

 

To schedule an appointment with one of NESCA’s expert transition specialists or neuropsychologists, please complete our online intake form

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton and Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

What In-person School Looks Like During COVID-19

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Tabitha Monahan, M.A., CRC
Transition Specialist/Counselor

Fall is approaching, and school is starting. As a student, I always knew summer was close to ending when Staples started their “Most Wonderful Time of the Year” commercial. The joy that parents and the community feel as fall approaches and another year of learning begins is understandably absent this year. Many parents, teachers and students are still unsure if they will be remote, in-person or both. All are too aware that even if students and teachers return to the school building, school will not look as it did in the fall of 2019. The comradery that our children experience through recess and interactive group work will be limited. Lunch will not be the boisterous room of students comparing who is in each class and what teachers are giving homework the first week.

What can we expect then–especially our students who need the small in-person support they have received from their special education teachers, teaching assistants and related service providers? I was able to get a glimpse of what our new in-person normal would look like providing vocational counseling and support during an extended-school year (ESY) program this summer. When returning to school, the first thing I learned—remembered, is how resilient children are. Most students in the programs had very few issues with masks. For those who did, more frequent mask breaks and workarounds, such as face shields, greater distance between them and other students or neck scarves let them still participate in much needed in-person support. Hand-washing and sanitizer have become the norm, and staff and students had frequent opportunities to use both. Social Skills groups still occurred but were modified to continue to be possible. Community-based opportunities were limited, but again, teachers and service providers have long been accustomed to finding out of the box solutions for their students.

Yes, the first day was nerveracking. How were the students going to tolerate wearing a mask for hours on end? How were my co-workers and I going to wear a mask all day long? How was I going to get a drink safely while wearing a mask? But we did. Staff and students alike remained diligent with hand-washing, and the students were ready to learn. Teachers and teaching assistants (TAs) were available and came together for short periods to help students understand challenging tasks. Some of our children and students have behaviors or need activities of daily living (ADL) support that may have us more uneasy with their health and safety returning to in-person learning. Teachers and TAs were prepared for that, too. Whether it was a face shield with a mask, an extra set of clothes to change into or an additional layer of PPE, the student’s needs were met, and we all returned the next day.

Every district seems to have its own approach and plan. Still, in the end, each plan’s goal is the same: have every student continue to learn and prepare for life after high school and have each person return home safe and healthy.

 

About the Author

Tabitha Monahan, M.A., CRC, is an experienced transition evaluator and vocational counselor. While she is well-versed in supporting a wide range of transition-aged youth, she is especially passionate and knowledgeable in helping clients and their families navigate the complex systems of adult services and benefits as well as medical and mental health systems. She is further adept in working individually with students of all abilities to empower self-advocacy and goal achievement.

 

To schedule an appointment with one of NESCA’s expert transition specialists or neuropsychologists, please complete our online intake form

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton and Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

What Will Transition Services Look Like in the Fall?

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Becki Lauzon, M.A., CRC
Transition Specialist and Consultant

Many parents, educators and students are wondering what school will look like in the fall. This is especially important for those students who are receiving community-based transition services. The Massachusetts Department of Elementary & Secondary Education’s (DESE) Senior Associate Commissioner and State Director of Special Education Russell Johnston released a document on July 9th, that provides information regarding the “Guidance on Fall 2020 Special Education Services.” As many of you have heard, there are several options for models for schooling this fall, which include full-time, in-person learning, remote learning and a hybrid model that includes both. The following statement regarding Transition Services was included in this newly released document:

“Although in-person participation in community-based programs and inclusive concurrent enrollment programs at institutions of higher education may be limited at this time, schools and districts should make best efforts to develop plans collaboratively with community-based providers, colleges, parents/guardians, and students in order for students to access as much transition programming as possible. Current health and safety requirements must remain a priority when making decisions as to the extent that transition services are able to be accessed in community-based settings; however, it is highly recommended that in-person transition services resume as soon as it is safe to do so with the proper health and safety measures in place.”

As you can see, it is recommended that in-person transition services begin as soon as it is considered safe to do so. Many educators, families and students rely on schedules to be drafted and/or completed prior to the start of a new school year. In our COVID world that we are currently living in, this is a much harder task to accomplish with there being so many unknowns.

Thinking outside the box when it comes to delivering transition services has always been important. Now, it feels like this needs to be the top priority when planning. Below are some basic ideas around how to continue developing transition skills if community-based options are not available.

Independent Living:

  • Practice using Peapod or other online grocery delivery services
  • Cooking within the school building
  • Research how to order prescriptions online or over the phone
  • Practice mock phone calls to order food, make a medical appointment, etc.
  • Review public transportation schedules and research how long it takes to get from one place to another

Vocational:

  • Folding clothes or stocking shelves in the school store
  • Learn how to use Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.
  • Practice mock interviews
  • Use free online resources to watch short career videos and start a binder of what you like and don’t like about each job
  • Identify places you might like to work once they are hiring again

Functional Academics:

  • Access your bank account online and see where you spend your money
  • Use mock online banking resources to understand the do’s and don’ts
  • Practice ordering at a restaurant by using an online menu

 

About the Author

Becki Lauzon, M.A., CRC, works with teens, young adults and their families out of the Newton, MA and Plainville, MA offices. Lauzon has unparalleled experience as a Transition Specialist, Transition Consultant and Vocational Program Coordinator. Lauzon will be providing transition assessment (including testing, functional evaluations and observations) consultation, case management, training and professional development for schools; and transition planning, consultation and coaching for transition-aged students and their parents.

 

To schedule an appointment with one of NESCA’s expert transition specialists or neuropsychologists, please complete our online intake form

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton and Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.