July 26, 2000
Nine states adopt special-ed assessment program
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. The educational progress of special needs students for the first time can be gauged and documented, thanks to a computerized program created by Purdue University educators.
"These are students who have been long overlooked by traditional standardized testing programs," says Deborah Bennett, a Purdue assistant professor of educational studies. "With this alternate assessment, the skills of special needs students can be monitored on an ongoing basis throughout the school year."
The project, the Indiana Assessment System of Educational Proficiencies, is being implemented across Indiana this year and will be adopted by eight other states by the end of the year.
The system enables teachers to assess the educational growth of students with various levels of disabilities by combining their school work, personal interviews, video and audio clips, and rating surveys by the student's teacher or family members. All are filed in a secure electronic portfolio.
"This is geared for students who are not on the diploma track, and the goal is to provide special needs students with the educational experiences that will allow them to be productive, independent citizens," says Bennett, who is the project director.
The project took two years to develop and is now being implemented across Indiana with more than 800 teachers and 5,000 students.
"Robert Marra, the director of special education in Indiana, has been very instrumental in getting this project off the ground," Bennett says. "We originally designed this to provide meaningful assessment of students with severe disabilities, but we've now expanded it to include students with lesser disabilities as well. It is also being modified for other states."
She says the system is being customized for use in Illinois, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Washington.
The Individuals With Disabilities Education Act Amendment of 1997 requires that all students be included in statewide assessment and accountability systems by the year 2000.
"We began developing this program in the fall of 1997 with that in mind," Bennett says. "This project enables school districts to assess and provide accountability at the same time. It is designed to be used with a variety of educational standards, and that's one of the reasons other states are interested in it."
"Measured Progress," a nonprofit nationwide initiative to bring assessment and accountability to special needs education, supports the program on a national level.
"Each state faces issues of assessing students with disabilities, and the Purdue program is one of the best ways to document a student's performance while also conforming with each state's standards," says Ed Roeber, vice president for external affairs of Measured Progress. "For example, one of the standards in the Massachusetts science assessment is for students to separate magnetic metal from nonmagnetic metals, and this particular program shows educators how they can teach special needs children to do this. It also shows the educational progress throughout the school year."
Melanie Davis, a postdoctoral researcher in the Purdue Department of Educational Studies and project coordinator, says the program can assess more than 1,000 essential skills.
"Technology is critical in managing the collection of data," Davis says. "The use of multimedia documentation in developing an electronic portfolio provides the viewer with a more complete picture of the students' accomplishments. In other programs, the student's classwork is often kept separate from teacher assessments and instruction, but this enables the teacher to link the instruction, curriculum and assessment into one program."
Karen Dodson of Arcadia, Ind., has two children in special needs classes and is the educational coordinator for Assistive Technology Through Action in Indiana, which promotes the use of technology in special needs classrooms.
"From the beginning, this program has had a very positive focus on what kids can do rather than what they can't do," Dodson says. "It's been a good thing all around."
Security for the electronic portfolios is also incorporated into the program.
"We worked with CERIAS (the Purdue Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security) to develop a security protocol for the program," Bennett says.
Dodson says she has faith in the security of the electronic portfolio.
"As a parent I am very cautious about what information goes out about my children, and I can honestly say the state and Purdue have addressed those issues by setting up the passcodes and steps to prevent just anyone from going in and reading the portfolio," Dodson says.
The $500,000 project has been funded by the Indiana Department of Education, Purdue Multimedia Instructional Development Center and CERIAS.
Sources: Deborah Bennett, (765) 494-7237, firstname.lastname@example.org
Melanie Davis, (765) 494-9636, email@example.com
Writer: Cynthia Sequin, (765) 494-1057, firstname.lastname@example.org
Other sources: Karen Dodson, (317) 921-8766, email@example.com
Ed Roeber, (603) 498-6088, firstname.lastname@example.org