When professional decision making is compromised by policy: A study of preschool outcome measures in NY State

Quality indicators are monitored when public monies are used, such as for Public Law 108-446, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) 2004. The act mandates that states develop and submit a six year State Performance Plan (SPP) to the government. For each of the quality indicators that states report on there has to be improvement activities and targets. The idea of all this is to drive improved quality within the system

Quality indicator 7 for preschool services requires that a percent of preschool children with IEPs demonstrate improved positive social-emotional skills (including social relationships); acquisition and use of knowledge and skills (including early language/ communication and early literacy); and use of appropriate behaviors to meet their needs. Performance on this indicator is assessed using standardized tests after children have participated in their preschool program.

The SPP requires that exit assessments only need to be conducted for preschool children with disabilities when they stop receiving preschool special education services due to program completion or declassification during the school year in which the school district is required to report exit data on this indicator. Annually, NYS requires a representative sample of one sixth of the school districts in the State to report progress data on this indicator. When a district is not required to report exit assessment data it is common that the district DOES NOT APPROVE requests for exit assessments. Also, terminating availability of declassification services by allowing EVERY child to simply age out of the program also negates the procedural trigger for exit assessment.

The sum total result is that children complete their preschool services and unless the school happens to be mandated for data sampling in that given year there is a really good chance that there will be no exit assessments. When there are no exit assessments that means that the CSE has no hard data to consider - and eligibility for that system is constricted. Also, parents are left in the dark not knowing the actual status of their child's progress as measured by full assessment.

Basic standards of practice would dictate that a therapist would want to have some kind of reasonable assessment data to make determinations about progress made, recommendations for future eligibility, and for feedback to families. Basic standards of practice are compromised by these policies.

School districts blatantly disregard basic standards of practice in favor of ONLY following the bare reporting requirements of the State Performance Plan. In the mail today I received a notice that read as follows:

The above mentioned memo advised you to request full evaluations for students you are considering for declassification. However, because we are not reporting on State Indicator 7 this year, you do not need to request a full evaluation for students you are declassifying.

What happens on the street is that very few children are referred directly to CSE - unless it is VERY obvious that they would have eligibility due to notable diagnosis (cerebral palsy, autism, etc.). In truth, very few children have such severe diagnoses and most kids who receive special education services have 'softer' developmental delays like learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder, or other problems that are often relatively less severe. This causes most children to 'age out' of special education, never receive a full exit assessment (unless the state happens to be looking for data that year!), and they are not again picked up on the elementary school side until they are failing in first or second grade.

I can't comment on the heart of the people who write memos indicating that there shouldn't be exit assessments since the state isn't looking. However, I can state that it is odd to dictate your practice based only on the likelihood of whether or not someone is watching your conduct at any given time.

One would hope for a more universal standard of 'appropriate practice.' In my opinion, any preschool child who has been receiving services should receive periodic reassessments to measure progress, particularly if they are at the terminal point of their preschool participation.

How can we recommend declassification services, and even if they were approved - how can anyone know what still needs to be worked on unless we have good assessment going on?

How did we get to this point? There are groups lobbying for even less oversight of the 'declassification' process for preschoolers. Professionals working in school systems need to understand that pressures for 'reform' are driven primarily by municipalities and counties who don't have the funds to support programs any longer and also by special interest groups representing school business officials who struggle with the challenge of meeting standards with a shrinking resource pool. When you hear the words 'mandate relief' you have to understand that this has absolutely NOTHING to do with what is professionally/educationally appropriate but it has EVERYTHING to do with what districts can afford.

I never thought that outcome assessment could be considered a radical request - apparently it is if the State isn't looking for data that year. But here we are.


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