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April 24, 2024 Meeting Minutes - FCASD Graduation, Twice–Exceptionalities+ (2E+)

Updated: Apr 25

PALS Meeting Minutes

April 24, 2024 9:30 a.m.

Virtual Meeting using Zoom


What Graduating From FCAHS Is Like

Over the years meeting participants have expressed a variety of concerns regarding student graduation at Fox Chapel Area High School (FCAHS). Two themes stand out:


  • Students and families realize AFTER graduation that they were completely unprepared and believe they were pushed/passed through.

    • April 2017 Students academically unprepared after FCAHS graduation.

    • May 2018 Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR)

    • May 2022 IEP Life After FCAHS Graduation is not what you expect.

  • Families experiencing a lack of communication between school and home with full transparency when it comes to graduation requirements, graduation testing, graduation pathways, etc, and where the students are REALLY at academically.

    • February 2023 One of these things is not like the others; FCAHS graduation breakdown

    • April 2023 Wait! There's more; graduating from FCAHS is different

    • September 2023 FCAHS graduation update & FCASD board meeting

    • October 2023 FCASD graduation related board meeting reminder


Today, we talked further about graduating from FCAHS, with more parents sharing their family's experience. These experiences include:


Stay Informed

More often than not parents believe they can trust that their child is receiving all the services a school and its district has to offer. That each child in a school district is given the same opportunities to experience a robust curriculum and the support they need to excel while in school and beyond. Regardless, it is important for parents to be involved by staying informed. Involvement looks different for each family and there is one thing that all families can do; remain informed. Familiarizing yourself with a district's curriculum, standards, and policies is a great way to stay informed. It should not matter whether or not you have time to partake in a school's curriculum night, open house, transition events, parent/teacher conferences, and PTO meetings to be informed. Even then, you might be left with questions or you may want more information. If communication was a priority, the school would ensure every effort was made to keep families informed especially when it comes to something as important as graduation requirements. Instead, many parents complain of unresponsive staff and a quickness for the high school to put the responsibility solely on the student. While there is a legitimate need for independence at a high school level in preparation for life after graduation, keeping families informed allows for the scaffolding most young adults need as they transition to adulthood. Keeping families informed should result in fewer students falling through the cracks of responsibilities and ensures the school has the best interest of the student at heart.


For instance; two of the issues discussed today were the Graduation Proficiency Project and SAT/ACT testing. What do you know about these two things? Do you know why a student would need to complete a Proficiency Project or how to go about making sure a request for accommodations (if applicable) is made for the SAT or ACT, or how students are guided through the college application process? Or do you know where to find all the information you may be interested in on the district and school websites? In some cases the information you think would be located in one place is not, leading to confusion.


*Make sure to OPT IN to receive emails from your child's school and the district through PowerSchool. If you do not OPT IN, you do not receive notifications for school delays, attendance calls, district emergencies, and building-specific school communications. It would be great if the district switched this to an opt-out format to ensure EVERY family receives these important communications and no family, or student, is left behind.


Know where to find information that can help you, like:

As it directly relates to today's topic of graduation:

FCASD 217-AR Graduation Requirements
.pdf
Download PDF • 14KB

FCASDAct158FAQfc
.pdf
Download PDF • 147KB

 

Proficiency Project Pathway

During public comment at a recent FCASD Board's Academic Committee meeting, a parent spoke about the current FCASD policy regarding the Keystone Proficiency Graduation Credit. A board member told the parent that "they were the only one complaining so it must not be a problem". Another board member said they "appreciated learning what actually happens when a student is required to complete the alternative proficiency project." FCASD administration is not supportive of changing the policy.


What happens when a student doesn't pass a Keystone Exam and what is the Alternative Proficiency Project?


The Alternative Proficiency Project is an online Schoology slide deck and worksheets. The student is assigned modules based on their Keystone performance. For instance a student missing proficiency by one point on the Biology Keystone was assigned four Biology modules covering the failed portion. Each module had five questions. In this case, a total of twenty questions. The student completes the worksheets on their own in a self-paced manner. The student can have the slides open in one window and the worksheets in a different window and click, click, click to completion. In the case of this particular family, it was a twenty minute exercise for their student which was found to be meaningless and humiliating. It is reported that in some cases, students assigned the Proficiency Project pay other students to complete the worksheets for them, while in other cases, materials are modified for some students. It is unclear what those modifications are and if the students receiving modifications are receiving 504 or IEP accommodations. In 504 Plans and IEPs, there are accommodations for tests not modifications. While the district has the right to modify the Proficiency Project they built and administer to students who do not meet our local graduation requirement, the questions then becomes, why do students who have completed Commonwealth proficiency requirements need to complete the worksheets, does the project validity stand, and what is the benefit to students?


As a note:

"Providing a student with a modification during the PSSA or Keystone tests may constitute a test irregularity and may result in an investigation of the school or district’s testing practices. It could also affect a student’s score." Accommodations Guidelines 2024 PSSA and Keystone Exams from the Pennsylvania Department of Education

Accommodations allow a student to complete the same tasks as their peers but with some variation in time, format, setting, and/or presentation. The purpose of an accommodation is to provide a student with equal access to learning and an equal opportunity to show what he knows and what he can do.


Modifications are changes in what students are expected to learn, based on their individual abilities. Unlike accommodations, which do not change the instructional level, content, or performance criteria, modifications alter one or more of those elements on a given assignment.


As this parent plainly put it, the reality is;

"The goal seems to be that having a scary sounding "project" will negatively incentivize students to take the Keystones, repeatedly if necessary, in order to fulfill one proficiency pathway where five pathways are recognized by the Commonwealth. To be clear, Fox Chapel students still utilize the five pathways when proficiency is reported to the Commonwealth in December of their senior year. While it can be reasonable to retest a Keystone as the most efficient path for a student, it does have the added benefit of improving the score that is publicly reported and utilized by ranking websites such as Niche and Pittsburgh Business Times. Instead of placing the student first and recommending a path that is best for their situation, the district chooses to negatively incentivize its students to retest the keystone exams."

This parent hopes other families can learn from their experience;

"I would encourage students to take the Keystone exam. The data point is important and useful. Families should become familiar with Act 158 and the pathways provided. Should their student meet Commonwealth proficiency standards, but not FCASD standards, the student can complete the workset project at home in the spring of their senior year. Above all else, I would recommend that you inform the school board of your student's journey in the hope that they may one day change the graduation credit and eliminate the unnecessary Fox Chapel project.

We are left with questioning what the real value is in the graduation proficiency project. If a student has met the Commonwealth's composite score for graduation, what value does the district place on the student's well being with the graduation proficiency project? How does causing undo stress on a student for missing a score on a Keystone exam while still meeting Commonwealth standards create value? Perspective home buyers and owners are not nit-picking through a school district's graduation requirements when deciding to resident in a district. There is no ranking entity that says FCAHS is better than the rest because they require students to earn an additional credit through the Keystone Exams or Proficiency Project. There is no higher education institution that will accept a FCAHS student over another based on this one credit.


Families have reported that special education students are often told not to worry about the Keystones if they do poorly. Then, during their senior year the student is told they will not graduate from Fox Chapel without completing the Proficiency Project if they have not scored high enough on their Keystones. It is traumatizing to receive this information and has been extremely anxiety producing for students and families.


Additional resources of interest on this topic include:



Visit our April 2023 Meeting Minutes and February 2023 Meeting Minutes for the complete breakdown of FCASD Keystone Proficiency Graduation Credit and Proficiency Project policy.


 

SAT/ACT Testing and Accommodations

Don't be fooled! If your student receives testing accommodations for local and state testing, they may be eligible for accommodations when taking a College Board Exam (PSAT/NMSQT, PSAT 10, SAT, or AP Exams) or ACT Test. In this section we breakdown the basics of College Entrance Exams in three sections, with links for you to explore further.

*Note: It is the College Board or ACT that approves or disapproves requests for accommodations, NOT the School.


Three Sections and Links to Know:


The FCAHS webpage on College Testing offers links to;

  • Taking a college entrance exam

  • Test dates and registration for the SAT and ACT

  • Test preparation services

  • SAT vs ACT

  • Direct links to SAT, ACT, Test Optional Colleges, Khan Academy, and AP Exam Information


"College Board considers all requests for accommodations needed by students with documented disabilities."

College Board recommends families work with their school's Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) Coordinator to make a request for accommodations. It is advisable for families to understand the process, including guidelines and deadlines to stay on top of the process. The College Board provides a page specifically for students and their families. There you will fine information on:

  • Get approved by SSD.

  • Start the process early.

  • Request accommodations through the school.

  • Follow up with the school.

  • Make sure evaluators provide enough evidence.

  • Request only what is needed on test day.

  • Take advantage of any special-formate practice tests that may be available.

  • Make sure accommodations are available on test day.

"Even students with an IEP or 504 plan should still submit a request. Students with a formal accommodations plan will still need to request accommodations for the PSAT/NMSQT, PSAT 10, SAT, or AP Exams."

Find more information directly from College Board Accommodations page including:

Additional Resources:


"ACT is committed to providing appropriate accommodations for examinees who take the ACT test."

ACT recommends students and families work with the student's educational team and school official. It is advisable for families to understand the process, including guidelines and deadlines to stay on top of the process. ACT dedicates a page to Test Accommodations and English Learner Supports with a 5 Step Process:

  1. Register to test.

  2. Work with your school official to submit your request.

  3. Review the decision notification with your school.

  4. Approved for special testing? Make arrangements to test!

  5. Print your admission ticket.

"ACT provides access to the ACT® test for individuals with disabilities through appropriate, allowable accommodations based on the examinee's demonstrated needs. To assist examinees in demonstrating a need for accommodations, ACT has established guidelines regarding submission of documentation of an examinee’s disability and history of using accommodations. ACT approves accommodations in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and in alignment with determinations made by school officials pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 Rehabilitation Act (Section 504)." 

The ACT dedicates a page to it's Accessibility Supports Guide for the ACT–National and Special Testing, here families will find detailed information about:

  • Educational Team Decision Making

  • Testing with Accessibility Supports

  • Authorizing Accessibility Supports

  • Understanding Accessibility Supports Options

    • Includes Accessibility Supports

    • Presentation & Formats Supports

    • Response & Navigation Supports

    • Setting & Location Supports

    • Timing Supports

  • Testing Considerations

  • Test Administration Details

    • Includes Timing for Tests


Suggestions from a parent's perspective on the college entrance testing process:

  • Research the tests and decide on taking the one that provides the better outcome for your student. Example: This family decided that the SAT would be a better fit for their student based on the reading portion of the individual tests. The SAT Reading Test had longer passages and few questions, while the ACT Reading Test had more overall reading and questions on diverse subjects.

  • Know what to expect in advance. If your student's IEP indicates "human reader" the SAT digital exam offers a text-to-speech digital reader. There are different voices to choose from.

  • There is a two week window to schedule your student's SAT test with the SSD Coordinator once you receive your ticket from College Board.

  • The College Board looks for historical evidence of accommodations in a student's 504 Plan or IEP.

    • With this in mind, you want to make sure there is clear language in your student's plan about the accommodations. If it is extended time it would be written as "50% more time", "100% more time", or "double time".

  • Your student can sign up to take the SAT during a school day. This is offered twice a year and is generally announce to students in the guidance department. *Inquire with the school for updated information on this opportunity.

 

Open Forum

Open Forum is an opportunity for participants to come together and discuss a variety of topics, offer resources, and ask questions related to special education.


Twice-Exceptionalities (2E)

PALS received an email from a parent looking for information about receiving services for a dual exceptionality high school student. Concerns over not receiving a response from school staff and the apparent difficulty in the district acknowledging an IEE (Independent Educational Evaluation) and 2E+ students receiving accommodations is leading to thoughts of needing the help of an advocate and/or lawyer to assist in the process.


Hopefully, the PALS response was helpful:


PALS have discussed 2E+ in the past. A search on the website and found the May 25, 2022 meeting minutes. We only spoke about it briefly however the resources included in the minutes should give you the back-up you need when someone tells you NO to accommodations and services for a 2E+ student. YOU ARE NOT ALONE!


Go to the Blog page of the PALS website and type IEE into the search bar. There you will find five different times that it is mentioned in meeting minutes. There may be resources in there that will help you utilize the IEE in getting services.


When it comes to response time, here is a copy of the Special Education Timelines booklet from the state. Familiarize yourself with the timeline and remember, evaluations are NOT conducted over the summer other than maybe the days right before the new school year and FCASD normally follows the timeline to the T. In others-words, when the timeline says something must be done in "60 days”, shared experiences show FCASD will typically take the entire 60 days. You will want to get any requests in ASAP; whether evaluation or meeting.


Getting an advocate can be very helpful when navigating new waters. PALS talked about advocates and advocacy in February. There are a links to Achieva, The Arc, and Autism Connection of PA there. A Google Search looking for speciality advocates in the area may help. Use a variety of word combinations to ask the question. Sometimes you can find additional information by switching up the words you use in the search. The PEAL Center is often a great resource for families. 


As far as lawyers, if the school isn’t responding there is a problem and you have to do what you have to do. PALS has welcomed Nancy Potter to meetings in the past. She not only gets it as a lawyer, but also as a parent. There are many educational lawyers in the area specializing in education law. There is also the Education Law Center that might be a resource for you.


A few notes;

  • Have grace for the resources/advocacy groups, they are often short staffed, especially after 2020 and may take a few days to return your call.

  • Don’t give up! Educate yourself and use “their” (educators) language when making your requests, from requesting an evaluation to accommodations, to suggestions in the IEE, to goals, etc… For instance, can you call for a GIEP meeting to discuss the diagnosis and IEE and begin the IEP process or will they make you start the IEP process from the beginning? If so that could mean you need to request the district conduct an evaluation. In which case you will want to have the evidence of why you are requesting the evaluation, beyond the IEE and diagnosis. You want evidence/data that shows how the diagnosis impacts education. If your child is struggling with schoolwork every night this situation can be your starting point when thinking about what accommodations you think they need. What are you doing to help? What strategies are being used to complete the task?


Here are a few more resources found that may be helpful:

This PDF from PAGE offers additional links to resources.


Scroll down to Dual Exceptionality. This is on the Pa. Department of Education website.

 ** Does what is written here mean families are able to request a reevaluation under your GIEP and within the purpose of the request you address the Autism and ADHD diagnosis?











 

Next Meeting: May 22, 2024 9:30 a.m. Virtual Meeting using Zoom.

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SPECIAL NOTE

All meetings are held virtually.


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