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  • PALS

January 25, 2023 Meeting Minutes - Accommodations, Interventions, and Transitions

Updated: Aug 9, 2023

PALS Meeting Minutes

January 25, 2023 9:30 a.m.

Virtual Meeting using Zoom

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.

Upcoming Opportunity

If you are looking for more information about all things IEP, Inclusion, and 504 Plans, the PEAL Center has just what you're looking for:

Calculator Accommodations

We discussed a situation where a student's previous IEP provided the accommodation to use a calculator in class and during assessments. During an update, this accommodation was removed from classroom use, without prior discussion with the full IEP Team, i.e. without the parent/caregiver involved. The accommodation has been left in place for the PSSAs. When questioned about the removal of this accommodation, no real reasoning was given other than, we don't do that.

The idea that all parties want to know what a student's true ability is to meet the State's Grade Level Standards is valid and the Pennsylvania Department of Education Accommodation Guidelines for the 2023 PSSA and Keystone Exams makes clear:

"Accommodations provided to a student during state assessments must also be provided during classroom instruction, classroom assessments, and district assessments. However, some instructional accommodations may not be appropriate for use on certain statewide assessments. It is critical that educators become familiar with state policies about the appropriate use of accommodations during assessments."


"Accommodations During Instruction The student must be provided the selected accommodations during instructional periods that necessitate their use. An accommodation may not be used solely during assessments. As the state moves to providing assessments on technology-based platforms, IEP teams and student instructional teams must take care to ensure that students have opportunities to become familiar with the technological aspects of the assessment process. In addition to taking the practice tutorial using the Insight testing platform, it is also important for educators to provide opportunities for all students to use technology for learning. This is especially important for meeting the PA Core Standards expectation for all students to compose essays for the ELA PSSA tests. Also, constructed responses continue to be a part of the Keystone and PSSA tests. Online tools training platform: Online Tools Training Software Download The following online tools are available to all online test-takers as part of the test format as allowable for each section: • Pointer, cross-off pencil, highlighter, sticky note, magnifier, line guide, calculator, graphing tool, ruler, formula sheets & conversion tables Students enrolled in the online test versions will have access to a practice tutorial. Students must be provided with enough time using the practice tutorial and online tools to allow for optimal performance during the actual test."

Reading Intervention in Secondary Grades

It is typical for school districts to focus reading intervention programs in the primary grades K-5. However, evidence shows students in secondary grades 6-8 and 9-12, can benefit from age appropriate reading intervention programs as well. You have probably heard of Title I Reading Programs, which provides funding to support these programs. In addition to Title I, ARP ESSR (American Rescue Plan Act Elementary and Secondary School Education Relief, also appropriated approximately $250 million;

"funds to school districts and charter schools to address gaps in students' learning and social and emotional wellness through the implementation of evidence-based interventions. Eight percent (8%) of each local education agency's (LEA) allocation must be used to address student learning gaps in reading. LEAs are to implement evidence-based interventions that address the needs of students and subgroups of students most impacted by COVID-19."

As we look into what "evidence-based interventions" are, we become familiar with

"structured literacy supplements core instruction with an increased focus on the five essential components of reading (Phonemic Awareness, Phonics, Vocabulary, Fluency, and Comprehension) and incorporates a systematic approach that engages students' senses (sight, touch, movement, and hearing). Research on Pennsylvania's Dyslexia Pilot and Expansion Project demonstrated significant impact for students and school systems in the use of Structured Literacy. Additionally, the State Board of Education is currently revising Chapter 49 Regulations to include Structured Literacy training requirements for all pre-service and current grade PreK-4, special education, and English learner instructors. Access PA Training and Technical Assistance Network (PATTAN) Intro to Science of Reading resources for additional information."

If your family is seeking more information on how reading is being taught, the Intro to Science of Reading link above has everything you're looking for.

Getting back to reading intervention for secondary students, evidence has shown that students participating in a daily reading intervention course that provides them with age and reading level appropriate text of interest is important in engaging the student while scaffolding the strategies they need to enhance their reading comprehension, decoding, and vocabulary skills. Visit the IES WWC (Institute of Education Sciences What Works Clearinghouse) to see how different programs stack up.

For more information on the Science of Reading;

"Some suggestions for further reading Jane Oakhill and Kate Cain are the reigning champions of inference and its connection to comprehension. Their book with Carsten Elbro, Understanding and Teaching Reading Comprehension: A handbook, is an excellent source on what this Primer calls microcomprehension, as are Kelly Cartwright’s high practical Word Callers and Heidi Anne Mesmer’s Teaching Skills for Complex Text. The Reading Mind: A Cognitive Approach to Understanding How the Mind Reads is a new, engaging explanation of the psychology of reading from University of Virginia professor Dan Willingham. In prose aimed at teachers, it starts with a single E. L. Doctorow sentence and unpacks what the mind does in order to understand it. For a more thorough alternative, try Mark Seidenberg’s Language at the Speed of Sight: How We Read, Why So Many Can’t, and What Can Be Done About It—though note that the book, like its title, is not short. E. D. Hirsch’s readable and convincing Why Knowledge Matters: Rescuing Our Children from Failed Educational Theories lays out the argument for bringing content back into elementary classrooms. And on vocabulary there is no substitute for Bringing Words to Life by Isabel Beck and Margaret McKeown."

PaTTAN also provides resources "to assist our Parent Liaisons and parents of students involved in our Dyslexia Pilot sites. You will find valuable information about dyslexia, and additional links to resources."

Transitioning to Postsecondary with Accommodations

The transition from high school graduation to a postsecondary life can be an eye opener for anyone. We have heard directly from students and families/caregivers who received special education services through their IEP struggling after graduation. The most common story is of students failing courses their first college semester. These students and their families/caregivers believed they (the students) were prepared for a college curriculum based on the grades they received in high school. The reality was that they were ill prepared for life with little to no modifications and accommodations. Institutions of higher learning are not mandated to address a student's learning challenges as preK-12 public education is and the burden is placed on the student. The harsh reality of that first semester can be devastating. However, there are ways to prepare.

Generally high schools have Transition Coordinators, a staff member who is responsible for assisting students and families/caregivers for life after high school. This person is generally met for the first time in the IEP meeting set as the student transitions from middle school to high school. The coordinator will assist the student and families/caregivers navigate the resources available to the student after graduation. This can include facilitating OID, OBH, & OVR partnerships & hosting transition planning meetings w/case managers, independent supports coordinators, vocational rehabilitation counselors. You should be able to find your high school's Transition Coordinator under Special Education Services or possibly Administrative Staff.

Additionally, the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights provides a comprehensive FAQ guide for educators that is equally important for students and their families/caregivers to know.

Finally, over the years we have heard of programs like the University of Arizona's SALT program and Landmark College in Vermont, but there are more! While searching for these two known programs we stumbled upon the Ivywise list of Colleges with Programs for Students with Special Needs. Ivywise also provides information on Navigating the College Search Process With a Learning Difference.

Educational Advocates

Our conversations provided excellent examples of when an educational advocate can be helpful, especially when in an IEP meeting with the family. There are many different types of educational advocates available, some specialized in a specific learning difference and others are more general practitioners. Educational advocates can be paid or available with no fee through various organizations like Achieva.


Next Meeting: February 22, 2023 9:30 a.m. Virtual Meeting using Zoom.

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All meetings will be held virtually until further notice.


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