The GAA Begins: Tips and Tricks

16 Sep

We just had our training for GAA as the window for collecting data opened on Sept. 4th.  There are not a lot of changes from last year which could be good or bad depending on how you see it.  Short of it going away altogether, they might as well keep it the same.


I figured I might blog my GAA experiences this year and share what I’m doing and how I’m doing it.  It might help a few teachers who are just now experiencing it for the first time plus just give a forum for spleen venting if you need it.


I’m fortunate in only having one 11th grader this year, so it looks like a comparatively light load.  However, the student I’m doing GAA with has the most profound cognitive disabilities I’ve ever had to try to assess.


So job #1 is looking at the student and assess what they can do.  I actually started this process as soon as he wheeled into my room as a freshman.  The earlier you can start, the better off you’ll be.  And if you comprehend nothing else I write, comprehend this: you can not start this task early enough.  In fact, if you have not started collecting data as you read this, you are behind already.  In fact, I’ll just go ahead and say that no matter where you are in the process when you read this; if you’re not done you’re probably behind!  I say this because every year I have seen teachers scramble to meet the deadlines set up by their local administrators.  And those scramblers are stressed and making mistakes that they have to keep correcting which puts them even further behind.


Something to keep in mind is this: there are many ways a Georgia Alternate Assessment can “fail.”  None of those ways to fail have anything whatsoever to do with student achievement.  This is the only assessment I’ve ever seen where actual student achievement counts as nil in a final failure.  It is all about the teacher who is completing the work.  The student is really an accessory and a prop in this assessment.  When you shift the focus off of actual student performance and on to your ability to deliver a finished and complete portfolio then the task is clearer and it might help lessen some of the frustration.  I know this is not the party line or the bill of goods being peddled by Washington or Atlanta.  However I’m concerned about reality and the reality is that NCLB has been twisted beyond all recognition when dealing with kids with severe disabilities.  The law never took our students into account when it was written.


Back to the job at hand. 


Once you know how the student is going to respond, you have an array of choices as far how the student will respond to the tasks. 


Let’s talk about standards for a minute.  My kids all function at a level measured in months and they are expected to meet standards designed for students functioning at a 16-17 year-old level.  As teachers, we have latitude as far as specific standards and strands to pick from and we are allowed to address prerequisite skills.  This process of selecting standards and strands is one that should be pretty common nowadays as far as daily/weekly lesson plans anyway.  We are being held increasingly accountable for those standards as SID teachers and that means planning and teaching to the standards.


These are steps that should have been done already at the beginning of school.  I’ve had to totally retool my program from daily living skills and community-based instruction to being standards-based instruction.  Relevancy does not really count anymore.  If you can make it relevant than you are doing well, but that is not the focus as much as addressing regular education standards with age-appropriate materials.  We are, in essence, teaching to the test here.  When I make up my lesson plans, they are all aligned to standards found in the GAA blueprint.  Given the fact that my students learn much slower than average and they need hundreds and maybe thousands of trials to show improvement or mastery, a handful of standards go a long way.


The next step is to develop your strategy for completing the portfolio.  You need to pick the standards, the tasks, the methods of documentation and opportunities to show generalization.  The better you plan the smoother the process.  When I made my plan for the semester last year, the units of study were aligned with my GAA topics, with the possibility of several units and standards so I wasn’t tied to just one possible topic or task.  This year, those units are being further aligned with specific standards and tasks in the GAA blueprint. 


Helping things along in the planning is a GAA planning sheet that should be done for each student.  I’ll see if I can put one up with this post.  Having that sheet entirely completed will go along way in getting the portfolio complete.  It was while working on mine that I came up with a formula for picking out my GAA tasks for the collection periods that is pretty universal for me.


Collection period #1, Task #1: In collection period one, one task for any given standard involves listening, reading, watching and observing.  Student participation is minimal at this point because mastery and proficiency are going to be demonstrated in collection period #2.  We’re just starting out, so the student may respond to the instruction, but the response is minimal.  They may be reading a book, watching a movie, or perhaps interacting with an adaptation of a text or story.


Collection period #1, Task #2 does involve a bit more involvement and deals with the vocabulary of the topic/subject.  For this task, the student will match, identify and or speak and interact with the new words of whatever the topic is. The student can use an AAC device for this task in order to use the new words.


Collection period #2 Task #1: Now the student needs to show more mastery and sophistication with the subject matter in order to show improvement.  For many students with severe disabilities this is no small thing.  My approach has been to go at this simultaneously from two different angles.  One is to bring generalization into it and having the student perform the task in a less restrictive setting outside of the special education setting.  It could be the cafeteria, another regular ed. Classroom, the administrative office or the community. I get custodians, lunchroom personnel, coaches and administrative assistants involved.  The goal is to expand the educational universe beyond the special education classroom.  The second approach is to ramp up my technology.  While I may use some technology in the first collection period, I keep it as unsophisticated as possible.  In collection period #2, the student will interact a lot more with the material.  In science, we’ll actually do some sort of experiment that applies what was read/discussed/talked about in collection period #1. 


In task #2 I allow the student to demonstrate some sort of mastery by doing a test, quiz or some other generalization exercise concerning the vocabulary we had in collection #1.  Again, I’ll pull out extra technology in order to get the student engaged with the material with less prompting and less help. 


The data collection generally matches the task.  Captioned photos are the easiest to handle for me, as my students do not produce much in the way of products.  Observation forms and interview forms are also good for the secondary tasks.  Audio and video would be natural options for many of these tasks, however the state wants a detailed written script to go along with the audio or video in case the audio or video media does not work.  In other words, audio and video involve at least twice as much work and we’re generally discouraged from using it.


So that is the GAA so far.  I’ll be keeping you updated as we go along. 

Here is the attached gaa-planning-sheet

5 Responses to “The GAA Begins: Tips and Tricks”

  1. Dr. Sanford Aranoff at 4:17 pm #

    All the activities you mentioned, such as data collection, etc., etc. may be important, but the bottom line is you must know how students think. See “Teaching and Helping Students Think and Do Better” on amazon.

  2. Daniel Dage at 10:29 pm #

    Dr. Aranoff, I looked at excerpts from your book and you have some very lovely thoughts there with lots of truth mixed in. It’s very true that understanding how kids think is the key. I would be interested to hear of your thoughts and experiences in teaching students with severe and profound cognitive disabilities. I could use a little help in making algebra relevant, meaningful and accessible to these particular students! The above article is less about actual teaching than it is about meeting the requirements of the state in regards to state and national legislative requirements. But I do manage to slip in some actual teaching in between meeting the various governmental mandates!

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

  3. kim at 9:25 am #

    You are so right about being fortunate (having to do one!!!!) I have eight to complete, on three different grade levels (3,4,&5), that is, if no one new shows up, then you start the process all over again, if they come from out of state. What a Nightmare!!! What kills me, is that general ed. teachers are responsible for one grade level when teaching standards. I’m poking, proding, and playing seek and find to find activities on THREE grade levels, so unfair to all of us, teacher’s and student’s. Thanks

  4. calliemae at 3:35 pm #

    this is where i see the problem with NCLB. They make these standards for children saying everyone will receive and education, but what they didn’t look into was students with severe disabilities, that can not reach these requirements. If a student has severe cerebral palsy and the curriculum calls for the 10th grader to be able to write her name, how is that possible if the student does not have control of her fine motor skills? The state doesn’t take into account of accommodation. Well actually they do but if says if you accommodate the curriculum then the student doesn’t receive a regular diploma. So doesn’t this contradict the whole logic in NCLB? I also applaud the way in which you collect data, i never thought to use videos or cameras. I guess that is concrete enough to show parents and administrators progress

  5. Daniel Dage at 4:50 pm #

    Your comment reflects a lot of my thoughts, Kim. I’m thinking that maybe full inclusion might help wake some folks up. Not many know what we do and not many care because we’re secluded, not to mention marginalized. No it’s not fair at all.

    Yes, Calliemae I do encourage shooting as many pictures as possible and then using Picassa to go through and batch edit and categorize and sort. While I still have to put grades into the computer, the pictures I give the parents are a lot more meaningful and better reflect what we really do. NCLB is pretty rough on our kids and their parents, but most people outside the syatem just have no idea.

    It just wears at me to have to be gaming the system like this. Where’s the room for integrity?

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