Tag Archives: georgia alternate assessment

Thank You Questar!

18 Nov
Today, one of the assistant principals came in and handed me an envelope that contained a survey from Questar . For anyone who doesn’t know, Questar is the company responsible for scoring the Georgia Alternate Assessment (GAA). He wanted to know when I could have it done, and I told him maybe Friday. He said he needed it by tomorrow. Thing is, our GAA’s are also due tomorrow! This looked like just one more piece of worthless paperwork associated with the GAA, which already has dubious value.
I opened it up and looked at it, and suddenly it became a bit more of a cathartic exercise that I thought. I was able to fully vent my spleen upon those vile people who were intimately connected to this process that has so vexed me these past few years. Much of it was a Likert-type scale asking how I felt my students had benefitted from the GAA process, with 1 being the least and 4 being the most. That whole section was pretty much a ‘1’. Another section asked about administrative support. That scored about a ‘2’. They did give us leave time the first year, but we’re getting no extra time this year to do this stuff. We’re on our own and the schedule is tighter than ever with shorter deadlines. Administrative support amounts to 1/2 day of training, some ink cartridges, some card stock and a few meetings and deadlines. No regular education teachers are collecting the data at our school, which was one item scored on the survey.
Somewhere they got the idea that the GAA was supposed to revolutionize our teaching and the acheivement of our students. Actually, it has made some changes. The daily living skills and vocational skills are pretty much crowded out because they do not support any academic standards at the 11th grade level. Those goals are no longer a significant part of the IEP. In fact, there seems to be a full scale charge away from any vocational skills in the high school curriculum at all. While some of the content of my teaching has been more diversified, the relevance has mostly disappeared. Eleventh grade college prep standards mean very little to students who have IQ’s in the single digits. They asked how the GAA contributed towards greater student acheivement and learning. I was able to express to them that the GAA has NOTHING to do with student acheivement, learning or comprehension. There are many ways to fail the GAA by making it uinscorable. None of those ways have anything to do with student acheivement. Actual student acheivement is the LEAST prominent metric in the scoring of this “assessment.” It is all about meeting NCLB’s mandates without having to have any actual substance. It’s more of a test of a teacher’s endurance and gamesmanship than actual teaching.
One section did ask what benefits, if any, I had realized from participating in the GAA:
It has made me more politically aware and active in working toward the repeal of NCLB. It has also motivated me to research and consider other career options.
So instead of taking a day or two to complete the survey, it took me about 20 minutes to pound it out. It felt pretty good to get some of that out to those people. It would be nice to know any meaningful results from this survey. Since we’re right in the midst of the first collection period, I can imagine lots of Georgia teachers taking this opportunity to express their displeasure. I’m not sure if every teacher doing a GAA had to do a survey (I don’t think so) but rest assured, I was very candid and sharp in my remarks and comments.
I don’t blame Questar for their abominable assessment. They are simply providing a service that states need in order to comply with an abominable federal law. My students happen to be nonstandard students and there is no reasonable way to standardize them. Therefore, this unreasonable insult will have to do until control of education can be rescued from the federal lunatics and returned to the state asylum where it belongs.
You can also see a rant about the GAA I filmed and posted last night on my TeacherTube channel (link to video).

More GAA Tips and Tricks

2 Oct

 When you all went through your Georgia alternate Assessment (GAA) training, you may have encountered a slide that looked something like this:

What is a prerequisite skill

  • In order for an instructional task to align as a prerequisite skill, it must address the specific aspects of the element.
    • In the case of this standard/element, the prerequisite skill would have to somehow address the concept of variables or missing values.
    • Although mathematical symbols are often associated with algebra, it is not necessary to be able to use or identify them in order to be able to solve for a variable.
  • For most students with significant cognitive disabilities, it may never be meaningful, purposeful, or attainable to solve higher grade-level algebraic equations that require the understanding of mathematical symbols.
  • But they can do Algebra

The bold, italicized part is what I’d like to direct your attention to.  You can see the full Power Point here, and this happens to be from slide #20.  And that last statement is pretty funny just by itself.  “But they can do Algebra.” 

B.F. Skinner taught pigeons to play ping pong, so it shouldn’t be surprising that most students with severe cognative disabilities could learn a bit of algebra.  But even Skinner realized that teaching pigeons to do tricks like this wasn’t particularly useful.  If teaching these kids to do Algebra is not purposeful or meaningful, just exactly why are we spending ungodly amounts of money trying to do it and then showing that we did it?  At least the pigeons are entertaining!    Kids aren’t pigeons and when it takes hundreds and possibly thousands of trials to teach the simplest of tasks, it stands to reason that the best use of limited time and resources would be spent on teaching tasks that are purposeful, meaningful and attainable.  But that is our government at work.

So I have developed a bit of a template for choosing tasks for the GAA, and once I got in the groove, it made the experience a lot less traumatic for me and the students.  What it involved was looking at how I was going to show improvement between collection period #1 and collection period #2.  Since the entire GAA lasts less than 6 months (plus there’s a lot of breaks in between) there is little chance that a student will master a grade level task in that amount of time, especially at the high school level.  Progress might occur, but I have students that still can not recognize their name or their own face after 15+ years of instruction.  Let’s be realistic.

Fortunately there are many ways to show progress, and by employing a simple strategy you can do it and still keep most of your hair.

– Decreasing the prompt level: getting the student to accomplish a task more independently is progress.  In collection period #1, the bar is set relatively low.  you are introducing the standard, topic, and prerequisite skill to them.  This task will not necessarily differ from how their peers are introduced to a new topic. You are going to present something to them or have them read it.  Since our kids can’t read, you can read it to them.  Or you can show a video, movie or presentation on the topic.  The interaction the student has with the topic will look pretty minimal.  Like their regular peers, they are vessels being passively filed with knowledge and wisdom.  You could show a student the movie Tom Sawyer and document the student watching it.  Note the student’s attention level, interest, mood and any reactions they make to the movie or story.  Maybe get them to point to the screen.  Take pictures.  This is task one.

Task two might be looking at flashcards or working with the vocabulary of the topic.  Almost everey subject involves new vocabulary, so this is an easy one.  You can put the new words on a voice output device and have them practice “saying” the words.  Include lots of prompting and document that prompting level.  At this initial stage, there should be lots of it.  Take notes and take pictures.

I do use mostly pictures, but occasionally go into audio and video to document what I do.  I take tons of pictures and video.  In order to document a single task with a series of 4-5 pictures, I will take hundredsof shots…of each student.  Even students not taking the GAA are going to get in on the photo shoot.  While GAA spurs me on to do this, I make it worth my while by puting together big slide show productions for parents and these are video presentations my kids really like watching.  But the point is, is that you really need to have a ton of documentation in order to pick and choose the best.  Often, I’ll do video, sound and photos at the exact same time and then pick which one I like best later.  The point is that you want the flexibility that comes with having choices.  My first year, I didn’t have enough choices for my evidence and the only ones I had were lousy.  So now I start collecting early and I collect all the time with the goal of getting the right sort of documentation that looks the best.

Collection period #1 is a set up for collection period #2.  I know exactly what we’re doing for collection period #2 before I even finish #1.  In the first period, the bar is intentionally low and more realistically mirrors the experience they would get in a typical classroom.  I deliberately keep things low tech and the involvement low with high prompting levels and rates.  In collection period #2, it’s time to pull out all the stops and get that student interacting with the material as much as possible in the best way possible.  This is where I bring out all of my high tech adaptive technology.  Now the student can read independently using his/her switches.  They can read an adaptation of stories and textbook using a switch and having the material on a power point.  The student might even be able to presenta power point to a class!  I’ll use my voice output devices and Intellikeys and whatever else I can get to bring the student more fully into the content.  This second collection period is also when I generalize outside of my classroom and into the general ed. setting and into the comunity.  Get them listening and speaking with other people nd you have this part of the GAA covered.  So a task for this period involves reading more indepently, speaking with others and doing more manipulating.  A second task will involve some sort of test or quiz for mastery.  This can be identifying characters, elements, figures, historical people or whatever from an array of 2 or three.  Again, I’ll use some technology like a switch to enable the student to complete this as independently as possible. 

If you work on this on an ongoing basis for the rest of the semester, you can really make things less painful for you later on.  That is, DO NOT procrastinate!  You can wait on filling out entry sheets, but you need to be collecting something pretty much every single day from now until Thanksgiving.  Then between Thanksgiving and Christmas, you are just putting the portfolios together.  Keep a planning sheet on each child and check off each task/subject as you complete it. 

A lot of the training you get regarding the GAA is all about the regulations and format of it, without getting into details on how exactly you’re going to make this work.  That’s because the people who come up with this stuff don’t really know.  All they know is that they can do Algebra.  gaa-blank-planning-sheet 

I already have the ELA tasks pretty well nailed down, and have a good start on my math tasks.  For science I want to do states of matter, but how to you graphically represent “gas”?  Boardmaker doesn’t have anything so I’m going to have to either make up my own or find a different standard.  Any ideas?

Good luck!


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