Autism Society records most keynote and concurrent sessions at their annual conferences. You can see and hear those recordings by purchasing full online access, or individual recordings.
Professional development is key to improving instruction and increasing student achievement (Gage, 1984, Sparks and Loucks-Horsely 1990, Ball & Cohen, 1999, Cohen & Hill, 2000). This was reaffirmed by a study done by the Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL, 2006). This study examined 37 professional development programs and found that quality professional development can have a positive impact on student achievement, Unfortunately, McREL also found that most professional development does not include all of the characteristics of quality sustained professional development and hence has unreliable impact on student achievement. Sustained quality professional development (Joyce and Showers,1980, Ball & Cohen,1999) includes 1. theory based inservices, 2. modeling and demonstrations, 3. simulated practice, 4. structured feedback, and 5. observation and direct coaching in the classroom results in higher levels of behavior change, implementation and improved student outcomes. The common one-day workshops and conferences typically result in only minor implementation of strategies. Teachers of students with autism spectrum disorders often begin their careers lacking specific and adequate education regarding evidence-based strategies and interventions that have shown to be effective. In addition, once they are “on-the-job, they are rarely provided with either the second layer needed for effective staff development, that of modeling and direct coaching. Thirdly, they often are unable to participate in the needed follow-up opportunities to collaborate, assess and problem-solve around implementation of strategies learned. In addition, a systematic way of analyzing the outcomes of professional development and implementation seldom exists.
According to the National Research Council Educating Children with Autism 2001 Report, there is a short supply of staff with expertise and experience in autism spectrum disorders. In order to increase the supply of staff prepared to effectively work with students with ASD, they must be provided with staff development opportunities that go beyond the one-time workshops and conference lectures by well-known presenters. Staff must have multiple exposures to information, opportunities to practice and active involvement with hands-on opportunities and ongoing consultation (NRC, 2001). IATTAP proposes that when school teams have opportunities to participate in professional development that includes all of these components, staff implementation of learning and student outcomes increase.
Over the last thirteen years, the Illinois Autism Training and Technical Assistance Project, a statewide technical assistance initiative of the Illinois State Board of Education, has provided layered professional development activities that include a comprehensive 54 hour foundation level classroom experience (now delivered in an online format) and a practicum in different districts in Illinois as a follow-up. The on-line course covers identification, assessment, communication, social interaction and behavior and introduces the learner to a variety of evidence based intervention strategies. During the practicum experience, trainees work as a team directly with students with ASD, using a problem-solving approach to ensure success for the student. Through guided practice and feedback, school or district teams have the opportunity to work together applying strategies and supports while teaching students with ASD who are different ages and have different educational support needs. On the final day of the practicum, the team participates in a co-planning experience and implements strategies learned including their student with autism and typical students in an age appropriate education classroom lesson incorporating Illinois learning standards. At the conclusion of the training week, teams participate in a self-assessment and action planning process facilitated by IATTAP coaches. IATTAP coaches then meet with school or district teams throughout the school year as they implement their plans and supports, problem solve and monitor progress.
This session will describe how IATTAP’s layered professional development and the IATTAP’s coaches assist school and district teams to translate training into actual practice in their classroom and keep them implementing to build capacity and improve outcomes for students. Coaches work on-site with the school teams post training to self-assess, action plan and problem-solve. Schools and districts also use tools to evaluate their own systems of support and progress in order to be more effective in educating students with ASD. The model of coaching and tools will be shared, along with 2010 outcomes.
We can no longer just employ the” train and hope” technique of staff development for professionals working with students with ASD. With states now being increasingly called upon by federal mandates such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA), No Child Left Behind and State Performance Plans to have qualified teacher and produce data on outcomes, effective professional development and the collection and use of data at the school level is going to become a requirement. The process that IATTAP uses includes a systems approach to data based decision making and also involves the development of school-based coaches who will be in a position to sustain the process at the school level. Evaluation tools developed are used in all school sites involved in IACN. IATTAP Tools used include Effective Implementation and Support of Educational Program for Autism (EISPA) Survey, School-wide Team Implementation Checklist, Classroom Observation Checklist, Interview Walkthrough and Phases of Implementation. IACN Coaches track and report quarterly for each school to guide technical assistance and planning activities at state, regional, and local levels. Session participants will be introduced to the tools and examples of their use.
The increase in students with ASD calls for both the need to develop a guide for good professional development as well as a system for analyzing the outcomes of that training and technical assistance, collecting data on what is being done, how students are performing as a result of interventions provided and using the data to make decisions on educational interventions and systemic changes. IATTAP has developed an easily replicable process and products that schools in Illinois and other states can utilize to increase the impact of their professional development and improve the outcomes for students with ASD.
Content Area: Education
Kathy L. Gould, M.S.
Illinois Autism Partnership at Easter Seals Metropolitan Chicago