Nancy Clark is a Transition Facilitator with the Northwest Suburban Special Education Organization (NSSEO), a cooperative organization that serves two high school and six elementary school districts in communities northwest of Chicago. Nancy has a bachelorís in Special Education and a masterís in Learning Disabilities, both from Northern Illinois University. She has been with NSSEO for 15 years, providing transition-screening services to high school District 211. Nancy and two colleagues are responsible for serving the districtís Learning Disabled (LD) and Behavior Disordered (BD) students, who, by federal law, as sophomores, at age 14 or 14 ½ , begin preparing and planning for the world of work awaiting them after graduation. Nancy and her colleagues provide an array of services to about 200 of these students every year, about 40 students at each of the five high schools of the district.
The students must meet several diagnostic requirements to qualify under the program. Both the LD and BD students must be of average intelligence. The LD students have a variety of problems that adversely affect their educational achievement, resulting in a significant discrepancy between their actual accomplishments and what their intelligence scores would indicate should have been achieved. The BD students, as the term itself implies, have significant behavioral problems. They are often uncooperative and unmotivated. Many have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or mental illness.
Under law, schools must help such students make the transition from school into the world of work by creating individualized, detailed educational and transitional plans to guide them into appropriate coursework and post-graduation vocational experiences. Transition Screening is the central element of Nancyís program, and with LD and BD students, it is crucial to use assessment tools that motivate them to give their best effort. According to Nancy, Valparís Pro3000 fits the bill.
Some of the kids have serious physical disabilities. Cerebral palsy, spina biffida, kids in wheelchairs. We use COMPASS. We use the mouse, pointers, and other accommodations. Itís so engaging for them, the kids really like it. Itís really good at showing kids what theyíre good at and the occupational opportunities open to them as a result. It builds their confidence, and thatís particularly important for these kids whoíve had a tough time of it.
Nancy and her colleagues have developed what they call flip-flop testing. After carefully reviewing studentsí permanent files for previous testing results, educational history, and diagnostic information, students are organized into groups for testing, up to eight at a time. After long experience, Nancy and her colleagues know which students to group together to ensure a smooth, enjoyable testing session. We Ďflip-flopí: half of the kids take the computerized battery while the other half take the hands-on tests. By the time each group is finished, theyíre ready to switch places. It saves a lot of time.
Years ago, we used (a popular Pro3000 competitor), but the students didnít like it at all. Pro3000 is well liked by both staff and students. The variety of information you get is excellent. Not only the scores, but also the wealth of relevant subjective information that comes out. Things that directly relate to work, such as how well they listen and follow instructions. How they learn. How they cooperate with others in a group situation. All of that is very important to know as you develop the studentsí educational and transitional plans. We can project how much individual attention the students will require. It gives us a good variety of screening tools that provide direction for the future. Studentsí strengths and weak areas are clearly shown. It helps teachers understand what accommodations the students need. It shows the kids what theyíre good at, and that really encourages them. The hands-on portions are very popular. Many of these kids are good with their hands, and itís been very helpful, very versatile, very motivating. You donít get that with other systems.
High-level school personnel like Pro3000, too. Just for PR, said Nancy, we gave COMPASS to some of the administrators-principals, business education directors and so on. It was great. They really had a blast. Really enjoyed it. And, like the students, chuckled Nancy, a lot of interesting behaviors emerged that we had a great time with.
After the testing is completed, which takes about three days per school, Nancy and her colleagues meet with the students individually for counseling. They schedule a full class period of 55 minutes for each student to go over the screening results and form plans. By then the students have an idea of what theyíre good at and have begun to focus on occupational areas of interest.
Over 12 days every spring, after the testing has been completed, Nancy and her associates drive several vans out to the schools to pick up kids who have been grouped by their similar vocational interests. They are taken on day-long Career Exploration Field Trips. Students interested in construction or engineering might be taken to a trade school that specializes in those areas. Or, students who have an interest in that area might visit a manufacturing plant. The field trips can confirm and strengthen a studentís interests. Or, the experience might lead to some re-thinking if the observed work didnít seem attractive.
Nancy mentioned the recent example of a graduating senior who had asked her What should I be? She had replied I canít decide for you, but the COMPASS testing revealed that he was very good with his hands. He joined the armed services and got an assignment in metalworking, where heís doing well. The testing showed him what he was good at and gave him the confidence he needed. I really love Pro3000.
Oh, and by the way, said Nancy. Iíd like to mention that over the years, the technical support you get from Valpar has been just great. First with Bill, and now with Marty, itís outstanding.