LAWRENCE — Special education teacher Cary Rogers was not surprised when she saw her students working on and solving complex algebraic equations. Rogers has high expectations.
Rogers, now an education program consultant at the Kansas State Department of Education, and her students in Parsons used the Dynamic Learning Maps (DLM) alternate assessment administered by Accessible Teaching, Learning, and Assessment Systems (ATLAS), a part of the Achievement & Assessment Institute at the University of Kansas.
ATLAS works with educators in more than 20 states to provide assessments for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities. DLM assessments are computer-based and accessible to students for whom general state assessments are not appropriate, even with accommodations.
The educator expert panel identified a range of postsecondary opportunities for students who meet the DLM achievement standards, including employment with wages and benefits similar to those without disabilities who perform the same work. Specific career examples include veterinary assistant, stock clerk, hospital guide, automotive detailer and many more. Students also have the skills necessary to pursue vocational training, community or continuing education classes and university-based programs for students with disabilities. A study published in October 2020, conducted to meet U.S. Department of Education requirements, showed that students who meet academic expectations on DLM assessments have the skills necessary to pursue competitive and integrated employment after high school.
“In the past, we spent so much time focusing on functional skills. With DLM, we’re required to link those to the general education curriculum and really have high expectations for our students,” Rogers said. “My high school students worked on solving algebraic equations, and that was something that they probably would not have been exposed to otherwise. And I had students who showed that they could do that.”
ATLAS Director Meagan Karvonen said Rogers’ experience reflects a core belief of ATLAS that all students, including those with the most significant cognitive disabilities, can demonstrate knowledge and skills and make progress relative to academic expectations of their grade level. The map-based system allows students to build strong foundational skills and build on those skills over time.
The ideas and methods at the core of the DLM Alternate Assessment System are universal to learning, regardless of the specific content or level, Karvonen said. With high expectations, access to content and opportunities to demonstrate progress, all students can meet or exceed their academic targets and pursue meaningful work, education and community involvement beyond high school.
“No matter where any student is in their learning, there is always a next step to take,” Karvonen said.
Photo: Baristas in coffehouse. Credit: Stock image courtesy of KU ATLAS.