Wallara is really proud of our partnership with Monash University where our clients are trained by pre-Service teachers in numeracy and literacy. It provides trainee teachers with hands on engagement teaching people with different abilities and our clients get the benefit of their expertise and of course being part of the Monash Uni experience. It’s a true win/win and it means these teachers will know a lot more about disability when they enter the workforce and that will help Schools become more inclusive.
But the project has made us all realise how much we need assessment tools for people with special needs so we can identify what methods and strategies achieve the best outcomes. To know what teaching strategies work best we need to assess the clients before and after they receive this intensive tuition.
Finding these tools has proved difficult. It seems there just aren’t that many around.
Our lead partner at Monash Dr Sarah Hopkins has researched the area because we want to identify which teaching methods work best and share that information with others. However Sarah was surprised how difficult it was to find assessment tools for this project, and has started to believe we will have to develop our own.
So then I spoke to Scott Tucker, the Principal at Frankston SDS where my 15 year old daughter Phoebe attends, to see if he had any tools we could use because I know when students graduate from their special Schools and move to adult support services like Wallara that having accurate information on the graduating students is often less than perfect. When this happens, an adult support Service can often spend several months working out what level that client is at for numeracy and literacy etc. And for non-verbal students it make take even longer.
Scott told me the assessment tools available (including a tool called ABLES) provide some value however they aren’t sophisticated enough so he has started developing his own checklists to fully capture what each Student can do and that this information will be available for the families and carers to provide to adult Services to make that transition smoother.
In mainstream schools there is an ongoing debate around Naplan and the pros and cons of standardised testing. Assessments for kids who go to special schools are very different; instead of assessing what they can do with standardised tools, the system seems to be structured more on deficits because the more these are captured the better the level of funding and supports. Well-resourced schools like Frankston SDS which have OT and Speech Therapists and are able to fully capture a student’s needs will be more able to achieve funding than a smaller school with less resources who don’t have the ability to submit the same level of detail in the funding submission. So kids with special needs who attend those smaller schools may miss out on supports, and that can impact the outcomes that child achieves their entire time at school.
And if we play that forward to an adult support Service like Wallara when that student leaves School, if we don’t have a good assessment of that person’s skill level we could be under-developing that person for years longer and perhaps for their entire life.
Imagine if you were non-verbal like my daughter, with limited communication ability, and you have been forced to sit through the same classes for numbers and words for years because no one has properly assessed if these methods are actually working?
Our understanding of disability conditions is growing at massive rates. We all want to see greater employment participation, general community inclusion and we want to see every person realise their full potential. So why aren’t there more efforts to develop robust assessment tools for this cohort of students which are applied nation-wide at all Special Schools so when these kids move to the next phase of their life there is no time or talent lost?
Assessment tools will never be perfect and they all need to keep evolving. But let’s not treat kids with disabilities differently. Their abilities are just as important as anyone else’s and its time we had a nationwide effort to create a suite of assessment tools that enables this to occur and for students with special needs to receive the funding they require regardless of how well their particular School writes a submission.