A Model of Effective Assessment in Residential Academic Programs

Article excerpt

Within each state there is a patchwork of residential educational programs that are affiliated with youth shelters, detention centers, hospitals, mental health facilities, and other settings. In Iowa, the local school district, an area education agency (AEA), the Department of Human Services, and others provide educational services. Heartland AEA's Shelter Care Educational Program (SCEP) provides the educational program in six central Iowa youth shelters and Iowa's largest juvenile detention center. SCEP, mandated by Iowa law, is funded by appropriations from local school districts and monitored by the Iowa Department of Education.

The Department of Human Services or the Juvenile Court places the students who are educated in SCEP facilities. Shelter facilities are residences run by county, state, or private agencies to provide safe places for children who are not able to live at home. Most children are placed in shelter facilities by court order because of abuse, neglect, abandonment, or difficulties related to substance use. The majority of children return home, while others go on to foster homes, group homes, hospitals, or residential treatment facilities. The children range in age from 5 to 17, with most in the 14- to 16-year-old range. Youth who have criminal charges filed and are awaiting adjudication are housed in locked detention centers. Students attend SCEP for short periods of time, averaging 35 days in shelter and 14 days in detention. Though other residential educational settings might have longer average stays, most share common challenges in educating their students, some of which are the length of their stay in SCEP (from a few days to a few years) and their varied educational experiences because of enrollment in many school districts. In Iowa, SCEP served 1,751 students from 99 school districts in 20092010. Nearly all of the students were either considered at risk or were eligible for special education services due to poor academic skills and social-emotional difficulties.

Although children and youth often arrive at a shelter or detention facility in crisis, decisions about education are made immediately to minimize lost instructional time. Each student who is placed in the shelter program has his/her academic skills assessed at intake. Some shelter students are bused to the public school, while students at the detention center always attend classes in the on-site classrooms. When children attend classes at a shelter or detention facility, teachers either use the curriculum from the student's home school or develop an individualized course of study based on the student's academic skills and academic program from the previous educational placement. Students attend classes during the traditional academic year and for a 6-week summer session. Teachers use classroom management plans that provide the structure necessary to create a positive learning environment for all students. A cooperative relationship between the classroom and facility personnel further ensures student success and well-being. Although children are away from home and in unfamiliar surroundings, the classroom environment provides a safe and effective place for students to learn.

SCEP's mission is to provide an effective learning environment to meet the individual educational needs of youth in shelter and detention through a comprehensive model of educational assessment and instruction in core content areas and essential skills. Core instruction is aligned with the essential concepts and skills of the Common Core and the Iowa Core as outlined by the Iowa State Department of Education. That alignment allows for easier transitionbetween the SCEP classroom and the classroom in the student's home district. Essential concepts and skills are to be acquired by all students during core instruction. Students enter the program with wide ranges of skill levels, making it necessary to efficiently and effectively assess their skills in the areas of reading, mathematics, and written language, ensuring that all students are taught at their instructional level. …