A new approach in Kansas puts first things first in special education

Sep 19, 2012
photos of children

In Kansas, a new system is changing the way the state supports special education students and teachers. Student outcomes and district needs take center stage.

 The new approach puts the schools’ convenience above the service providers’, said Kevin Davis, a project coordinator with the CPD’s Center for Technical Assistance for Excellence in Special Education. This collaborative program with Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg, Kansas focuses on meeting educational goals through collecting and analyzing data. Then it provides professional development at the district, school and classroom levels.

It used to be up to the school districts to find their own specialists if they needed help. Now it’s up to Kansas’s Technical Assistance System Network, or TASN, to link school districts to the support they need. This allows the districts to draw from a larger pool of expertise.

While it sounds simple, it has revolutionary undertones. “We presented this idea at a national conference and people didn’t think we were serious,” said Marty Blair, associate director of TAESE.

A recent survey found that over the past six months, 96 percent of respondents under the new system said they’d received assistance “in a timely manner” and 90 percent rated the response as “helpful” or “very helpful.”

photo of the blue button

School districts request for assistance through the TASN website, where school district staff click “the big blue button.”  TASN staff responds to the requests within five business days.

“We’re encouraged by the results,” Davis said. “We are seeing more requests and involvement with the school districts."

“School districts get assistance quickly,” Dr. Blair added. “Some is one-time, but more often the help involves intensive training over time, with multiple experts combining their efforts to meet complex needs.”

Case study: behavior supports

Here’s one example of the new system: A week-long summer institute on behavior. It included a chance for teachers to apply what they learned onsite, with real students.

"So many times with training... we don't get student impact data,” said Lee Stickle, a TASN provider of Autism and Tertiary Behavior Supports. "That to me is a critical difference between a ‘sit and get’ and actually working on skills."

The training brings in professionals from different fields. "Being involved in interdisciplinary conversations and teams, every one of us brings a distinct perspective to what we're doing,” Stickle said. “We get a much more comprehensive view."

"We have fewer kids that are exhibiting dangerous or self-injurious behaviors," Stickle said. "We saw a reduction of those aberrant behaviors of about 23 percent. When those behaviors are not present, learning can take place."

Two-way communication

The TASN experiment began three years ago, after administrators in Kansas took a hard look at their special education services.

“The previous model was disability-specific,” said Colleen Riley, the Director of Special Education Services in Kansas.  Some providers overlapped services, other areas had gaps, and “silos” had developed where professionals did not coordinate much with others.

“We weren’t improving our state data as far as the achievement of our students in reading and math, or in compliance in secondary transition,” Riley said.

So the department’s administrators set some goals. They had already established a relationship with TAESE through work with the Mountain Plains Regional Resource Center. When Kansas Special Education Services decided to make some big changes to the way special educators were supported, they asked TAESE to help.

Now, as year three begins, Riley said projects are working together and collecting data on professional development. 

The result is much more integrated. “If districts want help they can ask for it and if districts need it, we can provide it. It’s not top down and it’s not bottom up. We can be both.”

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