The School of Education PASA Project Collaborates with Students from St. Anthony’s

by John Conroy

Pictured from left to right: Douglas Pirl, Jen Caffrey, Thomas Bost, Jennifer Myers, Jason Beck, Victoria D’Andrea, Dylan Berletic.

A group of students from St. Anthony School Programs—a local special education environment for children with intellectual disabilities—volunteer on the 5th floor of Wesley Posvar Hall in Oakland with School of Education staff, where, for the past few months, they have assisted with breaking down specialized test kits that are used to assess students with severe learning disadvantages across Pennsylvania.

St. Anthony’s originally contacted the School of Education in 2012 to support the school’s Dean’s Office, but the school’s Financial Manager Carole Bost thought the students could contribute more to the Pennsylvania Alternate System of Assessment (PASA) testing process. Under the supervision of her son, Project Coordinator Thomas Bost, as well as Research Associates Jen Caffrey and Douglas Pirl, and St. Anthony Post-Secondary Coordinator Jennifer Myers, the students volunteer two days per week throughout the school year, where they help with a variety of tasks.

Led by Emeritus Faculty member and investigator Naomi Zigmond, PASA is a statewide assessment designed for students with significant cognitive disabilities, which is typically administered in the spring or summer. Each test item represents a relevant and age-appropriate skill related to reading, mathematics, or science. The PASA is designed to take a snapshot of student's typical performance on a small sample of academic skills derived from the PA Academic Standards.

The PASA faculty and staff develop testing concepts, prepare the exam, and facilitate the distribution of testing materials to every school district in the state. Approximately 18,000 students are enrolled to take the PASA in 2015. Conferences are then held at the PaTTAN (Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network) in Harrisburg—one of three training and conference centers across the state—where 200 unique scorers view and grade the recorded exams for four weekends each spring.

“The students from St. Anthony’s help PASA staff prepare and distribute the test within the strict timeframes, and so students can be assessed and scored to meet state deadlines,” said Douglas Pirl.

St. Anthony’s is a Catholic special education environment that educates children ages 5-21 with Down’s syndrome, autism, aspergers, and other intellectual disabilities. For more than 60 years, St. Anthony’s has offered individualized lesson plans to determine each child's level of inclusion and need for classroom support.

“The students also learn great team-working skills, the ability to manage their time, and generally the overall concept of work in society,” added Thomas Bost. “The kids like to keep track of how many kits or kit bins they label, hold competitions against each other, and just really enjoy volunteering their time with us.”