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An Interview with Brandon Linden: About the BRIGANCE® Transition Skills Activities from Curriculum Associates.

Nov 3, 2011 by

Brandon Linden is Executive Editor at Curriculum Associates in North Ballerica, MA. For additional information, interested others can call 800 225 0248 or visit BRIGANCE.com/Transition

Michael F. Shaughnessy
Eastern New Mexico University
Portales, New Mexico

  1. First of all, tell us about the BRIGANCE® family of products in general. I know some guy named Albert Brigance developed them, but what was the original purpose?

The BRIGANCE® tests are pretty unique in my mind, because they were developed by an educator for educators. Albert Brigance really created the first completely all-inclusive inventory of basic skills, and he did it out of need: He was looking for an inventory to use in his own work as an assessment specialist in northern California and there was nothing on the market that met the needs and sensitivities of the students he worked with.

Mr. Brigance was looking for a reliable assessment instrument that would also be as usable as possible by educators and child development specialists in many different settings (whether in classrooms, pediatricians’ offices, or the home). Albert Brigance unfortunately passed away in 2007, but his ideas and methodology are a guiding light as we have revised the materials. We are constantly asking ourselves what will help the student and what will help the educator. I have worked for different publishers, and you might be surprised by how refreshing this attitude is.

Consequently, the BRIGANCE® tests have been used in the field for over 30 years and have developed an extremely loyal following based on their reliability and usability. This remains a BRIGANCE® hallmark.

2)      I believe that you have BRIGANCE® items for elementary, middle school and high school. What do these tests purport to measure?

Quite a bit actually! We have skills inventories that cover the range of educational situations and curricula from early childhood and Head Start to middle- and high-school. Together, these inventories support the full range of levels, covering developmental, academic, as well as transition skills assessment.

The BRIGANCE® system uses both criterion-referenced assessment that identifies a student’s academic level of functioning as well as standardized assessments for identifying a student’s performance in different subjects.

In addition, all five inventories are supported by a centralized Online Management System (OMS) that gives access to assessment data for a student, class, school, or even an entire district.

For individual students, teachers can monitor their progress and create varied and adaptable goals based on the student’s assessment results. This is perfect for helping write IEPs. Educators can then use group reports to aggregate data across students. This way, an educator can monitor class or school progress.

This is extremely important these days. The Washington Post had an article last week about how budget cuts have hurt more specialized programs and to brace for more cuts ahead. Budgets are tight and funding can be scarce. It is important for educators to be able to quickly show the benefits of their programs to both parents and administrators. The BRIGANCE® skills inventories coupled with the OMS allow them to do that in an immediate, understandable way.

3)      As I recall, you also have a social skills BRIGANCE®?

It’s interesting, I was talking with a teacher from Oklahoma last week and I asked her what domain is the biggest concern for students out of high school who have been using an IEP. Was it reading? Math?

She unequivocally told me that social skills are the most problematic for all kids, but especially these students.

For me, this confirmed a focus of the Transition Skills Activities. The lessons include many social skills activities. For instance, the activities cover everything from proper on-the-job behavior to the etiquette involved in using social networking. We have also included specific lessons that are driven by discussions to sharpen both the students’ conversational and critical-thinking skills.

Social skills are really woven throughout the BRIGANCE® system from the Inventory of Early Development to the transitions materials. These skills are so vital!

4)      Now, tell us about the BRIGANCE® Transition Skills Activities. Are these prevocational domains?

The Transitions Skills Activities product was developed in response to the needs of special educators working with middle- and high-school students to support their transition planning. It includes 35 lessons with about 450 activities total as well as a student book with more than 70 activities that build on the skills presented in the lessons. The activities are very closely aligned with Indicator 13, as well as IDEA designated domains as well as the assessments in the Transition Skills Inventory (TSI).

Indicator 13 requires transition services (including instructional resources) that are tied to each student’s post-secondary goals. The Transition Skills Activities was designed specifically to address this. We wanted to develop a product that would work in concert with our criterion-referenced TSI to create a comprehensive solution to meeting Indicator 13 requirements for the transitions educator.

Developing the product has allowed me to get input from transition specialists across the country as well as to observe a wide range of programs and curricula. All of this fed into the creation of the Transition Skills Activities.

For instance we have included teacher reproducibles that can be taken out of the binder and copied for the class. This feature was born out of a class I was observing where the teacher was trying to teach students about filling out personal checks. She was giving each student a blank check from her own checkbook! She simply had no other resource at her disposal, and this is something we wanted to correct.

5)      What are the key transition areas?

The key transition areas are:

1) Academic Skills: Supporting students planning for post-secondary education or training (whether that is college, community college, or a vocational school).

2) Employment Skills: Including both finding employment as well as on-the-job skills.

3) Independent Living: This covers a pretty broad range of topics, including food, health, clothing, housing, and finances.

4) Community Participation: This includes how to interact with community resources self-advocacy, as well as skills related to good citizenship.

6)      How does the BRIGANCE® Transition Skills Activities deliver data-driven instruction?

What makes the Transition Skills Activities unique is that it is a set of lessons and activities that are explicitly tied to a comprehensive assessment, the Transition Skills Inventory (TSI). More than 95% of the assessments have a corresponding activity or activities in the Transition Skills Activities.

We have included correlations between the TSI and the Transition Skills Activities with each lesson as well as a separate correlation chart within the Teacher Book.

This allows teachers to assess with the TSI and utilize activities from the corresponding lesson plans in the Transition Skills Activities to reinforce the skills the student needs to hone. Then, subsequent assessment with the TSI can support progress monitoring and inform future areas of focused instruction using the Transition Skills Activities.

Consider the NCLB waivers that are being submitted now.  More than 75% of states are applying for these waivers. One of the provisions requires measuring educators’ effectiveness based on students’ growth. Now, some of the students in a transitions program may not take the standardized tests that their peers do. They may also work with several teachers and programs, and the waiver proposals don’t spell out what growth means and how to apply it in this type of situation.

As one teacher put it to me, “How are we going to come up with a good definition of student growth and achievement?”

Using the TSI and Transition Skills Activities allows teachers to do just that.

7)      What kinds of students’ transition services needs are addressed?

Think about this: I was going through some U.S. census data when researching transitions, and I found this statistic: 72% of people with disabilities, ages 18-25, are unemployed, compared to 27% of those without a disability. 72%!

At the same time, 60% of young adults with disabilities reported having continued on to post-secondary school since leaving high school. You can understand why these are important skills to have!

We wanted to give the educator a comprehensive set of tools that they could utilize to meet not only Indicator 13 requirements but their students’ realistic post-secondary needs.

The more we talked with teachers and students, the more we realized the need for an inclusive set of activities that would support the educator in the classroom as students who need concrete 21st century skills. These are skills that will well situate them not only in a new economy but also prepares the student to live independently and develop self-determination and advocacy that are essential to be fulfilled in the world outside of school.

8)      Tell us about the 35 lessons that cover the four skill areas

Each lesson is set up with the same structure to make it easy for teachers to navigate. The first page offers an objective for the lesson, the skills that are covered, discussion questions, and vocabulary. Then the lesson itself is a structured series of activities that include more complex skills as the lesson progresses. Each lesson ends with a group of “quick hit” extension activities designed to reinforce the main focus of the lesson. The activities have been written to be led by a teacher or assistant.

Activities take place in the classroom as well as the community, in small groups or by individual students. Community participation is so vital to transition curriculums now; we wanted to take advantage of having the students use their neighborhoods as much as possible.

The activities were designed to cover a broad range of skills in an active and fun way that would be interesting to students. We cover an expansive range that is meant to suggest the breadth of skills needed to be successful in post-secondary life in all the key IDEA areas.

For instance, in the Post-Secondary Opportunities section, activities cover everything from filling out an employment application to developing a resume, as well as more abstract concepts like the proper social behavior in the workplace (“What it means to have a good attitude”). We also wanted to create lessons that would prepare students with skills for the modern workplace like using a computer.

9)   How does the BRIGANCE® assist in post-secondary education and training? What activities are involved in promoting independent living and community participation?

Well, I already talked a little about Post-Secondary Skills so let me concentrate on telling you about the other two. These two areas cover a wide range of skills, from recipes and preparing food at home to cleaning and ironing clothes to understanding a rental agreement as well as concepts like getting a credit card. And I still haven’t mentioned the health lessons we have included, like helping students understand when to go to a doctor or setting up a schedule for taking medicine.

As you can see we wanted to be as wide-ranging and inclusive as possible. Transition teachers over the past 15 years have had to develop a lot of their own curriculum and materials. This has led to what I call a “Frankenstein” curriculum out of necessity where educators pull their needs from many sources.

It is truly amazing what these teachers do to develop a comprehensive curriculum for their students. We wanted to put together a package that would support these teachers as expansively as possible and pull together many ideas into one centralized book.

10)   For what special groups are these skill areas geared?

The activities were specifically written to be used by the diverse populations in a transitions classroom. Because the activities within each lesson progress with more complex skills, teachers can pick the activities that best fit the needs of their classrooms. Teachers do not have to go sequentially through the activities or lessons: the materials were designed to allow teachers to pick and choose according to the needs of their students.

We have also included modifications with a majority of the activities so that teachers and assistants can easily tailor an activity to support students at different developmental levels, including non-readers.

11)  How is this linked to IDEA (Indicator 13) requirements around transition planning?

I can honestly say, these materials were created specifically to align with the requirements of IDEA (Indicator 13). What IDEA requires is to provide “a free appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living.”

What has been difficult for schools is the word “appropriate,” which can be so subjective. In designing the Transition Skills Activities and the Transition Skills Inventory, we take “appropriate” to mean a focus on the knowledge and skills needed by students so they can be successful post-secondary life. These are not just skills they need to pass a test. They are skills that are vital to living independently, finding a job, and becoming engaged members of their communities.

12)   What have I neglected to ask?

If I may, I would just like to add that I was an educator in the classroom myself for many years. It was of fundamental importance to create a set of lessons that would be as usable to the teachers and students in the classroom as possible. We really tried to create this with the same philosophy that drove Albert Brigance to help his own fellow educators and students.

13)   Is there a web page where people can get more information?

http://www.curriculumassociates.com offers product info, training, sample lessons, correlations, and research. We want to give educators all the information they would need to succeed!

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