The Quality of High School Programs for Students with ASD from 3 States
According to the National Autism Indicators Report the outcomes for young adults with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are grim (Roux, Shattuck, Rast, Rava, & Anderson, 2015), and information about the quality of preparation from high school and transition programs serving the increasing number of adolescents and young adults with ASD is scare.
What is the overall quality of high school programs for students with ASD?
What are the areas of strength and weakness in the quality of high school programs in the US for students with ASD?
Do ratings on of the quality of the transition plans on a checklist differ between plans written for students with ASD who will receive a diploma compared with those who participate in an alternative program during high school?
Program quality was measured using the Autism Program Environmental Rating Scale (APERS) in 60 high schools participating in a RCT in 3 states (North Carolina, Wisconsin, & California) as part of the Center on Secondary Education for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders (CSESA). Prior to intervention, the APERS was completed in each school. The APERS-HS is a 66-item, five-point rating scale, with a score of 1 (lowest) to 5 (highest). The APERS ratings are calculated into a total score and 11 sub-domain scores and 1 composite rating for Transition (consisting of items in different domains). The APERS process involves 6 to 8 hours of observation, interviews with administrators, parents, and school personnel, and a record review of the student’s IEP and transition plan. The APERS was completed and scored separately for programs where students will receive a diploma and those who follow an alternative or modified curriculum. Inter-rater agreement between two observers/raters using Cronbach’s Alpha was .94 for the diploma programs and .95 for the alternative programs. The quality of the transition plans of select students in both diploma and alternative programs will be rated using a modified checklist developed by the state of Maryland.
The overall ratings for the programs were in the moderate/mediocre range (3.17 for diploma and 3.25 for modified). The results by domain were similar for both diploma and alternative programs with the learning environment, climate, and family involvement scoring above 3.0 and were relative strengths of the programs. Ratings of instructional approaches that focused on areas that tend to be the most needed by students with ASD (social, communication, independence, functional behavior) were uniformly below 3.0. Transition composite scores, also below 3.0, were somewhat higher in the modified classes (2.7) as compared to the diploma (2.35). Future analysis of the ratings from the transition plan checklist will provide information about possible factors that contribute to these overall low Transition scores and differences by program type.
Overall schools had a medium level of quality. The program strengths were ecological features and family involvement. The lowest ratings of quality were for instructional and intervention practices. Transition practices were quite low overall, with lower ratings occurring in diploma programs.