Alternative Education

Frequently Asked Questions and Promising Practices

II. Practices that May Benefit Students, Parents, and the School Community

9. Assessment - promising practices in Alternative Education

Students are assessed in multiple ways, including but not limited to their participation in the state assessment (MCAS exams). Student progress is measured, in part, by their individual growth and subject matter competency. Teachers provide students with feedback so students better understand how well they are mastering the content they are expected to know. Such ongoing classroom based assessments are used to diagnose instructional needs and to guide effective teaching and learning.

10. Climate and organization - promising practices in Alternative Education

The Alternative Education program/school is supported and respected by the district administration and greater community as a high quality option for students. All students are held to high academic and personal standards, and an emphasis on "getting to know" each student is a high priority.

Each Alternative Education program/school has its own handbook that is aligned with the other handbooks in the district, and that sets forth its philosophy and purpose, and a description of student expectations - including criteria for exiting/returning to the traditional school, if relevant. The program or school has a system for identifying students who are failing to achieve the learning goals and objectives, and for delivering timely and effective individual assistance to the struggling learner.

To the extent that students are placed in a program or school for serious behavior related needs, the student's behavior is addressed as an educational matter requiring, for example, positive interventions and supports, strategies designed to promote self regulation, self esteem, and respect for others. Moreover, such an instructional plan is consistent with the goal of keeping students in school so they may, if provided appropriate instructional support from qualified staff, more fully engage in their learning, and achieve the challenging standards necessary to graduate.

Each program or school also acknowledges a commitment to broad principles of youth development, e.g., recognition that all youth have capacity for positive and productive lives; they are valued resources to be developed rather than problems to be managed; there is a need to build competencies in domains of health, social, intellectual, vocational, citizenship and mental health; and they have needs to met with respect to safety, self-worth, mastery, autonomy, belonging, and self-awareness.

11. Community and social services - promising practices in Alternative Education

The Alternative Education program/school accommodates the delivery of support/wrap-around services without penalizing student success. Personalized student planning incorporates appropriate support services. Program/school staff are aware of a wide range of community resources, and staff maintain ongoing relationships with community resources and are able to provide referrals (for students and/or families) to community resources when appropriate. External resources - such as educational collaboratives, community colleges, community-based organizations, and service providers - are partnered with the program/school to meet the needs of individual and overall program objectives.

12. Curriculum - promising practices in Alternative Education

Alternative Education programs and schools meet the same standards as all other public schools. This means that the Alternative Education programs/schools provide all students with learning opportunities to meet the Department's proficient and advanced levels of achievement on the MCAS.

Curricula and instruction are aligned with the state curriculum frameworks, in not only the subject areas currently assessed by the MCAS, but in all areas for which the Department has developed standards that students are expected to learn. Visit the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks for more information about the currently available frameworks.

Moreover, the curriculum is enriched to accelerate learning for those students who are further from achieving mastery of the standards and learning goals. To meet the needs of students who may have been retained in grade, the curriculum is developmentally appropriate so as to engage them in the teaching and instruction. The curriculum is culturally relevant; it reflects the backgrounds of the student population and is, therefore, understandable, and meaningful to the students.

13. Data gathering and evaluation - promising practices in Alternative Education

Data gathering and evaluation efforts are ongoing and transparent and provide students, parents, educators, and the community information to assess the effectiveness of the Alternative Education program/school. Data may include the program/school enrollment, average daily attendance, number of referrals, number of students on the waitlist, the number and percentage of students disaggregated by race/ethnicity, limited English proficient status, disability, and low-income status. Program data should also be shared on suspensions, grade retentions, dropping out, transfers back to the school of origin, transfers to another school, and performance/scores on the MCAS.

14. Instructional quality - promising practices in Alternative Education

Teachers use a variety of effective techniques and instructional strategies to teach the range of students with diverse learning needs, interests, background skills, and prior knowledge so as to enable them to meet the state standards set for all students. Qualified and experienced teachers do not rely upon a "one-size-fits-all" approach, but are knowledgeable about diverse individual learning styles and individual learning needs.

Teachers modify their instruction so that students of diverse ethnic, racial, cultural, language and abilities have an equal opportunity to learn through work that is challenging, interesting and related to the real world. Their instruction and teaching strategies reflect their awareness of students' cultural differences, in particular, those that might have an adverse effect on student learning or behavior. Teachers of English language learners are knowledgeable about language acquisition, how to support English language learners, and cultural differences in curriculum and instruction.

Through assignments and the total learning process, teachers communicate consistent, high expectations for all students. In the classrooms, teachers and students are respectful of each other and each others' differences.

Opportunities are included to connect curriculum to relevant situations through activities such as Service-Learning and Work-Based Learning.

15. Instructional materials and resources - promising practices in Alternative Education

Alternative Education programs and schools provide adequate instructional materials and resources for all students to have a full and meaningful opportunity to attain the standards set at the state and local levels. Instructional materials and supplies are developmentally appropriate for all students, and accessible to students with disabilities through a range of assistive technology services and devices and accessible to English language learners.

Students enrolled in Alternative Education operating within a public school or in a separate Alternative Education school must, as all other public school students, have access to appropriate science laboratory equipment, access to the library, and to computer technology. Resources are sufficient to support adequate teacher-student ratios, positive behavioral specialists and other necessary support services personnel.

Every effort should be made to allow students in these programs or schools to have equal access to the traditional environment's facilities, core and non-core course offerings, and to participate fully in extracurricular opportunities.

16. Parents/guardians - promising practices in Alternative Education

Parents/guardians are involved in choosing the Alternative Education program/school for their child. Parents receive information and personal contact regarding how to support their child to achieve maximum learning and personal success - including opportunities to learn and use a common language with the students' staff. The Alternative Education program/school staff updates parents/guardians on a regular basis regarding student areas in need of improvement and student strengths via regular emails, phone calls, and letters. Parents are involved with evaluating the effectiveness of the Alternative Education program/school and providing suggestions to improve conditions. Parents/guardians are offered program/school-based support opportunities (e.g., parent support meetings) as well as appropriate referrals to community supports, when needed.

17.Personal/social/life skills - promising practices in Alternative Education

Staff identify and consider specific personal/social and other life skills for personalized planning, instructional delivery, and support services for all students. The Alternative Education program/school includes time for course content devoted to personal/social and life skills. Cooperative learning, team building, and other group activities are practiced to exercise the development of personal/ social behaviors important to the success of the community. The program/school has an established plan to address student or family crises as they arise. Accommodations for cultural differences are made to allow for personal success within the learning environment.

18. Student involvement - promising practices in Alternative Education

Students in the Alternative Education program or school freely choose to enter the alternative setting. Students are involved in the ongoing development of the program - including decisions on hiring staff, setting class rules, and elective course options. Students are aware of, and continuously monitor their own academic progress such as classes completed and credits earned. Students are involved with evaluating the effectiveness of the Alternative Education program/school and providing suggestions to improve conditions.

19. Staff qualifications - promising practices in Alternative Education

There are no special or additional educators' certifications required by either Federal or state law for Alternative Education programs/schools. Alternative Education teaching staff must be highly qualified, certified in the grade levels in which they are teaching, and have demonstrated content knowledge for the core academic subjects they are teaching. Alternative Education teaching staff self-select and share a commitment to the education of at-risk students. Teaching staff are provided pre-service and ongoing in-service professional development to continue to meet the needs of their students with diverse learning needs.

20. Student enrollment process - promising practices in Alternative Education

Application and acceptance procedures for alternative education programs/schools include the following assurances:

  • The Alternative Education program/school has a transparent and defined purpose, including a description of the types of students that may benefit most from the program/school environment;
  • There are clear and objective criteria for admission consistent with stated program guidelines that are provided to students and their parents;
  • Opportunities for input are solicited from a variety of staff and administrators from the Alternative Education program or school who are able to assess the likelihood of compatibility between the prospective student and the program guidelines;
  • Students and parents have opportunities for visits and individual meetings with program/school staff and students to ensure an appropriate match between the student and program/school;
  • Enrollment criteria provide an opportunity for students to apply for admission in the Alternative Education program/school, including completing an interview and/or written application to indicate commitment and motivation to attend the program or school;
  • Criteria for enrollment are neutral, fair, non-discriminatory, and are designed to be accessible to a wide and inclusive applicant pool, and
  • Regular data review and analysis remove barriers which result in unequal rates of assignment/transfer to Alternative Education programs or schools - including unequal rates of placement or success for students based on race, national origin, income, disability, or limited English proficiency; and
  • Due process protections are provided prior to any involuntary transfer from the public school program to the Alternative Education program/school.

21. Student exit process - promising practices in Alternative Education

Students enrolled in high school Alternative Education programs or schools must meet the same state Competency Determination requirements as all other students in the district in order to graduate. This includes passing the grade 10 MCAS exam and meeting all local requirements, which should be spelled out clearly to students and parents.

Alternative Education programs or schools adopt clear and explicit criteria and procedural framework to address:

  • How students enrolled in programs or schools by choice exercise a right to return to a traditional school setting, including:

    1. an opportunity for students, parent/guardians, and staff to confer regarding the advisability and logistics of the transfer and transfer options, including a collaborative and supported transition, and
    2. identifying and assigning the next school placement;
  • How students for whom a program/school is no longer beneficial return to the traditional school setting or other educational program, including:

    1. an opportunity for students, parent/guardians and program/school staff to determine when a program is not an appropriate fit for the student and not beneficial to the student's academic and personal goals, and to confer regarding the advisability and logistics of the transfer and transfer options, including a collaborative and supported transition, and
    2. identifying and assigning the next school placement;
  • How students exit from involuntary programs, including:

    1. the basis for determining completion of the program or placement by the student who seeks to return to a regular district school; and
    2. how the next school placement will be determined.

The exit procedures and criteria are explicitly written in each Alternative Education program/school handbook and provided to parents and students in the language of the home at the time of admittance into the alternative program or school.

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Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
75 Pleasant Street, Malden, MA 02148-4906

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