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Early Childhood Special Education

Indicator 7: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) About Early Childhood Outcomes Reporting For Children In Preschool Special Education Programs

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State Data Collection Requirements

  1. Why does the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) collect Indicator 7 outcomes data?

    IDEA require states to develop a multi-year strategic State Performance Plan (SPP) that evaluates each state's efforts to implement the requirements and purposes of IDEA. In the SPP, each state is required to provide baseline data, establish performance targets, and outline improvement activities that respond to 17 indicators of performance and compliance identified by the Federal Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP). In addition, for each Indicator, the state is required to publicly report data at both the state and district levels.

    For Indicator 7, each state is required by OSEP to set a performance targets to maximize outcomes for young children three to five years of age with disabilities, in three federally required focus areas. These areas are:

    • Positive social-emotional skills (including social relationships)
    • Acquisition and use of knowledge and skills (language and literacy)
    • Use of appropriate behaviors to meet needs

    Indicator 7 looks at children's level of skill and performance upon entry into and exit from preschool, and assesses children's skills in relation to their peers and their own growth while in preschool.

    States set performance targets for the State Performance Plan (SPP) indicators based on the reported data from local districts. Data is reported to OSEP each February in the Annual Performance Report (APR), comparing actual performance to state established targets.

Data Collection Procedures

  1. How and when does DESE collect data from school districts?

    Indicator 7 data is collected by the DESE Office of Special Education Planning & Policy Development (SEPP) as part of the State Performance Plan/Annual Performance Report (SPP/APR). SEPP focuses on interagency and special education policy, planning and related personnel development activities. To reduce the data collection burden on districts, SEPP has assigned all districts in the state to one of four cohorts, with each cohort being representative of the state as a whole. For those SPP Indicators for which discrete data collection activities are required, districts submit data on a schedule determined by the cohort assignment. Information about cohort assignments and data collection by year can be found online. Districts reporting Indicator 7 data do so through a SmartForm uploaded to the DESE Security Portal that allows them to report data for all students in one document.

  2. How frequently is Indicator 7 entry and exit data reported to DESE?

    School districts participate in entry data collection once every four years, except for Boston which reports every year due to its size. Districts report exit data each June for three years following the reporting of entry data for the children who were included in the entry data collection and exit preschool or no longer require special education services.

  3. On which children do districts collect data?

    Entry data:

    This year's reporting cohort will submit entry data on children who are entering special education preschool programs or children who start receiving special education services through an IEP for the first time at any time during the entire school year - September 1 through June 1. Districts report entry data to DESE each June. Please note: Children who are "services only" should be included in entry data collection.

    Exit data:

    Districts report exit data on those children for whom entry data was collected, as long as the child received special education services for a minimum of six months and the child is exiting the program (i.e., leaving the preschool program or no longer on an IEP). District submit exit data to DESE in June of each year until all students who participated in entry data collection have exited the program.

  4. What data instrument do districts use to collect the Indicator 7 data?

    Massachusetts requires districts to use the Child Outcomes Summary Process (also referred to as "the COS Process"), developed by the Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center (ECTA). As indicated by the name, this measurement approach is a team process that is not an assessment but rather a process for gathering information about children's skills and performance from a number of sources in one document, called the Child Outcomes Summary Form (COSF). The COSF is the Indicator 7 data collection form completed by districts during the Child Outcomes Summary Process. Districts can downloaded it from ECTA's website. Please see the section on the process below for more information.

  5. When should the Child Outcome Summary Process be used for the first time?

    To support accuracy and timeliness of the COS Process, districts should complete the Child Outcome Summary Process no more than four to six weeks after developing the child's the IEP and the child's entry into the preschool program.

  6. Is the Indicator 7 process only for children with IEPs?

    Only students with IEPs should be included in Indicator 7 data collection and reporting. However, DESE encourages districts to use the COS Process for students without disabilities as a recommended practice for examining outcomes for all children in the preschool program. Districts may access information on recommended practices in early childhood assessment for all students, with and without disabilities on the Department of Early Education and Care's (EEC) website.

  7. How should districts gather information about children?

    Districts may gather information for the COS Process in a number of ways. Examples of information sources include, but are not limited to:

    • observations and reports by family members, care providers, school and other service providers;
    • early intervention outcome reports;
    • developmental screenings (e.g., Ages and Stages);
    • curriculum-based assessments (e.g., AEPS);
    • norm-referenced assessments (e.g., BDI-2);
    • progress monitoring;
    • classroom or other environment observations; and
    • relevant information identified during assessment, planning, or IEP meetings.
  8. What constitutes exit from the special education preschool program?

    When a child leaves the preschool program, for any reason, this is considered exiting the program. Reasons for exit may include entering kindergarten, moving out of state, or moving to a new district.

  9. For which children should a district report exit data to DESE?

    Districts collect and report exit data to DESE only for children

    • whose entry data was reported to DESE during their cohort's entry data year and
    • who received at least six months of special education services.
  10. Should districts invite parents to participate in the Child Outcome Summary Process?

    While there is no specific requirement for parental involvement in the Child Outcome Summary Process, DESE strongly urges districts to collect information and input from parents before making a rating decision. Recommended practice is to obtain input from family members, school personnel, and other individuals familiar with the child in various settings and situations. The district is still required to report entry and exit data on all children, however, whether parents participate or not. Parental consent is not required for the rating process.

    School districts should advise parents of the rating requirement and the process the district uses to make rating decisions. Although parents may choose not to participate in the COS Process, districts should inform parents that the rating will be part of the child's file that they can review at any time. Because families are interested in their children's progress, DESE urges districts to share rating information with families.

Completing the Child Outcome Summary Process

  1. What is the Child Outcome Summary Process?

    The Child Outcomes Summary (COS) process is a team process for summarizing information on a child's functioning in each of the three child outcome areas using a 7-point scale. With the COS process, a team of individuals who are familiar with a child (including parents) can consider multiple sources of information about their functioning, including parent/provider observation and results from direct assessment. This is known as the COS Process Team.

    Each outcome rating compares a child to a typically developing child - not to the child's individual potential. Developmental progress in the special education preschool program is measured in the same way. A list of age-anchoring resources that outline age-expected development is available from ECTA.

  2. Must districts collect data on children who are "services only?

    Yes. Children who qualify in only one area for special education services, or who are receiving only related services, are subject to the same entry/exit reporting requirements as all other preschool children receiving special education services.

  3. Is data collected through the Child Outcomes Summary Process valid, reliable, and meaningful?

    Yes. The COS Process facilitates discussion about a child in each of the three outcome areas and summarizes information collected over time, in different settings and situations, from multiple stakeholders in the child's life (e.g., family members, care providers, school and other service providers). Data collected and synthesized in this way is valid, reliable, and meaningful.

  4. How should we use the Child Outcomes Summary Form (COSF) to integrate and record information provided by each member of the COS Process Team?

    The COSF provides a scaffold for discussion by members of the COS Process Team. Each member of the group brings information about the child's functioning to the table, and the COSF guides the discussion of each child's functional outcomes, as compared to the functioning of a typical child, so that ratings can be assigned.

  5. How can I use the assessments my program is already using to complete the COS Process?

    ECTA cross-referenced the functional skills assessed by various published instruments with the three child outcomes addressed in the COS Process, and publishes these on the ECTA website.

  6. How do you complete the COS Process for children who use assistive technology?

    If assistive technology or special accommodations are available in the child's everyday environments, then the rating should consider the child's functioning using those adaptations. However, if technology is only available in some environments or is not available for the child, rate the child's functioning with whatever assistance is usually present. Answers should reflect the child's actual functioning across a range of settings, not their capacity to function under ideal circumstances.

  7. How do we take into consideration children's cultural backgrounds in the COS Process?

    It is important that districts take a child's cultural and linguistic identity into consideration when considering age expected functioning. For example, if the child is from a culture that has expectations that differ from published developmental milestones for when young children accomplish common developmental tasks, such as feeding themselves or dressing themselves, districts should work closely with the child's family to decide if child's functioning is at the level expected for his or her age.

  8. The box for describing progress on the COSF is not large enough to include all the child has learned to do since the initial rating.

    There is no requirement that the district enter extended examples of the child's progress. The progress description box allows the child's team to acknowledge and document progress the child is making, and again assist in the discussion for determining the appropriate rating.

  9. What do you do when COS Process Team members disagree about a child's rating?

    The COS Process Team should refer to age-anchoring resources, the decision tree, and the definitions of the outcomes ratings when trying to determine a student's rating on an outcome. The focus should be on a child's overall functioning across settings and situations. Functioning that is displayed rarely or in unique circumstances should have little bearing on the rating.

  10. Many of a child's skills overlap across the three goals. How does the district document this on the COS Form?

    Some of a child's skills may impact progress in each of the three outcomes. For example, a communication delay may impact a child's ability to develop positive social relationships and impact their ability to take appropriate action to meet their needs. It is important to document how these skills impact a child's functioning across settings and situations in each of the three outcome areas and to determine appropriate ratings based on the child's functioning within each specific outcome.

  11. What training and technical assistance is available to preschool personnel on the COS Process and Indicator 7 data collection process?

    ECTA has developed a self-paced online module on the COS Process. For training requests or technical assistance, please contact Special Education Planning and Policy unit at 781-338-3375 or specialeducation@doe.mass.edu.

Questions About the Entry Data Collection and Reporting

  1. District used to collect smaller data sets for Indicator 7. Why has this changed?

    Beginning in the 2016-2017 school year, DESE moved to a year-long entry data collection cycle. District must collect and report data on all children who start receiving preschool special education services during the school year. This change supports increased validity and reliability of the data to demonstrate children's outcomes and the effectiveness of districts' practices to support young children needing special education or related services.

    Districts must collect and report entry data for all children who are entering special education preschool programs or children who start receiving special education services through an IEP for the first time during the school year, from September 1 through June 1. Districts report entry data to DESE each June. Please note: Children who are "services only" should be included in entry data collection.

    DESE will upload to the Security Portal the SmartForm for the Indicator 7 data collection activity at the beginning of the school year in which the district must collect data. Districts are encouraged to use this form throughout the year to record entry data as it is collected. Districts must submit to DESE each June a complete form that contains all children's data from the school year.

  2. When is entry data due to DESE and how should districts submit it?

    Districts must submit entry data to DESE on or before June 30 of each year using the DESE Security Portal. Indicator 7 data may not be sent via email because it contains personally identifiable information about children.

    For use beginning in the 2018-2019 school year, DESE has created a new Drop Box folder specifically for Indicator 7 data collection. This folder is called "Indicator 7" in the DESE Security Portal under DropBox Central. Please use this folder for Indicator 7 data. The "Special Education State Performance Plan" Drop Box will no longer be used for Indicator 7 data collection.

  3. What should I do if I know students entered my program during the specified timeframe?

    If no students aged 3-5 started special education services during the specified timeframe please email specialeducation@doe.mass.edu with a statement to that effect.

Questions about the Exit Data Collection and Reporting

  1. When should districts submit exit data to DESE and how should districts submit it?

    Indicator 7 exit data are due to DESE no later than June 30 of each year for school districts who are required to report exit data. Districts must submit it through the DESE Security Portal using the new Indicator 7 folder. Indicator 7 data may not be sent via email because it contains personally identifiable information about children.

  2. What is the district is in the year's data reporting cohort but has no data to report this year?

    If no children have entered or exited during the report year, please send an email to specialeducation@doe.mass.edu with a statement to that effect prior to the due date.

  3. What does the DESE do with the Indicator 7 data that districts submit?

    When DESE reviews districts' Indicator 7 data to make sure that it includes all of the required information and that the data provided is consistent with expected patterns. Where there are questions about data validity and reliability, DESE will contact districts directly to discuss the data. DESE also analyzes data on a district- and statewide level.

    DESE reports statewide Indicator 7 results to the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Special Education Programs as part of the State Performance Plan/Annual Performance Report (SPP/APR) in which DESE evaluates the state's efforts to implement the requirements and purposes of IDEA compared to state-established targets. OSEP assesses the state's performance in meeting targets for Indicator 7, as well as 16 additional indicators that measure performance and compliance with various requirements of IDEA.

    For Indicator 7, each state must set performance targets focused on improving outcomes for young children three to five years of age with disabilities, in three federally required focus areas. These areas are:

    • Positive social-emotional skills (including social relationships)
    • Acquisition and use of knowledge and skills (language and literacy)
    • Use of appropriate behaviors to meet needs

    DESE also publicly reports data for Indicator 7 and for all other indicators in the SPP/APR on its website here.

  4. How do I access my district's Indicator 7 data?

    District administrators have access in the Security Portal to districts' Indicator 7 data that has been previously submitted to DESE. If you have trouble accessing the Security Portal, please contact your district's data collection directory administrator. Districts must retain the COS Form for each child as part of the child's temporary student record, 603 CMR 23.00.

Additional Resources

The following additional resources are intended for informational purposes only.

View HTML Page
The DESE Early Childhood Special Education
View HTML Page
Information about the Child Outcomes Summary Process in Massachusetts
View External Link
The Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center
View External Link
Child Outcomes Summary Process Self-Paced Module (New Training Resource)
View External Link
Resources for filling out the COSF form (including the Decision Tree)

Who Should I Contact If I Have Additional Questions?

Technical assistance is available via e-mail and telephone from the Special Education Planning and Policy Unit. For training requests or technical assistance, please email specialeducation@doe.mass.edu, or call (781) 338-3375.



Last Updated: September 19, 2018
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