Hillside is a public separate school that serves school-aged students with significant cognitive disabilities and preschool-aged students with a range of developmental disabilities and delays. Hillside was a development site for Project Core. A total of 16 classrooms (71 students) participated in one or more years of the project, which represented all but one of the school-aged classrooms in the school.
Hillside took a school-wide approach to implementing Project Core. Teachers, related service providers and administrators regularly wore copies of the Universal Core vocabulary on lanyards. Versions of the Universal Core were placed on walls throughout the school, in poster-sized versions in classrooms and the gymnasium, and on a weatherproof banner on the playground. All school staff participated in the Project Core professional development and worked to implement the key strategies (i.e., aided language input, wait time, attributing meaning, repetition and expansion) throughout the school day.
The Project Core team worked directly with the school in the 2015-16 and 2016-17 school years. During those years, we noted significant increases in teacher use of the Project Core implementation practices, broader student access to AAC through the Universal Core and other solutions, and improved student communication skills. For example, the 50 students who participated in the project across both years had an overall increase in level of communication on the Communication Matrix from 4.1 (conventional communication) at pretest in the fall of 2015 to 5.2 (concrete symbols) at posttest in the spring of 2017.
School performance on the state’s required end-of-grade alternate assessment based on alternate achievement standards provides additional evidence of the impact of Project Core on this school. Prior to initiating the focus on communication and interaction through Project Core, there were no students in the school who achieved mastery on this required assessment. In fact, 93% of the students scored at the lowest level possible. After one year of participation, these numbers shifted and 13% of the students achieved proficiency and only 58% scored at the lowest level. Over the next two years, the trend continued and, in the spring of 2018, 37% of students achieved proficiency.
It is important to note that no part of the Project Core model focused specifically on this state mandated assessment of the specific standards it addressed. Instead, the improvement in communication skills achieved through Project Core generalized in important ways and has allowed students to grow in related areas that were not addressed directly.