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Profiles and Best Practices: Exemplary Vocational Special Populations Programs (MDS-856)

Z. B. Matias, C. Maddy-Bernstein, J. A. Kantenberger


To close the achievement gap between disadvantaged students and their peers, educators should learn by example from those who have already done so. -- Asa Hilliard


"Where can I get information about exemplary programs [for students with disabilities, with limited English proficiency, and so on]?"

"How can I develop an exemplary program?"

"How do I know if my program is exemplary?"

The Office of Student Services (OSS)* frequently responds to the above questions about exemplary programs in a continued effort to disseminate information on best vocational special populations practices. The questions have resulted in part from the widely publicized national search for exemplary vocational education programs that the OSS has conducted for the past five years. During this time, OSS has recognized a total of 25 exemplary programs. In addition to learning about each of these programs, OSS has also better defined what makes all programs truly outstanding. It has shared this information through various publications and papers, and through presentations at seminars and conferences. In addition, information regarding these exemplary programs is included in the OSS database and thereby included in topical bibliographies distributed free to those requesting them. This monograph is written as part of OSS's continued efforts to disseminate exemplary program information, as well as information about the exemplary search process. OSS believes that this process is worthy of replication by other agencies with similar objectives. The discussion begins with a background of the exemplary program search.

The purposes of OSS's national recognition program are to (1) identify exemplary vocational education programs serving students who are classified as members of special populations, (2) provide information to others for improving their own programs, and (3) assist those interested in developing their own vocational programs for students from special populations.

A crucial step in the process was to determine the criteria for naming exemplary programs. This task was completed in 1989 when, as part of the former Office of Special Populations' activities, NCRVE researchers L. Allen Phelps and Thomas Wermuth (1992) conducted an extensive review of related literature on how exemplary programs are identified. The review culminated in the development of a framework for identifying exemplary programs. This framework consisted of twenty components that characterize exemplary programs. A pilot test of the framework was conducted and the first search followed in 1990. An annual search was conducted thereafter until 1994.

The searches were open to all vocational programs serving students who are members of special populations, including individuals with disabilities, students considered economically or academically disadvantaged, those with limited-English proficiency, those in programs designed to eliminate gender bias, and individuals in correctional institutions. Eligible programs included those serving one or more of the above groups at the secondary, postsecondary, and adult levels. The programs were either school-based or community-based.

How the Programs Were Evaluated

Persons interested in applying for the exemplary recognition program responded to a call for applications. The application form consisted of three parts. The first part requested general information about the program, including the title, program contacts, and address. The second part requested information about the program such as population served, number of staff, and budget and outcomes such as number of entrants into the program, number completing the program, and number of students employed. The third part was considered the heart of the application. In this section, applicants were required to provide the program abstract, its history, and information about the program operation. Part Four required descriptions of each of the twenty components as they applied to the program. In addition to the descriptions, applicants were required to submit documents and other evidence supporting their descriptions. Supporting documents included names of advisory committee members, minutes of meetings, evidence of participation in professional development activities, follow-up and evaluation reports, and transition plans. Once an application was received, it underwent a preliminary, internal check for completeness of information. Each application was evaluated by three national experts in the field of vocational education for special populations, using the framework and the descriptions as criteria (see Appendix A). In addition to rating the applications, OSS requested evaluators to recommend programs for site visits. Evaluators were encouraged to recommend programs they felt were outstanding without regard to geographic limitations, program settings, level of students served, or type of population served. OSS conducted site visits to recommended programs with the highest ranking. The purpose of the site visits was to examine program processes and verify program claims (Walberg & Niemiec, 1993). During the site visits, OSS conducted interviews with students, teachers, coordinators, and administrators and toured the physical facilities, other program sites, or student work sites. To standardize the interview procedure, a set of questions was developed from information provided in the application and used as a guide. OSS made final decisions about which programs were to be recognized as exemplary upon completion of the site visits.

How This Monograph Is Organized

This monograph presents information about programs identified during the 1992, 1993, and 1994 searches. Background information on the exemplary program search is presented in this first section. The second section provides a description of the twenty exemplary program components (Phelps & Wermuth, 1992) and best practices for each component. This section also provides additional explanations of the question "What makes a program exemplary?" by discussing emerging characteristics and other commonalities that exemplary programs share. The third section contains a brief description of the recognized exemplary programs with an emphasis on outcomes and best practices from each program. The appendices include the rating form used by OSS to evaluate exemplary programs and a checklist for programs to assess their own program exemplariness.

Related Publications

The results of the 1990 and 1991 searches are published in two monographs, Exemplary Vocational Programs Serving Special Populations, Volume 1 (MDS-303) and Volume 2 (MDS-424). In addition, several topical papers published by the OSS have featured past exemplary program winners. Available from OSS, these papers include the following:

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