Massachusetts District Determined Measures

District Determined Measures (DDMs) is a hot topic in Massachusetts’ school districts. DDMs are defined by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education as:

“measures of student learning, growth, and achievement related to the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks, Massachusetts Vocational Technical Education Frameworks, or other relevant frameworks, that are comparable across grade or subject level district-wide. These measures may include, but shall not be limited to: portfolios, approved commercial assessments and district-developed pre and post unit and course assessments, and capstone projects.”

On September 10th, Jan Hollenbeck, OTD, OTR/L tackled the complex and evolving subject in her Saturday seminar entitled: Accepting the Challenge: Developing Meaningful District Determined Measures (DDMS). Jan is an authority on the subject as the Special Education Coordinator responsible for related services, assistive technology, 504, and secondary transition services for Medford Public Schools.

Dr. Hollenbeck shared her experiences with DDMs in an honest and clear way. She provided numerous references and guides to clarify the subject. Because DDMs are designed for teachers, applying them to therapists and other support school personnel is challenging. OTs and PTs are included in the Specialized Instructional Support Personnel (SISP). This group earns individual ratings in two areas: Summative Performance Rating and Student Impact Rating (what’s the therapist’s impact on student learning). We as therapists need to demonstrate that we have impact on student learning, but Jan raised the question of whether DDMs are the right way to do this.

Attendees were all occupational therapists or OT grad students. The seminar generated much discussion among attendees about how OTs fit the model of DDMs and what is happening with DDMs in various school systems where the therapists practice. All enjoyed the opportunity to engage in a lively brainstorming session with colleagues. They were asked to identify their key roles and functions on the school team and designate what data is currently being collected. Quantitative data is required for DDMs. Further in this exercise, therapists generated possible DDMs, decided why they were meaningful, and whether they would be direct or indirect measures of student impact. One interesting idea was to do a survey to ascertain how helpful OT consultation is on a 5 point rating scale, tabulate the results, and use them to arrive at a performance rating.

Jan reminded us that developing DDMs is a “work in progress.” Stay tuned…

Take a look at some remarks from attendees:

“This is the first time I feel like I have a meaningful baseline understanding of the DDM process/expectations.” Anonymous, Occupational Therapist

“Jan presents in an organized & concise manner. She is effective in moving the audience through issues. Considerations presented in a positive manner.” Anonymous, Occupational Therapist

“Very informative – this is a very complicated subject and Jan helped to simplify some of the major points.” Beth M., Occupational Therapist

“I would recommend this seminar to a colleague to get a better understanding of DDMs and how it is still a ‘work in progress.’ Makes you feel less isolated!” Anonymous, Occupational Therapist

Thank you, Jan!
Filomena Connor, MS, OTR/L
September 10, 2016

Task Boxes: A Hands-On Approach to Life Skills

by Angela Mahoney

The importance of pre-vocational planning and opportunity is ever growing, yet when and where to begin can be so overwhelming for both educators and parents! Task boxes are a great way to introduce as well as develop a wide range of hands-on life and vocational activities for a range of diverse learners.

Task boxes are compartments that contain material for a certain activity. The activities are typically short and structured and they offer a nice blend of familiarity and challenge. Any activity that fits in the compartment may be used as part of the young adult’s curriculum both at school and home as well as in a therapy session such as OT, PT and Speech. Task boxes offer much more than organization for the young adult working on the activity:

  • Activities address various skills.
  • They encourage independence, as the young adult takes the task out of the box, completes it, and puts it away with minimal or no guidance.
  • They serve as excellent sequencing activities.
  • The boxes are visual, and the single-unit presentation is easy to understand.
  • They break down activities into small steps, which is an important aspect of applied behavioral analysis (ABA).

Task Boxes for Life SkillsTask Boxes for Life Skills

To create a task box you need to first gather a limited number of materials (10-20) related to the activity as well as a compartment with lid large enough to store materials.


Next you will need tocreate a visual guide showing each step of the task in the compartment. This allows the young adult to visually see each step of the variety of task boxes and encourages independence when working.


After the materials have been placed in the compartment, adhere the steps to the lid, number the box and add it to your task box area for future practice and success with a wide range of skills!

Below are some examples of task box ideas broken down by Module, adapted from the I Can Work! Program.

Clerical: Folding paper in thirds, Addressing envelopes, Filing by numbers or words

Task Boxes for Life SkillsTask Boxes for Life Skills

Retail: Folding t-shirts, Pairing and Sizing shoes, Buttoning Shirt

Task Boxes for Life SkillsTask Boxes for Life Skills

Food Service: Folding napkins, Setting a table, Assembly of place settings

Task Boxes for Life SkillsTask Boxes for Life Skills

Grocery: Sorting hard and soft groceries, Stocking shelves

Task Boxes for Life SkillsTask Boxes for Life Skills

By creating task boxes that apply to life utilizing vocational materials, young adults are building a stronger foundation and confidence for future success!

How Can We Use RTI-P to Organize our Jobs and Caseloads?

by Dr. Debra Em Wilson

S'Cool MovesI’m excited to join Therapro as a guest blogger. I am a reading specialist and the founder of S’cool Moves. I enjoy collaborating and appreciate this opportunity to connect with the Therapro community. I’d like to share a post from my website that I’ve modified to share with you, a Therapro community member.

A physical therapist called me from Ohio wanting to know more about our products, but what she really needed from me were some insights that I’ve gained from doing what I do for the last twenty years. She was a therapist making the huge shift from clinical practice to educational practice in schools. She told me that she was the ONLY physical therapist for the entire district and was spread really thin. Let’s call our therapist Amber. Amber said that the teachers seemed to want to know what they could do in the classrooms for all the students to improve foundation skills. But how was she going to reach all these teachers and satisfy the IEP goals for her huge caseload?

It was interesting. Do you know where my mind went to help Amber create a framework? It went to sharing about the Response-to-Intervention model (RTI). RTI was designed as an alternative to the discrepancy model used to determine if a child qualified for special education services. With RTI, methods of intervention are validated and data collected prior to referring a child for special education testing. Though some report RTI working well, for others it’s a mixed bag depending on how it is being implemented.

What if we could use RTI personally? Let’s call it the RTI-P model. During our conversation, I found myself explaining to Amber how RTI models work and personalizing the model for her. She got off the call with clarity and new tools to help guide her as she navigates her new position.

Today’s thought is, “How can we use RTI-P to organize our jobs and caseloads?” Think in terms of tiers. RTI has three tiers. The first tier includes interventions and strategies we can use with all students in the classroom. The second tier includes modifications we need to make for small groups of students who are having difficulty with the class-wide strategies. The third tier focuses on individual strategies for the most involved students.

In your caseload, what students do you have that you could support in the classroom setting, Tier 1? Are there opportunities for you to present some strategies during staff meetings or on PD days to support teachers and students in the classroom?

Now think about Tier 2. What students need small group support either in the classroom or within designated smaller group environments?

And finally, Tier 3. What students are very involved and need your one-on-one, hands-on support?

Once you create your own personal framework, then you can figure out what materials or products will help you reach your goals, but first create your RTI-P framework.

For instance, Therapro’s Drive Thru Menus works well with all student in a classroom so this could be considered as an important tool for Tier 1 intervention. For small groups of students who are working on improving visual-motor integration, consider

  • Origami Fun for Beginners – 55 fun-to-do projects! Includes 96 sheets of authentic origami paper in a gorgeous array of colors and designs.
  • Letter Treasure Hunt Game – Handwriting fun!
    1. Sail your ship to an Alphabet Island,
    2. Follow Captain’s orders when you draw a card,
    3. Collect your treasure by writing the letter in the Captain’s log.

For students needing one-on-on intervention, add Developing Visual Motor Integration and Trace the Eights to your intervention strategies.

Let me know if the RTI-P makes sense to you and how you’ve used it to be more effective in your job and less stressed!

Thanks for all you do for children, Dr. Debra Em Wilson