Item Coversheet

Action Items - Intermediate Unit - 8.

Title: Contract with STAR Autism Support, Inc. for Professional Development for Teachers of Students with Autism in Grades 6 Through 12. Philadelphia Secondary Autism Project ($265,000)

Board of Education Meeting Date:

Action under consideration


The Administration recommends that the Board of Education, acting in its capacity as Board of Directors for Philadelphia Intermediate Unit No. 26 (IU 26), authorize IU 26, through the Executive Director or their designee, to execute and perform contracts, subject to funding, as follows:  


STAR Autism Support, Inc.


To provide comprehensive professional development for teachers and staff who teach and support students with Autism Spectrum Disorder in grades 6-12 on effective evidence-based instructional practices

Start date:  7/1/2023

End date: 6/30/2024

Compensation not to exceed: $265,000

Location: District elementary, middle, and high schools with 6-12 grade Autistic Support Programs


Why is the contract needed?

Approximately 2,000 6-12 grade students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) attend School District of Philadelphia's (District) schools. Approximately 1,300 of these students receive instruction in 170 specialized autism support classrooms. The remainder of students are supported within inclusive general education classroom settings. The contractor, STAR Autism Support, Inc. (SAS) shall provide a comprehensive program of professional development, training, consultation, and support to grow the capacity of 6th-12th grade Autism Support (AS) teachers and staff to rigorously implement highly effective evidence-based practices (EBP) in the classroom. This professional development is intended to enable approximately 1,300 students on the autism spectrum to succeed and to make significant academic and behavioral advancements as they enter and progress through the middle and secondary grades. The contractor will also provide professional development to District administrators and general education teachers and staff, for the purpose of preparing them to include students with autism in the least restrictive environments (LRE) including the general education classroom setting.  

The IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), mandates that instruction for students with disabilities be based on EBP delivered in the LRE. The contractor SAS is the creator of the highly effective, evidence-based and research-validated, STAR (Strategies for Teaching Based on Autism Research) Program, Links (Linking Assessment and Instruction for Independence) Curriculum, and STAR Online Learning System (SOLS). SAS designed these programs to teach elementary, middle, and secondary students with autism and other developmental disabilities critical skills identified by the National Research Council. SAS consultants will provide professional development on these curriculum programs to District teachers and support staff of students with autism in grades 6-12. The contractor’s services will enable the District to comply with IDEA EBP instructional mandates.

Through the STAR program, SAS shall provide District AS teachers and professional staff with comprehensive professional development on a variety of EBP and strategies. STAR professional development and support services shall enable AS teachers and support staff to deliver the instruction, interventions, and supports their students with ASD in grades 6-12 need to make meaningful academic, behavioral and transition progress, and to reach the goals and objective of their Individualized Education Programs (IEP).  A core goal of this program is to improve teacher instructional practice and fidelity of implementation of EBP through professional development workshops and coaching, and to create state-of-art classrooms and teaching environments that serve students in their LRE, including instruction in general education settings.

Nationally, AS teachers have an increased risk of leaving their positions due to the unique needs of the population they teach. This national trend is also experienced by District AS teachers. In addition to having a positive impact on student achievement, SAS professional development has a positive impact on teacher retention.  Since COVID-19 the District hired 70 new AS teachers. SAS professional development will support new teacher retention and strengthen their ability  to deliver highly effective and rigorous evidence-based instruction to students with ASD in grades 6 through 12. 

How is this work connected to the District’s plan to achieve Goals & Guardrails?

To optimize the educational and behavioral performance of students with autism, the STAR program emphasizes teacher implementation of EBP in the LRE. EBP in LRE enables students to reach academic, communication, transition, and social interaction goals.  The program directly impacts the Board’s Goals 1 through 3 by empowering students with autism in grades 6 through 12 to reach IEP goals, appropriate grade levels in reading and math, levels of proficiency in annual state assessments, and by providing them with the foundational skills to prepare them for post-secondary education or employment. The SAS STAR program includes a focus on school-wide inclusive educational practices (Guardrail 1), incorporates topics that expand student opportunities for increased participation in school, including extra- curricular activities (Guardrail 2), provides resources to support partnering with families (Guardrail 3), and supports the implementation of inclusive educational practices working towards equal access and opportunities for students (Guardrail 4).

How will the success of this contract be measured?

SAS reports baseline and end-of-year student data to the District. SAS data and IEP progress show significant student growth and improved outcomes. Over the last two years, record numbers of teachers and staff participated in the Contractor’s professional development and received consultation support. Evaluations indicated that 95% of participants felt that contractor’s professional development opportunities increased their knowledge and skills in implementing EBPs in AS classrooms. A comprehensive parent survey demonstrated a high level of support for the professional development SAS provides to teachers and staff. 

When applicable, is this an evidence-based strategy?  If so, what evidence exists to support this approach? 

Demonstrated teacher implementation of evidence based instructional practices in less restrictive learning environments resulting in improved outcomes for students with autism evidences the high value, effectiveness and utility of the STAR program.

When applicable, was a larger community of District community members and/or stakeholders involved in this selection process? If so, what groups and how? 

Consistent with the District’s competitive procurement process, the selection of this Contractor included a committee of District staff with relevant special education, autism, instructional, programmatic, and fiscal expertise who reviewed and evaluated contractor’s RFQ response. 

Funding Source(s):

FY23-24 IDEA Grant

 Office Originating Request: Academic Support