Recent News


Family Engagement in Every School

Over the past several decades, educational research has confirmed the connection between family engagement and student success. In A New Wave of Evidence: The Impact of School, Family, and Community Connections on Student Achievement, Anne Henderson and Karen Mapp found that students with engaged families are more likely to succeed. This is true no matter how you measure success. Students get better grades. They behave better. They have a more positive attitude. They are more likely to graduate. They are more likely to go to college. Schools also do better when they engage families and communities as partners. An influential study of Chicago schools identified strong “parent and community ties” as one of five “essential supports” for successful school reform. Without this critical pillar of support, the most well executed improvement efforts to turnaround schools are likely to fail.

Of course, all schools interact with families. Every school sends report cards home, holds open houses, and solicits volunteers. So what, exactly, do we mean by “family engagement?” A recent paper from the Harvard Family Research Project, Beyond Random Acts: Family, School, and Community Engagement as an Integral Part of Education Reform, offers this description:

“Effective family engagement is a shared responsibility of families, schools, and communities for student learning and achievement; it is continuous from birth to young adulthood; and, it occurs across multiple settings where children learn.”

Sharing responsibility for learning and achievement

First and foremost, sharing responsibility means working together and not pointing fingers. With this in mind, there are many ways schools can get started. A good first step is to make information about curriculum, instruction, assessments, and policies easily accessible. Schools should also be welcoming. They should encourage families to learn about the school and to participate in learning activities. Once schools share information and establish rapport, family and community leaders should be empowered to participate in meaningful decisions about school policy. Their insight can inform decisions ranging from broad educational goals to specific disciplinary policies or budget priorities. Educators must also reach out to families where they live and work in order to build trust, improve communication, and gain a deeper understanding of the challenges different families face. In everything they do, schools and families must stay focused on improving student outcomes.

Continuous family engagement from birth to young adulthood

We now know that a child’s first few years have a powerful effect on his or her future. Even after those crucial years are past, children must overcome a variety of social, emotional, and academic challenges to reach adulthood prepared for a successful life. When the strands of family, school, and community are woven together with caring and frequent communication, they form a safety net to catch struggling children and offer support before it’s too late. Families, teachers, peers, guidance counselors, and countless other people affect a child’s life. To do their jobs well, these people must learn from a child’s past and be invested in the child’s future. Family, school, and community partnerships that support children from birth to young adulthood can help make that possible.

Family engagement across multiple settings

When we think about education, we usually think about classroom instruction. In truth, children only spend a small fraction of their lives sitting at a desk listening to a teacher. Research has shown that children who engage in learning activities outside the classroom often make gains, and children who don’t, usually fall behind. One of the best ways schools can reduce achievement gaps is to fill every child’s life with rich learning opportunities in school and out. There are many ways schools can facilitate learning outside the classroom. They can work with parents to align out-of-school-time learning with class work. They can provide families and students with expanded access to libraries and computers. They can offer supports like after-school homework help.

They can also be a crucial link between families and community resources like public libraries, museums, and community centers. It takes more than high quality classroom instruction for all children to reach their potential; a truly outstanding educational system must take advantage of every opportunity to educate its children.

STEP, Inc. offers high quality in-service and professional development to school districts on family engagement, increasing inclusive opportunities for students with disabilities, and other topics through our work as the family partner on the State Personnel Development Grant (SPDG).

STEP, Inc. also houses Tennessee’s Parent Training and Information Center and offers workshops, resources, and information to parents and families across Tennessee. Contact us at to discuss your training needs or visit to learn more about our services.

This article was written for FACET at the Federation for Children with Special Needs serving families in Massachusetts. We appreciate their permission to reprint this information.

For more information on FACET offerings, visit:

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“On Demand” FREE Inclusion Webinar Series

Have you checked out Tennessee’s State Personnel Development Grant (SPDG) “On Demand” Webinar Series on

Increasing Access to Core Instruction and Inclusive Opportunities for Student’s with Disabilities

This four-part webinar series is a great tool for parents and teachers.  The free webinars can be viewed anytime on your computer, smartphone or tablet.  This is great information to kick off 2018!

Please share with parents and families or feel free to use it as part of professional development for teachers and administrators.

Click on the following topics to view each webinar, download handouts, and resources.  Be sure to give your feedback by completing the brief evaluation at the end of each webinar.

This webinar series is a collaborative project of the TN Department of Education State Personnel Grant (SPDG) and their family partner Support & Training for Exceptional Parents (STEP, Inc.).

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Sign-Up Links for All Tennessee Department of Education Newsletters

The Tennessee Department of Education publishes nearly forty newsletters geared toward the interests and work responsibilities of various district and school stakeholder groups. 

Please click here for a comprehensive list of newsletter sign-up links. 

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IEA Program Update: Dec. 20, 2017

Parent Information Sessions

In January and February, the IEA Team with the Tennessee Department of Education will provide a series of information sessions for parents on the IEA Program.  Parent information sessions are designed to help parents who are interested in enrolling their student in the IEA Program learn more about what the IEA Program is, including student eligibility, amount of funding, approved expenses, and parent responsibilities. Parents will also learn how to complete the application process to enroll their child in the IEA Program. These sessions are not for parents of students already enrolled in the IEA Program.

For a complete list of the dates, times, and locations of the parent information sessions, and for instructions on how to register, click here. Space is limited, and parents must pre-register to attend the in-person information sessions. Registration closes Dec. 29.

Please note: Childcare will not be provided at the information sessions. Children may attend the information sessions but must be under parent/guardian supervision at all times.

If you are unable to attend an in-person session, there will be live webinars for parents on March 8 from 9–11 a.m. and 6–8 p.m. CDT. Instructions for how to access the webinar are available here. Pre-registration is not required for the webinar.  

All the information from the sessions and a recording of the live webinar will also be posted on the department’s IEA web page (here).   

Private School Information Sessions

The department will conduct a live information session webinar on the IEA Program for private school principals interested in applying to participate in the IEA Program for the 2018-19 school year. Private school information sessions are designed to help private school principals learn more about what the IEA Program is, including school eligibility, school responsibilities, and approved expenses. Private school principals will also learn how to complete the application process to become a participating school in the IEA Program.  

The webinar will be held on March 12 from 1–3 p.m. CDT. Instructions for how to access the webinar are available here. School principals do not need to pre-register for the webinar.  

The recording of the live webinar will be posted on the department’s IEA web page here.

Schools principals can also submit a request for the IEA team to come and speak to their group by emailing

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STEP is Lighting Up the Season with Music

Join us for a holiday benefit concert hosted by STEP, Inc. “Lighting Up the Season with Music.” 

DATE:        December 3, 2017

PLACE:      Longview Heights SDA Church, 685 E. Mallory Avenue, Memphis, TN 38115

TIME:         5:30 PM  Artisan Crafts and Gift Bazaar Shopping Open 

                   6:30 PM  Concert Begins

Help us ring in the holiday season in a spectacular way, this EXCEPTIONAL evening will include musical renditions from a variety of Memphis artists such as:

    • Nick Black - Soul Artist
    • Randy Harris and the Gifted Singers - Gospel Quartet
    • The Chinese Memphis Choir, directed by Huimin Hu - Chinese Cultural
    • SDA Conglomerate of Singers led by Wendell Weathers, Jr.
    • Paul Taylor - Spoken Word Artist
    • Darryl Sanford and Tim Griffin - Myriad of Genres

      PLUS there will be Praise Dancers and a Holiday Shopping Bazaar where community vendors and entrepreneurs will showcase their artisan crafted items and gifts just in time for holiday gift shopping.


      Our goal is to raise $50,000 to extend our reach to those who need our services.  Last year alone, STEP’s staff made over 30,000 contacts and used their family-to-family model to provide services at no cost.  That’s right:  Services were freefor families, many of those from our West TN region. Yet, there are SO MANY families yet to be reached!

      ALL the details for STEP’s star-studded holiday benefit concert, how to sponsor including benefits of each sponsorship level, and information on how to donate are on the enclosed flyers. 

      If you can't join us for the concert and would like to make a monetary donation, you can do so through the STEP website ( by PayPal or via mail.  Make checks payable to STEP, Inc. at 712 Professional Plaza, Greeneville, TN 37745.  You will receive a receipt for your tax-deductible donation. For questions please call 423-639-0125, ext. 10 or visit

      Thank you in advance for supporting our cause!

      Click here to visit our donation page

      Click here to download the flyer 

      Click here to download the sponsorship information

      Click here to register for a vendor table (reserved for selling locally-made products suitable for gift giving - space is very limited)

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      Public Feedback on the Alternate Academic Diploma Policy

      The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) has made available to states a diploma option for students with significant cognitive disabilities who are assessed on the alternate assessment. In order to take advantage of this option, the Tennessee Department of Education proposed the adoption of an alternate academic diploma at the October State Board of Education meeting. In order to receive an alternate academic diploma, a student must participate in the alternate assessments; earn the prescribed 22-credit minimum required by the state board; receive special education services or supports and make satisfactory progress on an IEP; have satisfactory records of attendance and conduct; and complete a transition assessment(s) that measures, at a minimum, postsecondary readiness in the areas of postsecondary education and training, employment, independent living, and community involvement. Students who earn an alternate academic diploma within four years plus a summer will be included in graduation rate.


      The current high school policy can be viewed on the state board’s website (here). Members of the public may submit written comments and feedback prior to the second and final reading of the proposed diploma adoption by emailing them to and copying To ensure consideration, feedback must be received by Dec. 15, 2017.

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      CDC's "Learn the Signs. Act Early." Program Launches New Milestone Tracker Mobile App

      CDC’s “Learn the Signs. Act Early.” program is pleased to announce the launch of its newest resource– the Milestone Tracker mobile app!


      This new app makes it easy for parents and other care providers to track, support and celebrate young children’s developmental milestones, as well as share this important information.

      Although it is packed with parent-friendly features, this app isn’t just for parents! Healthcare providers can use the app to assist with developmental surveillance as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, and early care and education providers can use the app to better understand their students’ skills and abilities and to engage families in monitoring developmental progress.


      The Milestone Tracker app features

      Ø  parent-friendly, interactive milestone checklists for ages 2 months through 5 years,

      Ø  photos and videos that illustrate milestones,

      Ø  personalized milestone summaries that can be easily shared with the child’s healthcare provider and others,

      Ø  tips and activities for supporting early development, including what to do if there’s a concern, and

      Ø  reminders for appointments and recommended developmental screening.

      Download the app today from the App Store or Google Play (search “CDC’s Milestone Tracker”) and learn more about the app by visiting .


      To hear more about the app’s unique features, receive tips on how to use the app to boost family engagement around developmental monitoring and screening, and get ideas for promoting the app in your community, register for the fall Act Early Webinar “CDC’s New Milestone Tracker: There’s an App for That!” , taking place on November 29th from 3pm to 4pm ET.

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      New Materials and Information Available from OSERS on Regulatory Reform

      OSERS Acting Assistant Secretary Kim Richey, OSEP Acting Director Ruth Ryder, and RSA Acting Commissioner Carol Dobak hosted a call today to provide further information regarding the announcement on Friday, October 20, 2017 that 72 guidance documents relating to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 have been rescinded due to being outdated, unnecessary, or ineffective. 

      In advance of the call, OSERS issued additional information (available here) relating to each of the 72 identified guidance documents, adding a column to their grid explaining why each document was rescinded.

      On the call, the leadership of each agency underscored multiple times that "there is no change in policy" at OSEP or RSA and that the deletion of these 72 documents "will not impact" children and youth with disabilities served by OSEP or people with disabilities served by RSA.

      STEP staff participated in the call and our take away is that Phase 1 (the batch of retired documents announced on October 20, 2017) of the process involved documents that were "so plainly outdated" that the federal agency leadership was surprised that they caused any controversy.

      The rescinded documents from OSEP fall into 5 broad categories: 
      1. Annual Programmatic Memos
      2. Specific Grant Requirements
      3. Guidance Issued in the times between Reauthorizations of IDEA and Issuance of Regulations
      4. Transmittal Memos (Public Notices)
      5. Memos that Addressed other Statutes that were time limited or those laws have since changed
      On the call stakeholders were told that OSEP has not done this kind of purge in the past, but RSA does it every time there is a reauthorization of the Rehabilitation Act and that is why the RSA only found 9 documents to OSEP's 63.

      The agencies committed to a transparent process as they move through the remaining phases of Regulation Reform and assured listeners that they would follow the requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act as they do their work.

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      OSERS Regulation Reform Update

      Below you find an update on the Department's Regulatory Reform process. This statement was issued today (October 20, 2017) by OSERS Acting Assistant Secretary Kimberly M. Richey. 



      United States Department of Education

      Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services

      On February 24, 2017, President Trump signed Executive Order 13777, “Enforcing the Regulatory Reform Agenda,” which established a Federal policy “to alleviate unnecessary regulatory burdens” on the American people. In accordance with the Executive Order, the U.S. Department of Education (Department) published a notice in the Federal Register on June 22, 2017, seeking input on regulations and guidance that may be appropriate for repeal, replacement, or modification. The deadline for submitting input was September 20, 2017. I am pleased to provide an update on the work that the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) has been doing since the President’s Executive Order, and the closing of the public input period. 

      OSERS is currently reviewing regulations and guidance in phases, which includes analyzing the input submitted by the public. The first phase involved reviewing guidance that OSERS has published on the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Rehab. Act), as amended. Initially, we evaluated the guidance to determine those that were outdated, unnecessary, or ineffective. At this time, OSERS has a total of 72 guidance documents that have been rescinded due to being outdated, unnecessary, or ineffective—63 from the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) and 9 from the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA).

      Available at this link is a chart that includes the guidance OSERS published on the IDEA and the Rehab. Act., which have been rescinded due to being outdated, unnecessary, or ineffective.

      I encourage you to visit the Department’s website to review the Department's Regulatory Reform Task Force's progress report. The Department is committed to an open and transparent process, and I will send periodic updates on the progress OSERS is making with the regulatory reform efforts

      Thank you for the work you do every day to improve the lives of individuals with disabilities.


      Kimberly M. Richey
      Acting Assistant Secretary

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      Young Children in Immigrant Families

      The latest edition of the Division for Early Childhood’s (DEC) Resources within Reason (July 2017) explains how those in early childcare can support young children in immigrant families, a population that has grown 36% since 2000. Included are resources for understanding the new immigration orders, for facilitating activities designed to support the child's culture and language, and for mentoring undocumented and unaccompanied refugee children living in the U.S.

      Click here to download a copy.

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