What does Common Core mean for the SPED Student?

14 Aug

States across our country have a written set of learning goals or outcomes for their students.  Some states have gotten together and written a set of common goals (or standards) for the core subjects, English Language Arts and Math, called the Common Core State Standards or the CCSS.  Schools in many states have begun to implement a change to their curriculum based on these common standards.  Many parents and educators are concerned about what these changes mean for their students and some states have decided to not implement the standards in their state.

In my experience as an educator, these standards are not extremely different from what we were already teaching our students, but they are more rigorous. For example, the common core raises the bar for text complexity at every grade level.  We are asking our students to read and comprehend more challenging texts at an earlier grade level, but not necessarily different books. In fact, the CCSS Initiative has a suggested list of books for each grade level (called exemplar texts) and the classics are definitely emphasized. The shift that I notice in math is toward placing more importance on developing students’ number sense and their ability to solve more complex word pUnknownroblems. So, how does this affect your student?

For all students, but especially students on an IEP, school just got tougher.  They will be asked to read more challenging books. They will need to be able to write a more structured piece of writing. And they will be asked to solve more difficult math problems. However, they will still have their IEP accommodations and support. That is not changing. I do not believe that the CCSS were designed to “trip-up”  or fail students, but to better prepare them for the competitive world economy they will participate in.   The CCSS Initiative has issued a statement about students with disabilities ( available at http://www.corestandards.org/assets/CCSSonSWD-AT.pdf). In their statement, it states that “Students with disabilities ―students eligible under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)―must be challenged to excel within the general curriculum and be prepared for success in their post-school lives, including college and/or careers.” As a parent of a student on an IEP, I want nothing more than for my child to be prepared for a career after their schooling.  And I do believe that our children are up to the challenge of the CCSS, even our learning disabled children.  What concerns me, as parent and educator, is that I wonder if most of our schools and educators are up to the changes that the CCSS has put forth. Will we want to invest the funds it will take to bring every student up to these lofty standards. I hope so!  School systems and taxpayers need to ask themselves if they are willing to offer the support (AKA money for training and materials) that educators need to make these changes? As educators, we need to ask ourselves if they are willing to change? And as parents, we need to ask ourselves if we are willing to support our children as they undertake this more challenging curriculum?

If you are concerned or wondering about the CCSS, I suggest you visit their website at http://www.corestandards.org or follow the link below to a quick video that explains the rationale behind CCSS.

Learn About Common Core in 3 Minutes

IEP Accommodations that Will Help Parents Support Their Child at Home

9 Jul

Tears, doors slamming, pleas, and negotiations. Does this sound like homework time at your house? Homework time is stressful for many families. For those of us trying to support our exceptional children, homework time can be a downright frightening experience. With some basic parental problem-solving and a few IEP accommodations, we’ve licked the homework  problem in our house. Here’s how!

First,  I asked for accommodations to be added to my child’s IEP. I’ve asked for all of these things and have gotten most of them written into the IEP.

  • Reduced Assignments: This could mean fewer math problems, less spelling words per week, or an assignment spread out over more days.
  • Advance Written Notification of Tests: This is important for middle and high school students who have multiple teachers giving tests. A child with an LD will need more time to prepare for tests. I ask for at least 3 days advanced notice.
  • Projects Due on Mondays: I ask for this so I can be sure my child has enough time to complete the project and we can edit and revise it together. Most projects will be displayed and getting presentable quality work done is time consuming for many exceptional children.
  • Textbooks for Home: This helps for studying and homework. If your child’s notes are incomplete, you can help them fill in the blanks with the text.

Next, I set up homework guidelines that worked for our child’s emotional and physiological needs. If at first they don’t succeed, keep trying… change is hard to implement. Here’s what we did:

  • Work Before Play: We get started right away. I’ve found that my child can handle homework right after school better than if I let him take a break or do an activity first. I schedule activities for evenings or  weekends. He eats a snack while he works and homework is done in less than an hour. He then gets a well deserved break!
  • Homework is Done Where the Help is: Whoever helps our child with homework is close by and not overly occupied with other things. For example, I’m usually getting dinner ready while my child does homework. So he does his homework at the counter so I can see if he’s off task and he can ask for help.
  • Have Supplies Ready: our child is responsible for making sure we have supplies stocked up.  Also, I keep a stock of poster board around because my son has a knack for asking for poster board at 9:00 the night before it’s needed in class.
  • Ask for extra Medication: If your child’s time released meds run out by homework time, the doctor can prescribe a quick acting small dose pill just for that.
  • Review and Preview the Day and the Week: Review the day with your child (What was assigned for tonight?), then preview the next day (What do you need for tomorrow?). On Sunday, review the week (Did you get everything done this week?) and preview the next week (What do you need for this week coming up?).

Homework time does not have to be miserable. Assessing what is causing your child to break down will help you solve the problem. Is it too much work to get done in a reasonable time? Is the child exhausted? Are they unorganized? Ask and answer these questions, then implement the change that will fix the problem. I hope you find these strategies helpful. If you have ideas that have worked, please add them in a comment.

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Who is Supporting My SPED Child?

18 May

This is a very important question for all parents to ask. Ask this question at the yearly IEP meeting, but also ask throughout the year because teachers are constantly changing groupings as students’ needs change. Often high needs students are supported by a teaching assistant, not the teacher. There are strict state and national standards for teacher preparation programs and for teaching licensing, however most teaching assistants are not licensed and many do not have a degree in education. They are typically not the most qualified person in the classroom, which is why they should not be instructing students, especially our most vulnerable. NCLB, a federal education bill, has set forth guidelines for the use of teaching assistants. They are available for you to read at the US Department of Education link provided. Many IEPs are written so that either a teacher or paraprofessional can provide services to your child. As a parent and a teacher, I am very wary of this because I want my child being instructed by the most qualified person. If an assistant is supporting a child in the classroom, this will be listed as inclusion support. A supervising teacher should be present. I always check that this is the case. I ask my child where they are working throughout the day and who is present. I do this because as a teacher I have been witness to IEP students being taken from the classroom to work with an assistant countless times. THIS IS NOT INCLUSION AND VIOLATES YOUR CHILD IEP. When an IEP is violated, your child’s rights have been broken. In this case, your child’s right to receive instruction in the least restricted environment (called LRE in the SPED world). Most teachers and their assistants are well meaning when they send a student out of the room. They see it as giving the child small group or one-on-one assistance. I don’t see it that way for several reasons. First, when your child leaves the room they lose the benefit of positive peer influence and collaboration. Second, they are being singled out and separated from their peers in an unequal way. Third, they lose the instruction of the more qualified person. Fourth, and most importantly, they may be learning helplessness because teaching assistants often are not adept at how to question and prompt students so they can complete work on their own. Well meaning assistants often give students answers before the student can get to the answer on their own, this is how a student learns to be helpless. By providing just enough support for a student to accomplish a task, students learn that they are capable. There is an art to being able to do this correctly and some teachers are not sure of how to do it. As a parent advocate, you have to watch for signs of helplessness in your child and speak up about it. Your child should be able to complete homework without too much support from you. If they can’t, take the time to investigate what is happening throughout the day. Also, review the IEP to see who is providing services and where. If you find that your child spends a lot of time with an assistant, you might want to call a meeting to discuss your home observations.

The State of Learning Disabilities Report

21 Feb

Check out this report from NCLD on LDs! Some good news (less students being diagnosed with LD due to more emphasis on early intervention) and bad news (70% of people falsely link LD with mental retardation). This is a must read for anyone who loves someone with LD. Here’s link: http://www.ncld.org/types-learning-disabilities/what-is-ld/state-of-learning-disabilities?utm_source=ReadingRockets.org&utm_medium=Twitter

How to Get a Dyslexia Diagnosis for Your Child

9 Aug

 

 

 

Many school districts will tell you that they do not test for dyslexia.  This is simply not true.  What they are really saying is that they do not like to use the term dyslexia, but every school district in America tests for dyslexia.  Dyslexia is a reading disability which is a type of specific learning disability.  The widely accepted definition of dyslexia (www.ida.org) is a neurologically based learning disability characterized by difficulties in accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding (how we read words) abilities.  The federal law for special education (IDEA) specifically states that children with documented learning disabilities qualify for special education.  The term dyslexia is even used in the law.  Statistic from the International Dyslexia Association’s website show that 85% of learning disabilities are in reading or language.  This means that dyslexia is quite common.   Since we know that children all across the country are receiving special education services for specific learning disabilities, and 85% of these disabilities are in reading and language, then there is a lot of testing for dyslexia occurring.

 

 

 

 

The problem that many parents run into is that most students with learning disabilities have average, or higher, intelligence.  When districts review testing with parents, sometimes they will deny services to a child because of this.  However, this is not in compliance with what the federal law says.  If a child is struggling to read and is not achieving in this area, even with average or higher intelligence, the child is still eligible for services in reading.  The big problem is that many schools will not do an in-depth evaluation of reading skills. They will do an academic achievement test that measures achievement across the board and does not measure specific reading skills (such as phonological awareness and rapid automatic naming- two of the brain processes involved in learning to read).  Dyslexia is caused by a deficit in phonological awareness (the ability to hear the individual sounds in a word) and/or rapid automatic naming (the speed at which the brain can use stored information such as words and letter sounds).  In order to get the dyslexia diagnosis, your school district will need to measure ability in these areas.

 

 

When requesting an evaluation (or an extended evaluation if one has already been completed), you need to specifically ask for these two areas to be tested.  The most common assessment to measure those two areas is call the CTOPP (The Comprehensive Test of phonological Processing).  If your school refuses, remember you have the right to get an outside evaluation done at the expense of the school (in some cases).  Write a letter stating you are unhappy with the tests performed and feel a more comprehensive evaluation is needed.

 

 

 

 

 

SPED Parents Beware!: 10 SPED Mistakes to Watch Out For

15 Jan

Deciding to place your child in special education is never an easy decision to make.  As parents we worry if we are making the right decision and if the school will do their best to service our child’s needs.  I like to think that all schools, every where, are doing their best to meet the need of all the children they serve.  However, I know this is not true, so, based on my experience as a parent and teacher, I have come up with a list of ten things to watch out for.  Any of these things could* signal to you that your child’s school is not complying with special education regulations.

10.  Not Informing You of Your Rights:  The school should give you a copy of your rights (called the Parental Safeguards) every year.

9.  Completing Paperwork Late:  A new IEP is written every 12 months, your child is re-evaluated every 3 years, & testing is done within 30 days from permission granted.

8.  Being Inflexible About Meeting Dates & Times:  The school is required to make an effort to have parents at the meetings.  If you request a change in date or time, it should be granted.

7.  Missed Service:  The IEP is a legally binding contract.  The service time must be provided.  If a teacher or specialist is out, that service time is to be made up to your child.

6.  Unmeasured Progress &/or Goals:  The school needs to keep track of your child’s progress (or lack of progress) on  the IEP goals.  They need to report this to you in progress reports.

5.  IEPs that are not Individualized:  Some schools write IEPs for groups of students.  IEPs must be individualized.  Be sure your child’s IEP matches their unique needs.

4.  Under-qualified Staff:  Ask if the teacher providing the service is licensed in special education, occupational therapy, etc.  A teacher’s aide shouldn’t be the main service provider.

3.  Not Accepting Parent Input at Meetings:  You’re an equal member of the IEP team and should be treated that way.  Your ideas count and should be taken seriously.

2.  Unauthorized Changes to IEP:  An IEP cannot be changed with out your permission (even something small).  Once you sign it, it’s a legal document.

1.  Non-Negotiation with Parents:  The school should try to resolve disagreements with parents.  The “my way or the highway” approach to IEPs shouldn’t be the expectation.

*Keep in mind that laws differ from state to state and that sometimes schools make honest mistakes.  If you find any of these mistakes being made at your child’s school, I would carefully investigate by first, reading the parental safeguards that you should have received, second, researching your state laws, and finally, asking some carefully worded questions (with a follow-up in writing).  I suggest that parents assume positive intentions from their child’s school, however, it is the obligation of school staff to know the laws and to follow them.

Is Special Education Right for my Child?

8 Jan

Deciding whether or not to place your child in special education is a tough decisions for some parents. As a parent of a special education child, I know the emotions that parents have when their child is struggling. It is hard to admit that your child has a disability and is different from the other children. The fear and anxiety is huge. As a teacher, I continue to see the agony of students that are not getting the help they need because their parents will not give permission for their child to be tested or to be placed in a special education program. I have heard many parents say that their child doesn’t need special education, they just need a little extra-help to get it. These parents refuse testing or services and ask the general education teacher to provide the extra-help.  Unfortunately, these children with disabilities most likely will not get the help they deserve.  It is not that the general education teacher does not want to help your child, it’s that (most of the time) they can’t give them what they need. General education teachers do not have the time, expertise, and (sometimes) the authority to give a learning disabled student the help they will need to progress in school.

Many school districts across the country have faced huge cuts to their budgets due to the downturn in the economy. One of the more common ways to make up for the lost revenue is too make class sizes bigger. When a school system does this they need less teachers and/or fewer facilities, and so they save money. Class sizes now, in may schools, over 25 students per class. This is a lot of students for one teacher to get to in a day. With numbers that high, they will not have the extra time that is needed to help a learning disabled student that is not getting special education services. Services for students with learning disabilities cannot be cut by school districts. They are obligated by federal law to keep up these programs. Special education teachers usually see students in smaller groups (6 to 10) than in a general education classroom. A special education teacher that sees students right in the classroom may be servicing less than 25% of the class. These students are getting much more face time with a teacher than the other students in the class. General education teachers just do not have the time to give the intensive interventions that students with disabilities need.

General education teachers and special education teachers are not one in the same.  They do not receive the same training and do not have the same state certifications.  Special education teachers are trained in assessing and diagnosing learning disabilities.  They have been trained in special ways to educate students with disabilities.  There are many special programs and methods that special education teachers use, that general education teachers have no access to or training in. Some of the methods that have been researched and proven to work with students with disabilities need a small group setting, special materials, or equipment.  General education teachers cannot provide the specialized instruction methods that special education teachers can.

Some of the accommodations that special education students receive cannot be provided to students that are in general education because of the laws or rules of the institution, school or district.  For example, some special education students received untimed tests (even for the SATs).  Another example is that some special education students receive a waiver for required classes (such as foreign languages) because their disability makes it almost impossible for them to pass such a course. These accommodations will not be given to students that do not have a documented disability.  A child with an undocumented disability will not  benefit from accommodations that are there for their benefit and a general education teacher cannot authorize the use of such accommodations.

If the school has asked to test your child to see if they qualify for special education, most likely it is because they need more help than the classroom teacher can provide. Most likely, your child is struggling and feeling the pain of low self-esteem and embarrassment of failure. It’s heart breaking for you, the parent, and them.  Since your child only has one chance at getting the proper education for them, the decision that you make is extremely important and will have a lasting impact. Resist the urge to let fear and anxiety cloud your decision.

Negotiating your Child’s IEP: The Non-Negotiable

24 Sep

When you go to the team meeting for your child’s IEP, you need to be prepared.  I go with a list of personal goals that I want to accomplish at that meeting.  My goals are separated into two lists:  The negotiable and the Non-Negotiable.  This list will be different for each parent, so I can’t tell you what to put on your list.  Here is a list of ideas that I would NEVER compromise on.

1.  Full and equal parent participation:  Your opinion should count. If you are being “pushed aside,” you will need to assert your parental rights. Announce to the team that you feel your opinion is not being heard.  If you cannot get yourself heard, you can halt the meeting by asking for the team to reconvene later when the team is ready to hear your opinion.  After the meeting, you can send a letter to the special education director in which you describe the meeting in detail, especially the points where your opinion was devalued or went unheard by the team.  You can ask that the letter be placed in your child’s file. This letter will start a paper trail if you need to go to mediation with the team.
2.  A Truly Individualized IEP:  If you feel like the IEP that is  presented is “cookie cutter”, meaning it does not sound like it was designed for your child, I would be sure to make suggestions that would make the IEP fit more to your child’s needs. Be sure your child’s present level of performance is detailed and his/her needs and characteristics are clearly specified. Then, be sure the services meet the needs of your child.  Your child’s IEP should have a logical flow to it all leading up to the goals and services they will get.
3.  Measurable Goals: If the goals are not measurable, you will never be able to tell if your child is making true progress.  You will have to rely on teacher observation reports, which is not data.  You need data to show true success!

The above is a list of general ideas that I would never compromise on.  However, I always have other things on my list that are specific for my child.  For example, my child is dyslexic so I had on my list of the non-negotiable that he get a multi-sensory explicit phonics program.  That is an item that is specific to his disability.  You will want to research what the best interventions are for the type of disability your child has and put those things on your list.  I always go to an IEP meeting ready to negotiate.  Negotiation sometimes means you have to give in on some of your goals.  Be ready to present some goals and ideas that you are willing to leave on the table in the end.  I do this for two reasons.  If I get the negotable for my child – Great!  If I don’t get them, I just compromised with the team opening the door for them to make a compromise with me  on an issue I absolutely won’t compromise on.

Can I refuse Special Education for my child?

17 Sep

You have the right to refuse to have your child be evaluated by the school district.  Before a child can be placed on an IEP, a district must evaluated the child to see if they have a qualifying disability.  The district must get your consent, in writing, before they can do this evaluation.  After this evaluation is done, if your child qualifies for special education services, you must again give your written consent for their initial placement in special education.  You have the right to refuse to place your child in special education for the first time.  You can withdraw your consent for an evaluation and initial placement before they begin.  You have a right to be present at each team meeting for your child and to take part in the decision making process.

Once you have given your consent for an evaluation and the initial placement in special education, you must be notified, in writing, when the school has made an important decision affecting your child’s education before that decision is put into place.  The written notice (officially called prior written notice) should include the decision made, why the decision was made, a description of other options considered and why they were refused, and a description of what information was used as the basis for this decision.

You should be aware that if you refuse an evaluation for your child the school district can override your decision by requesting a due process hearing.  At the hearing, an administrative law  judge will decide if your child needs an evaluation in order to get a free and appropriate public education (FAPE).    Every child is entitled to this under federal law.  If you still disagree with the court order to evaluate, you have the right to bring a civil suit against the school district.  The school district cannot, however, get a court order if you refuse initial placement in special education.  That decision is completely up to you.

My Child is Struggling in School….Do They have a Learning Disability?

4 Sep

Almost every child will struggle in school at some point.  We all have our strengths and weaknesses.  It is sometimes hard to know if your child’s struggling is within the “normal” range or if they have a learning disability (LD) and need special education.  In this post, I will attempt to clarify the difference between a child who is struggling, but does not have a learning disability, and a child who is struggling because they have a learning disability.  (Please note that all children are entitled to be evaluated to decide if they have a special educational need.  If you feel that your child may have special needs, you should trust your parent’s intuition and ask for an evaluation regardless of what any one person tells you.)

The Child Who Struggles (but does not have a LD) May:  

  • Progress at a slow, but steady pace.
  • Have a subject area that is weaker than others (example:  reads great/struggles with math).
  • Struggle with all subjects due to an organization problem or slight maturity gap.
  • Be working through a temporary social issue (example: argument with friends) or emotional difficulty (example: loss of a pet).
  • Get C’s on their report card. (I say C’s because it has been my experience that this is the grade that parent’s hate the most.  C’s are average and some of us just hate average.)
  • Avoid homework, resist help, and deny there is a problem.
  • Wish they got better grades or less homework or had more friends.
  • May get frustrated or disappointed and give up.
  • Respond well to some extra help, tutoring, or talking to a guidance counselor or social worker.

When given an academic achievement test, this child may fall in the low-average range in some or all academic areas.  It is my experience that students that score low-average usually do not qualify for special education.  However, there should be a way for this child to receive some extra help or tutoring at school.  Many schools have Title I (a free, federally funded program) or other academic help for students that need it.  You may have to ask for it, it’s sometimes not offered at will.  You and your child need to be willing to accept the extra help (even if it is before or after school).

The Child Who Struggles because they have an LD May:

  • Do all the things listed above (this is why it is so hard to guess if a child has a special need and evaluations are necessary). But also look for these signs:
  • Make no or little progress in all or certain academic areas.
  • Have organizational issues that stop progress from happening.
  • Have a large gap in maturity when compared to their peers.
  • Have persistent social and/or emotional difficulties.
  • Need more than just some extra help, tutoring, or a talk with a counselor.

When given an academic achievement test, this child may fall in the low range (sometimes called below average) in some or all academic areas. It is my experience that students that score low usually do qualify for special education.  I think a thorough evaluation will further test areas that a student scored low on to get a “second opinion.”  For example, if your child scores low in reading on an academic achievement test, another type of reading test may be done to confirm the first result.  Further testing may also provide the special education team with more information about the student.