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 problems. 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
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.
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.
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
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.