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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.

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.

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.

What are Measurable IEP Goals?

27 Aug

Probably the most important part of your child’s IEP is the “Measurable Annual Goals.”  These goals are suppose to be the result of one year of special education services and will help you determine if your child is making progress in their education.  It is important to review the goals that the school has proposed for your child.  They are suppose to be the framework for what your child will work on in the given year.  If these goals are too easy or too difficult or not appropriate,  another valuable year of your child’s education could be wasted.   The goals for most children should reflect what the general education students are working on to maintain educational equality.  For some children, the severity of their disability makes it impossible for them to have goals that are equal to those of their peers.  They have other needs that must be met. For all students, though, the goals should be aimed at getting your child to achieve to their full-potential (revealed in the educational testing that was done), starting at their current ability level and building upward.  The goals should be challenging, yet attainable and should reflect your child’s needs.

Many times I have witnessed parents fighting endlessly for lesser items on an IEP, completely ignoring the goals.  I think many parents aren’t aware of how important the goals really are for their child’s success.  Some parents only know some of the effects of their child’s disability;  like low test scores and frustration over homework, so naturally they would put emphasis on those areas of the IEP.  Yes, extra testing time is great; and reduced workload can help some students accomplish more and relieve some stress.  However, it is my experience that the academic, behavioral, and other goals that are set for your child are what really makes the difference in the long run.  The kinds of services, and sometimes the quality of services, given are based on those goals.  Whether or not you can see the progress your child is making will depend on the goals being measurable.   When the special education teachers write your child’s progress report, they will write about the progress they are making on those goals. If the goals are written correctly, so they are measurable, you will be able to plainly tell if your child is having success or not.  Since you want to know if your child is getting what they need and making progress, you will want to be sure that the goals are written in a way that is measurable.  (Usually, measurable goals will include a percentage or ratio of success.  For example, it might say “…..with success in 3 out of 4 attempts”  or “…with 80% accuracy”.)

If you think the goals are not challenging enough, too challenging, not measurable, or will not meet your child’s needs SPEAK UP!  Here is your chance to help your child get what they need to be a success.    It is your right to object and ask for the school to make adjustments to the goals.  Tell them why you object to the goals, give them a chance to explain their reasoning, and then make your opinion and desires known.

IEPs Explained for Parents

12 Aug

If you are not in the special education field, reading an individual education program (IEP) can be a little like reading a document in another language.  You will find terminology that you probably have not come in contact with before. There are lots of acronyms and terms on IEPs that are specific to special education.  Here, I will try to explain some of the more confusing terms and acronyms of IEPs, however, if you have a question about your child’s IEP that this post does not answer, feel free to post a question.

General Curriculum:  This the regular curriculum that all non-disabled students receive in a school district.  The term general is used in place of “regular”; for example, a non-special education classroom is called a general education classroom.

Instructional Modifications:  Basically, these are any changes that can and will be made to the instruction for your child to help their learning.   These can also be called specially designed instruction.  These are changes that non-disabled students do not qualify for.

Methodology:  This means how the instruction will be delivered, by which method.  Sometimes teams will specify a certain way to best present new material to your child (e.g. visual aids or multi-sensory instruction).

accommodations:  These are changes to the learning environment that will help your child make more effective progress.  Students who are not on IEPs can qualify for accommodations as well.  An example of an accommodation is preferential seating near the source of instruction.

Assistive Technology:  These are devices (can be electronic) that can help a student with a disability.

Performance Criteria:  This is another term for testing or assessment.

Measurable Goal:  This is a goal (or outcome) that can be actually measured.  Usually goals are written in terms of ratios and/or percentages.  Here is an example of a measurable goal:  Jane will read a paragraph with 80% accuracy in 4:5 opportunities. The goals should be challenging, yet reachable.

Benchmarks:  These are the steps that a student will probably make before they can accomplish the measurable goal.  For example, Jane will probably read with 75% accuracy before she can read it at 80% accuracy.  If the goals are challenging enough, students will not be able to reach them without first meeting the benchmarks.

Nonparticipation Justification:  This is were the school district must prove why they are removing a student from the general education classroom.  Because students have the right to be educated with their peers to the most extent possible, the school system needs to tell why it is preferable to take this student out.

Should I Sign My Child’s IEP?

10 Aug

What to Consider Prior to Signing a New IEP 

An individual education program or plan is a document that outlines the special education services your child will receive.  It includes your child’s disability, current academic performance levels, accommodations they will get, services to be provided, goals for your child to meet, and how they will be assessed. An IEP is a legal document that is binding for the school district.  As a parent you have the right to revoke your permission for the IEP at anytime. Many of us parents worry about our children’s IEPs.  We wonder if it is appropriate, if it will benefit our child, and if we should give our permission to implement it.  You should never feel pressure to sign an IEP, you have 30 days to consider it.  Here are some things to consider prior to signing an IEP (or after you’ve signed!):

  • Do I agree that my child does indeed have the diagnosed  disability? If not, why do you believe your child isn’t making progress?
  • Do you believe your child truly needs the listed the accommodations?  or Do you think they will need more accommodations to make  progress?
  • Do you believe that your child’s school can deliver the specially designed instruction your child needs to make progress?  If not, what has led you to believe this?
  • Do you believe your child has other educational needs (such as, social needs or behavior support) that the school has not addressed in the IEP?  If yes, what needs are these?
  • Has the school written MEASURABLE goals? (For example:  Joe will improve his oral reading fluency to 60 words per minute by the end of the third marking period. This is measurable because a teacher can measure words read per minute by doing a running record of Joe’s reading.)
  • Do you think your child is going to receive too little or too much direct special education services?  If yes, how much service time do you think they need?
  • Do you agree that your child needs to be removed from their classroom to receive their services?  Do you think their needs can be best met in the classroom?  Does the IEP reflect your belief in this area?
  • Do you think your child would benefit from a summer program?  Why or why not?
  • Is your child being assessed in a fair, non-biased way?

After considering the proposed IEP carefully, you have 3 options.  You can accept the IEP as developed, sign it, and return.  Services for your child will begin right away.  You can reject the entire IEP as developed, sign it, and return.   No services will be given to your child and a new meeting will be scheduled.  You can reject portions of it that you are uncomfortable with, sign it and return.  This last option is beneficial for your child because some services (the ones you have not rejected) can be started as soon as the document is returned.  If you take the last option, you should attach a letter stating which portions you are rejecting and why.  I will post later about this option later because it is a real benefit to parents who are advocating for better SPED for their children.

What is a Core Evaluation? (Educational Evaluation Description)

12 Jul

These are the components of a comprehensive educational evaluation (or core evaluation). Of course, not every student would be given all of these individual evaluations, but a good evaluation should produce a complete profile of your child as a learner and include more than one assessment. I believe that each student that is suspected of having special educational needs deserves to have a comprehensive evaluation that looks at each area of suspected need in an in depth way. I do not believe that adequate educational plans can be written without a complete learning profile of each student evaluated. A learning profile shows a child’s learning strengths and weakness and details ways in which your child would learn information best.

Here is a list of what a comprehensive educational evaluation could include:

History of the Student This section of the evaluation should include the results of previous testing and instructional approaches tried with the student. Information should be gathered from a review of the student’s records, such as cumulative folder, report cards, and standardized testing scores. Information should also be included about the child’s health and development, such as was the child born prematurely and did they reach developmental milestones at the expected ages.

Language Evaluation This section of the evaluation should include the results of testing in all the areas of language: reading, writing, listening, and speaking. Reading areas that should be tested are phonemic awareness, phonological processing, phonics, and reading comprehension. A writing evaluation should include spelling, handwriting, sentence organization and cohesion, and conventions. A listening (or receptive language) evaluation would include following directions and listening comprehension tests. A speech and language evaluation would look at the student’s ability to correctly make sounds and say words and their ability express themselves in a variety of situations.

Math Evaluation A math evaluation measures a student’s mathematical reasoning skills and their number concepts and intuition. A math assessment would look at the following areas: number sense, functional and applied mathematical skills, problem solving, calculation, and the meaning and relationship of algorithms.

Cognitive Evaluation This area of the evaluation would measure the student’s brain functions and assess their potential to learn new skills and information. Areas that may be assessed are working memory, executive function, visual-spatial processing, problem solving, pattern recognition, abstract reasoning, and intellectual ability.

Emotional/Behavioral Evaluation This part of the evaluation would include information about the child’s emotional state, self-concept, and ability to maintain expected behavior and adherence to the rules of school. Areas that may be assessed are anxiety, attention span, hyperactivity or arousal level, impulsivity or self-control, defiant or non-compliant behavior, and depression.

Health Evaluation This evaluation would be included if a student is suspected of having a health-related issue that is effecting their ability to access the curriculum. The student’s pediatrician or a specialist in the area of concern usually does this evaluation. Types of health evaluations that can be done are vision or hearing evaluations, neurology, respiratory, or developmental.

Occupational or Physical Therapy Evaluations These types of evaluation are done is a student is suspected of having a delay or disability in the area of fine motor (such as tasks involving the use of the hands) or gross motor skills (such as tasks involving the use of the legs and feet). More increasingly, occupational therapy evaluations are including sensory integration assessments that measure a student’s under-reactiveness or over-reactiveness to sensory stimuli.

Good luck and remember that a good educational evaluation should produce a profile of your child’s learning strengths and weakness, as well as the ways in which they would learn best.

What is an IEP?

13 Jun

IEP stands for individual education plan.  It is a plan for how to educate a student that has qualified for special education because they have a documented disability and it is impacting their ability to be successful at school.  An IEP is written by a team of people that includes the parents of the child, the general education teacher, the special education teacher, educational therapists (speech and language pathologists, occupational and physical therapists, school psychologists, etc.), and sometimes an administrator from the school or special education department.  The basic process for getting a students on an IEP is to first refer them for testing.  This testing is suppose to answer the following questions:  1) Does the student have a qualifying disability? and 2) Are they making sufficient progress?  If the team decides yes to question one and no to question two, then the student has qualified for special education and an IEP will be written.

The parents will be asked to come to a meeting where their child’s IEP will be planned.  The parents will have input into the accommodations given to their child, the goals that the teachers will have for them, the amount of time spent giving the child special services, when the child will be removed from their classroom, and the type of classroom they will be placed in.   Parents have the final approval on the IEP.  If the school staff and the parents disagree about any aspect of the IEP, they should try to resolve these issues at another meeting.  If they cannot resolve the issues, then the parents or school can ask for an independent mediator to help them resolve the issues.  In some cases of extreme differences in opinion, the issues will be resolved at a hearing.

An IEP will have the following sections:

1.  Student Strengths and Evaluation Results This section reports the testing results and what areas of strength your child has.

2.  Present Level of Educational Performance: General Curriculum and Other Educational Needs This is where accommodations for the general education classroom are listed.

3.  Current Performance Levels/Measurable Goals  This section tells how your child is performing in school, what areas the teachers will be focusing on for improvement and how they plan to do it.

4.  Service Delivery This is a chart that states who will be working with your child, where, and for how many hours per week.

5.  Nonparticipation Justification If your child will be removed from the class for any reason, this section explains why.

6.  Schedule Modification In this section the team can decide to make a student’s school day or year longer or shorter and states why this decision was made.

7.  Transportation Services This section states if the student will need special transportation.

8.  Assessment  In this section, the team will decide how to best test this student and list the testing accommodations they will use.

For more information on IEPs see “Does My Child Really Need an IEP?”

My Child is Struggling in School… How Can I Help?

7 Jun

If you are reading this post, then you know the heartbreak that a parent feels when their child struggles in school.  Every child struggles now and then, but if your child struggles daily you are probably searching for ways to help them.  Some children struggle with a certain subject, while other children struggle with classwork in general.  Some of our children are fine academically, but struggle with the social aspects of school, or what some people refer to as the hidden curriculum (more about that later).  No parent wants their child to struggle daily at school, but many of us are at a loss for what to do.

I am parent of a child with special educational needs and a special education teacher myself.  I have personally experienced success and failure in trying to get help for my child.  It is not always easy to get the help your child needs, but I can guarantee that if you stick it out, advocating for your child is definitely worth the fight.  I have found the following ideas to be successful ways to help your child that struggles:

  1. Start by communicating your concerns directly to the teacher.  Make an appointment to meet with them, or ask them to call you during a mutually good time.  Tell them exactly what is concerning to you, fill them in on any past successes and failures at school, and ask them to observe your child and report back to you what they think may be the problem.
  2. Come up with a plan of action.  Ask for a meeting with the teacher and the pre-referral team at your child’s school.  All schools have this, but they all call it something different (Child Study Team, Teacher Assistance Team, Instructional Support Team).  This team meets to discuss struggling students and make suggestions for ways to assist the student in the classroom.  This is NOT special education.  Any struggling student can get help this way.  The team will write a plan of action and then meet back in 4 to 6 weeks to discuss success or failure of the plan.
  3. Refer your child for an educational evaluation.  Write a letter asking for your child to be evaluated for eligibility for special education.  Be specific in your letter about what you suspect may be the problem and what kinds of testing you want done.  (For example:  Please evaluate our child for a suspected specific learning disability in reading.  Please complete a full educational assessment, including reading ability testing.)  The school will have to contact you with in 5 days to confirm your request and start testing within 30 days.  You will receive the results at a meeting that must take place within 45 days of your request.
  4. Take an active role in planning for your child’s educational needs.  You need to be aware of your rights as a parent and your child’s rights to receive a free and appropriate public education.  As the parent, you should be included in every decision and your opinions should weigh as much as any other team members.  However, many sped teams will not automatically treat you this way.  You will need to speak up at meetings, ask questions, research the options on your own, and make your opinions known.
  5. Get an outside evaluation done if you disagree with the school’s testing.  You may or may not have to pay for this testing yourself.  Tell the school right away that you are not satisfied with the testing they did.  Put it in writing and explain why you are unsatisfied.  Ask the school about the districts policy for getting the testing paid for by them.  Find a reputable educational testing facility (most pediatricians can recommend someone) to test your child.  Once you get the results, you must give a copy to the school if you want them to consider the results.  The law states that they have to consider the findings as valid unless they can prove they are not.
  6. Be reasonable and professional when you are communicating with the school staff.  Do not yell, use profanity, write insulting emails/notes, make unfounded accusations, or get overly emotional. Try not to over communicate, teachers will not be able to call or email you everyday (they may have over 20 students in their class).