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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

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.

Your IEP Child: Starting Off the New School Year Right

20 Aug

It’s a new school year!  New clothes, new supplies, new teacher!  Exciting, right?  For children that struggle in school, the coming of the new school year can be a difficult transition time.  Past experience may have taught them that school is not a pleasant experience.  My own son, who struggles with ADHD and dyslexia, has, in the past, dreaded the coming of the new school year.  When your child does not have a healthy and happy attitude about school and learning, it makes their struggles even more painful for them and you (as their parent).  This does not mean that you should just except that your child will never enjoy going to school.  Many of my students that are on IEPs are  happy at school. Some student’s have a naturally positive attitude, but most of my struggling students need support to develop a healthy and happy attitude about learning.   I am happy to report that my son is looking forward to school beginning in a few weeks.  He has gotten a lot of support over the last school year and this summer, through his summer program.  He is looking forward to starting his new language based program and seeing the friends he has made.  Here are some ideas for building a healthy and happy attitude toward school that I have seen work with students on IEPs:

  • Be sure that your child’s educational needs are being met.  Nothing will bring down any student more than not getting what they need.  Ask questions of your child and the teachers that will tell you if the IEP is not being adhered too.  For example, you coud ask “Are you being given extra time to complete your tests?”
  • Remind your child OFTEN of the strengths they have.  Plan games and activities that emphasize these areas. For example, if your child is good at math, have them be the banker during a board game and be sure to say, “Mary is going to be the banker because she is so good at math.”
  • Let the teachers know about your child’s likes and dislikes.  Set your child up for success by informing the teacher right away of how to please them and how to avoid a melt down.
  • Experiment with homework times to find the best suited time for your child.  Try to set up and stick to a homework routine, this will reduce meltdowns and set expectations.
  • BE POSITIVE!  If your excited about school and learning, the chances are your child will pick up on your attitude and may imitate it.  Ask questions in a positive way.   For example:  “What great things happened at school today!”  “Tell me about something you were proud of today!”  “How many fun activities did you get to do today!”
  • Call out school staff that are being overly critical or negative about your child.  If you sense that a teacher’s attitude is affecting your child, you can call that teacher out (politely).  You could say something like, “Joey has been upset lately about some of the things that have happened at school.  He feels like he is being called out a lot and not being complimented enough.  How can we work together to fix this situation so that Joey can be happier at school?”

Signs Your Child May Have a Learning Disability

26 Jul

When their children begin to struggle in school, many parents worry that their child may have a learning disability (LD).  But most children struggle at some point in their education and most children do not have learning disabilities (it has been reported that only about 5% of students have a specific LD, such as dyslexia).  A specific learning disability is defined as a disorder in one or more of the psychological processes involved in understanding or using spoken or written language.  The disorder cannot be the result of a visual, hearing, or motor handicap, mental retardation, emotional disturbance, or an environmental disadvantage (such as poverty).  Children with a specific LDs are not cognitively impaired.  As a teacher, I often hear parents say, “I don’t understand why so and so is struggling, they’re so smart.”  My usually response is, ” You’re right, they are smart!”

So… how do you know if your child is just struggling or if they have a learning disability?  Special educators look for the student that is not achieving as expected in one or more of the following areas:  oral expression, written expression, basic reading skills, reading fluency skills, reading comprehension, listening comprehension, mathematical calculation, and mathematical problem solving.

Special educators will ask themselves many questions about a students that is suspected of having a specific learning disability as they observe them in a classroom setting.  While some students without a LD may have some of these characteristics, students with an LD will have many of these characteristics.  If you are concerned that your child may have a specific learning disability, here is what to ask yourself :

  • Are their language skills (oral, reading, listening, and writing skills) age appropriate?
  • Do they have difficulty regulating their speech?  [For example: Do they talk too loud or too soft? Do they use a lot of fillers (umm, you know, etc.)?]
  • Do they have trouble naming people or objects?
  • Do they often mispronounce words?
  • Do they have difficulty staying on topic?
  • Do they have difficulty re-telling what has just been said?
  • Do they or did they have difficulty rhyming?
  • Do they or did they have difficulty counting?
  • Do they avoid reading and  writing?
  • Do they or did they confuse similar-looking letters and numbers? or often reverse letters and numbers?
  • Do they or did they have difficulty associating letters and sounds and blending sounds into words?
  • Do they, while reading, guess at a word rather than sound it out?
  • Do they have illegible, or nearly illegible, hand writing?
  • Do they have difficulty understanding instructions or directions?
  • Do they find it almost impossible to organize a task or activity?
  • Do they have difficulty sustaining attention(or is easily distracted) in work and/or play?  and/or lack self-control at times?
  • Do they have difficulty ‘joining in’ with peers? and/or not respond appropriately to others?
  • Do they appear awkward or clumsy?  and/or have trouble with buttons, learning to tie, or holding a pencil?

If you notice many of these characteristics in your struggling child, you may want to ask that an educational evaluation (or core evaluation)  be done as soon as possible.  For more advice on how to request an evaluation, see my earlier post entitled:

Requesting an Educational Evaluation: How to Get the Right Evaluation for Your Child

What is Inclusion?

21 Jul

Before 1975, students with disabilities were mainly educated away from their peers.  They were not given the same quality education that non-disabled students were receiving, if they were receiving any at all.  For the most part our education system was failing our children with disabilities.  The Education for All Handicapped Children Act (1975) was the first legislation that said that all children deserve a free and appropriate education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE).  In plain language, this means that for the first time the government was recognizing the equal rights of children with disabilities to receive a quality, free education with their non-disabled peers.  While it took 15 more years until the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) would be written and real change would occur, that 1975 act was the first step toward educating all children in our country.  The idea of including students with disabilities to the greatest extent possible was born out of these federal acts and is referred to as inclusion.

Inclusion is when special education services happen while the child is in the general education classroom (not in a special education classroom). It is a philosophy that brings disabled and non-disabled students together and creates an environment of acceptance and belonging for all students.  Inclusion allows students with disabilities access to the same education as non-disabled students, while giving them the supports that they need to be successful.  Students that are in inclusion programs usually have access to more challenging and engaging curriculum.  They are also learning to be a part of their community and are teaching other students to be more accepting of other’s differences.

While the principles of inclusion are wonderful, it is not always successful.  Inclusion must be carefully implemented so that that the students that qualify for services are still getting what they need.  Teachers who teach in inclusion classrooms are taught to differentiate their instruction.  This means that all students are given instruction based on their needs.  Usually, teachers will use less whole group instruction and work with small groups of students instead. Sometimes there will be a teacher’s assistant in the room to help and at other times there will be a special educator there as well.  Some students do not benefit from total inclusion (meaning being in the general education classroom 100% of the day) because they require services that need a separate setting.   This is called partial inclusion.  I think it is safe to say that almost all students do benefit from some inclusion throughout their day.  Research has found that  students in an inclusion program generally have higher academic performance and better social skills than those not in inclusion.

While schools are obligated to educate students in the least restrictive environment (LRE) under the federal law, they sometimes do not do so.  It may be easier or cheaper for them to educate children with special needs in a separate setting.  Sometimes it is more beneficial to the child to be in a classroom or school that is designed to meet their needs .  As a parent, you may want your child educated separately for your own reasons.  Your child may want to be educated separately for their own reasons.  Your child’s team (which includes you and maybe your child- if they are old enough) will be able to best decide what placement is right for your child.  You may not agree with the majority of the team’s choice for your child.  That’s okay, you have that right.  I suggest that you research inclusion and separate settings (classrooms and schools) so that you can make an informed decision for your child.  You should also observe the two types of settings in your school district so you can see for yourself what your child’s placement will be like.  The placement of your child is a very important decision and you would serve your child best by being informed before you are asked to make a choice.

Emotional and Behavioral Disorders and Special Education

20 Jul

Some children have disabilities that affect their ability to behave in the expected way while at school.  For some of these students, their educational performance is affected and they may qualify for special education.   A child with an emotional and/or a behavioral disorder (EBD) that qualifies for special education will have special protections given to them that other students will not have.  If you suspect that your child may have EBD, or they have already been diagnosed, you may want to think about getting them qualified* for special education services to protect them.  Without a special education (sped) qualification, some students with EBD will be punished for behavior that it out of their control.  Some students are even suspended or expelled from school for their behaviors.  Most parents do not want to see their child miss out on their education because they have a disability, but are unsure how special education professionals can help their child.

Some children with EBD have externalizing behaviors.  This is acting out behavior that gets them into trouble with authority figures.  A child that is receiving sped services will not be able to be suspended for more than 10 days in a school year, or expelled, without a hearing to decide if the behavior is a result of their disability.  Also, if your child’s disorder becomes too acute for the school to handle, the school will have to place them in another educational setting. Other children have internalizing behaviors.  These are behaviors directed at themselves, such as feelings of self-hatred, depression, or suicidal thoughts.  Most schools have professionals on staff that can help students deal with these kinds of behaviors while at school. If the school cannot help the sped student with internalizing behaviors with the resources they have, the school will have to offer an alternative educational placement.

What children with EBD qualify* for special education?

Students must have a behavioral or emotional disturbance that will last over a long period and to a degree that it is affecting their ability to achieve at school.  What this means is that if a child experiences an emotional shock (such as a death of a parent) and begins to act out, they would probably not qualify for sped because they haven’t been experiencing the disturbance over a long time and the effects of the shock may improve.  Also, the disturbance must be severe enough that is affecting the students ability to do well in school.  For example, a student that is mildly depressed may have some difficulties, such as a poor self-image, but they may not be severe enough for them to need special services while at school.  Here are 5 factors that will qualify a child with EBD for sped services:

1.  Low academic achievement that cannot be explained by another reason (such as a learning disability)

2.  Low social skills (can’t keep up relationships with peers and teachers)

3.  Unexpected behavior in normal circumstances

4.  Depression or pervasive unhappiness

5.  Fear and anxiety associated with school issues

Specific illnesses that qualify children with EBD are:  attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), anxiety disorder, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), oppositional defiance disorder (ODD), depression, and bipolar disorder.

*For more information about qualifying your child for special education, see earlier posts.

Special Education, School Accommodations, and the 4 Cs (via Sensory Smart Parent Blog)

11 Jul

Special Education, School Accommodations, and the 4 Cs The New York Times has an interesting article on special education accommodations in two highly praised NYC charter schools. Schools that receive federal funding must provide special education services (although a notable exception is the voucher/"choice" program in Milwaukee Public Schools; there is a lawsuit pending because the "choice" isn't really a "choice" if your child has an IEP–the schools get to cherry pick and they rarely take special … Read More

via Sensory Smart Parent Blog