Tag Archives: special education

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.

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.

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?”

How to Get Help for Your Child that Struggles at School

15 Aug

It is heart breaking to watch your child struggle with school-related issues.  It is frustrating when school officials are not responding to your pleas for help.  Here are some ideas to help you get the school on your team:

The saying the squeaky wheel gets the grease is never more truer than in a school system.  As a teacher, I have seen this 1st hand.  Last year, I worked with a student who had mild dyslexia, but with extra time she could complete grade level reading work.  Her mother swooped into the school the very first week of school and demanded services for her child.  She was aggressive and threatened the principal, who promptly gave in to her unreasonable demands.  I was tapped to give the services to this student that had never been qualified for special education.  This may seem like an extreme example of the squeaky wheel, but it happens a lot.  I am not suggesting that any parent use aggressive tactics to get help for their child.  In the end, this child was taken off my caseload because I was able to gather data (or proof) that she did not need my help.  This child also has a severe case of  under-achieving because she quickly gives up when something is difficult.  I believe this could be the result of her mother underestimating her abilities and giving her help with things she can do on her own.

Meanwhile, in the same classroom there was a student that was reading well-below grade level, who was not receiving any help.  He was very shy and silently struggled in the back of the room.  Once his teacher figured out his troubles, she talked to his parents about getting him tested.  They agreed that he was struggling, but the parents never wrote the note asking for testing.   It takes a lot longer for a teacher to get testing for a student than it does for a parent. The testing did not happen until spring, and his services are set to begin this September.  A whole year was lost for this child.

In order to get help for your child you may need to do a couple of things.  The first thing you may need to do is to reach out for help.  There are people at the school that are there specifically to help struggling students, but sometimes struggling students do not get help.  It may be that they are struggling in silence and using strategies (yes, sometimes cheating) to fool you and the teachers.  It could be that the classroom they are in is overrun with struggling students and the teacher can’t get to everyone.  Whatever the reason, if you know your child is struggling and not receiving help, you need to ask for it.  You should state exactly what problems you see in your child and ask for their help in correcting these problems.  If the teacher has done something that did not help, but in fact caused more difficulties, speak up about it.  Teachers use strategies that they have had success with in the past, but what works for one may not work for your child.  Also, comment on successful strategies you have seen used with your child.  Once a plan of action has been established, follow up on it.

Following up is the second thing you need to do when you are trying to get help for your struggling child.  Remember that sometimes progress is slow, but look for any signs of improvement.  Keep track of your child’s progress yourself, saving their papers is one way to do this.  Speak again with the teachers, asking them for any signs of progress.   Ask to see proof of the progress.  If the teacher has not held up her end of the action plan, find out why and report this to her supervisor.  If there is no progress, now it is time to refer your own child for testing.  I have posted on how to do this in the past, so I will not repeat it.  Getting involved in the special education process can be frustrating at times, so don’t give up.

Not give up is another thing you need to do to get the help you want for your child.  You would be surprised what perseverance can get you at a school. Research your child’s educational rights and your parental rights.  Get free advice (the Federation for Child with Special Needs offers free phone consultations with trained advocates).  Knowledge will be your biggest advantage to getting what your child needs.  Arm yourself to the hilt with it.

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.