Tag Archives: teachers

Getting What Your Child Needs at School

11 Jun

What Every Teacher Would Love to Tell You but They Can’t

Your child is struggling at school and the teacher calls you in for a conference.  She tells you that she is concerned about your child’s progress, but you leave the conference with more questions than when you got there.  Does my child need special education services?  Why didn’t the teacher just come right out and suggest it?  Most likely it is because, like many teachers, she’s under pressure not to.  She may be trying to get you to make a special education referral for your child without saying it out right.  You may have mixed feeling about special education and be confused about what your child really needs.  As a teacher, I can tell you that if she’s called you in for a conference, you have reason to be concerned and should, at the very least, investigate her concerns.

A teacher can make a special education referral for a student, but it’s preferrable for the parent to do it.  There are two reasons for this.  The first is that it takes longer for a teacher to make the referral.  A teacher has to go through a process of trying different things and documenting if they are successful or not.  This can take several months to do.  If a parent refers their own child, the testing starts within 30 days of your written consent to testing.  The second reason it is more preferable for a parent to refer their own child is that some school systems subtly pressure teachers not to refer students for special education.  SPED costs a lot of money for public school districts and they are obligated by federal law to offer these services to any child that qualifies.  The only way for a district to keep their SPED costs down it to qualify less students.

What Will Happen If I Don’t Refer My Child for SPED Testing?

Your child’s teacher can help them if you don’t refer them for SPED testing.  Many schools have a way to help general education students that are struggling.  It is often called RTI (response to intervention) and it can be helpful.  The classroom teacher may be the one to give the intervention (extra help) or it could be a teacher’s assistant, a Title One teacher, a reading or math coach, or other qualified school staff member.  All good intervention should include regular assessment to be sure that it is working.  As the parent, before agreeing to intervention services ask:

  • How much intervention will my child get? ( Once a week for 30 min. is not enough.)
  • Who will be providing it?  (It should be a qualified, trained person.)
  • How will they know it is working?  (They should be assessing every few weeks.)

Realistically, they can probably fit this extra help into your child’s schedule about 3 times a week for 30 minutes.  Do not allow this extra help to be provided by an untrained staff member, it may end up being a waste of your child’s time.  Ask for the assessment results to be sent home so you can keep track yourself.  This kind intervention is enough for some student’s to be brought up to grade level in reading or math.  However, for some it is not.

If your child’s school is providing this kind of extra support for your child I would check in after about 8 to 10 weeks.  I would ask for a review of the data that they should of collected on your child.  (By data I mean results from an assessment that they should be doing to track progress.)  Make sure that what they are doing is getting results (the scores should be going up consistently).  If it is not, the intervention is not working and a referral for special education should be made.

What Will Happen if I Refer My Child for SPED Testing?

You will need to write a letter asking for testing.  In your letter you should state what you suspect may be the problem and list the types of assessments you want done.  You will have to sign a consent form.  Do this quickly, because the testing will begin within 30 days of the school’s receipt of that signed form.  Within 45 days of that consent, you will have a meeting with the school to review the results.  Ask for the results to be given to you before that meeting in you original letter (they have to give this to you at least 2 days before the meeting).  This is a good idea to do for two reasons.  First, you will need time to read this report on your own and look up any terms you don’t understand.  Second, sometimes schools wait until the last (and I do mean last) minute to test your child.  Tests are done in haste and reports can be shoddy.  If you ask for the reports to be given to you before the meeting, the district will have to complete the testing and report at least 2 days before the meeting and they will know you intend to give the report your full attention (meaning a shoddy report isn’t going to fly with you).

Here is what to include in you referral letter:

  • Reason for referral (something like… my child is struggling in school and attempts to help have failed…)
  • Suspected disability (it could be a specific learning disability, a health disability, a developmental delay, an emotional disability, etc.)
  • Assessments you want done (some types of assessments are: learning/educational eval., speech & language eval., psychological eval., behavioral assessment, occupational eval., attention/distractibility scale, sensory scale, reading skills assessment, math skills assessment, auditory processing eval., etc.)
  • Request evaluation reports given to you at least 2 days before the scheduled meeting

*****For more information on this, see my “Testing (Core Evaluation)” posts*****

What You Can Do if Your Child is Denied SPED Services

30 May

Your child is struggling in school.  You, or your child’s school, has requested that your child be tested to find out if they qualify for special education services.  You meet with the team and are informed that your child does not qualify for services.  It has been determined that your child is making “adequate progress.”  However, your child continues to struggle and is not receiving enough support at school.  What can you do to get the help that  your child needs to make progress?

First, you should know that you can challenge the school’s decision to not provide services; however, consider that the federal law says that even if the child has a qualifying disability they can be denied services if they are making progress in the general education curriculum.  Making progress is a term that can be interpreted differently, but to most schools it means not failing.   As parents, it is beyond frustrating to see our children working very hard to earn a “C”.  We want them to feel successful, be rewarded,  for all the hard work they do.  Eventually, many students give up because they feel that no matter how hard they work, they fail to get the grades they want.  It is very hard to convince a school district to put a “C” student on an IEP, but there are ways you can advocate for your child if they have been denied SPED services.

How to Advocate for your Child After They’ve Been Denied SPED Services:  

 

  1. Gather documents that prove your child is not making the same progress as his peers.  [Ask to see his file and look for reading level scores, benchmark testing results, end of year tests, etc.]
  2. Ask if the school will consider a 504 plan for your child if they denied them an IEP.  [A 504 plan is for accommodations in the general education classroom.  For example, extended test time, less homework, tutoring with the teacher, etc.]
  3. Start being very vigilant about your child’s progress.  [Question the teacher often about grades, assignments, and the progress they are making.  Write notes when homework is to difficult.  Ask for re-testing when they fail a test.  Speak with the principal if the teacher is not accommodating your requests.  Basically, be a pain in the neck so that the school staff begin to understand the level of difficulty your child is having.]
  4. After gathering more documentation, ask for mediation to resolve the dispute with the school. [Documentation being independent testing, a review of your child’s records, notes to and from the teacher and principal, etc.  You will need this information to prove your case with a mediator.)
  5. Tell the school right away (in writing and verbally)  that you disagree with their findings and/or the testing. [By doing this, your opinion goes on the record; and, if you get an independent evaluation, they may have to pay for some or all of it.]
  6. Request that the school do specific evaluations, such as a reading evaluation or functional behavioral assessment. [This will be helpful if your child’s school only performed an achievement test, such as the Woodcock-John or WIAT.]
  7. Tell the school you will be getting an outside evaluation done and they will be testing for specific learning disabilities. [The school must consider the results of an outside evaluation as equally as they consider their own testing results.  Also, depending on your income, they will be required to pay for all or some of the testing to be done.]

Remember that the best way to advocate for your child is to be armed with a lot of information.  Know all that you can about them as a learner, understand your child’s and your own rights, and know about the SPED process.  Here is a link to the Massachusetts Department of Education Notice of Procedural Safeguards (in plain English: A Guide to Your Rights and Your Child’s Rights)  Guide to Procedural Safeguards

Does my child really need an IEP?

28 May

Does my child really need an IEP?

This is a question that many of us have wondered about. We worry that by allowing the school to give our children special education that they will be labeled and tracked for the rest of their school days.  We wonder if they will be denied by colleges if they see SPED on their records.  What will the other children think and say? As parents, we worry about the lasting effects of special education on our children.  Stereotyping, assumptions, bullying, and poor self-esteem are some of the negative things we hear about special education.  So you ask, “Is all of this worth allowing the school to put my child on an IEP?”  If you consider the benefits that your child may receive from being on an IEP, you may decide the answer to your question is yes.

What are the positives  if my child were put on an IEP?

While it is true that sometimes people make assumptions (or stereotype) children in special education, most educational professionals are aware that children with disabilities have strengths as well as their weaknesses.  When an IEP is written for your child, there will be a specific place where the team will write your child’s strengths.  These strengths will be reported by you, the teachers, and the specialists who tested your child.  The IEP should be designed to work off of your child’s areas of strength.  Without the IEP to guide them, many general education teachers may never get to the point where they even discover your child’s strengths because they are so focused on catching them up in their areas of weakness.   The weakness becomes the focal point for instruction, not your child’s strength.

Yes, it is also true that children in special education are victims of bullying.  However, in recent studies it has been found that 1 in 4 of all children are victims of bullying at some point in their childhood.  Bullying has become a hot topic in education now.  Schools are working on coming up with prevention plans for all children.  In Massachusetts, a bullying prevention law was recently passed in congress.  Because of the increase of inclusion programs for special education students, children are more accepting  of a child’s differences than they were in the past.  Children and adults with disabilities are no longer hidden away, they are involved in the school and general community.  While every parent should stay vigilant about bullying, I would not deny my child services because I thought they may get bullied.  There are ways to prevent and stop that problem if it were to occur.

While poor self-esteem is a definite concern for any child that struggles in school, giving a child help usually does not cause a child to have low self esteem.  In fact failing school or struggling with grade-level work is more likely to cause the low self-esteem of a child with learning disabilities.  Children are happy when they feel successful, when they are accomplishing their goals, and when they are not struggling.  Receiving more time from teachers, instruction that is at their level and tailored to build off their strengths will only help to raise the child’s self-esteem.  Another important consideration is that special education services are a matter of confidentiality.  It is not noted in a child’s permanent record or on their report cards that they are receiving special education services.  This information is kept in a separate file and not shared with staff that does not work directly with your child.

If my child’s IEP is carefully planned, written, and carried out, what could be the benefits?

  • Lower teachers to student ratios (more time face to face with the teacher)
  • More time given for review of curriculum (this is extra help for the child)
  • Special testing accommodations (no time limits, use of reference sheets, use of a scribe)
  • Accommodations in the classroom (less homework, use of a spell checker, books on CD)
  • Specialized instruction (Wilson Reading, Orton-Gillingham, Touch Math)
  • Special therapies (physical or occupational therapy, social skills groups)
  • Use of non-standard accommodations (sensory stimulation, fidget-toys, seat cushions, behavior modification plans)
  • No cost summer program
  • Accountability (progress reports, frequent assessment of goals, yearly team meetings)
  • Confidentiality

While special education is not right for every child, it is exactly what others need to be successful. Consider the positives as closely as you consider the negatives when you are deciding whether to give your consent.  Again, I suggest you do your research about your child’s disability, take the time to visit the school and see their special education program, and know what options are available to your child before you make any decisions.

NOTE:  If you feel your child needs special education services and was denied by the school district, there are things you can do to try to get your child the help they need.  I discuss this issue further in What You Can Do if Your Child Has Been Denied SPED Services .

Forming a Collaborative Relationship with Your Child’s School

27 May

Your child’s needs are not being met.  There is after-school melt downs and homework brawls.  You’ve written nice notes or made a friendly phone call to the teacher, but nothing is improving.  You are at your wit’s end, so you fire off an email blasting the teacher with all of your frustration, resulting in a phone call from the equally frustrated teacher. With all the emotions, stress, and worry of parenting a child with learning issues, it isn’t always easy to keep a positive relationship with your child’s school.  It is very easy to let emotions get the best of you and quickly communication breaks down.  However, being able to work cooperatively with your child’s school will always benefit your child.

If your child has not yet qualified for special education services, it is quite possible that your child’s teacher is struggling with many of the same issues you are at home, and she has 24 other students’ needs to meet.  Teachers must follow school policy when it comes to referrals for students, and that process can take some time.  Your child’s teacher is probably working hard to meet your child’s needs, but she  able to completely.  It is really important to sit down with your child’s teacher and talk about the frustrations that you have, as the parent, and let her talk about what she is seeing in the classroom.  You will get information from the teacher that will help you be able to advocate for your child.  Most likely, the teacher wants your child to receive as much help as possible, but she is in a tough position working for the system that may not want to give the services.  The administrators are the people that are responsible for keeping the district within their spending budget.  They will put pressure on teachers and principals to keep special ed. numbers down.  However, your child’s teacher has a vested interest in getting your child the services they need.  They do not want to have to struggle to meet your child’s needs, while there is a special educator there to give that support.  It makes their job extremely difficult.   Most teachers will give you the information you need to help your child, you  need to be willing to sit down and listen to them.  Be ready to hear what she is saying, because she is probably going to say things in a way that will not “incriminate” her with the sped department, but will help you in your attempt to get your child the help they need.  Remember that most teachers are in their profession because they want to help children, they aren’t hoarding special education services.

Before you fire off that email or make that call, remember that you could be alienating the one person on the inside that can help you get what you want for your child.