I recently had a parent write to me about her fifth grade son. Her son moved from elementary school to middle school this year and he is really struggling. At his previous school, he was making progress and getting by because the school had many RTI interventions in place. When he moved to the middle school none of the interventions followed him. When this mother inquired about the interventions that were successful in his previous school, she was told that he did not need them and they wanted to see what he could and could not do on his own. When she recently checked on his progress he had two F’s and all of his teachers complained that he Continue reading
I have been shocked and dismayed by some of the e-mails I have received from parents trying to get services for their children with special needs. On two occasions in the last six months, I was sure that the parent writing to me must be from another country, but in both situations, that was not the case. Special education requirements are spelled out in the federal law, The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This means that these laws apply to all people living in the United States. Each state has some leeway in how they interpret some of the statues in IDEA, but each state is required to provide special education services for people with disabilities from the age of birth through 21. This means people who are rich, poor and in the middle class, people who live in suburban areas, urban areas and rural areas, people of all ethnicities and races and people who fall into any of the disability categories listed in IDEA.
Unfortunately, it has been my experience that many school districts try to get away with providing the minimum level of services. Continue reading
When I asked a group of parents what their biggest frustration with the IEP process was, one parent wrote that she felt that her child’s IEP was a way for the school district to not hold her child accountable for his behavior and academic growth. She felt that it was basically an easy out for the school district to not have to work hard to figure out how to help her child succeed since he has a disability. I think the idea of special education accountability is an interesting perspective worth exploring.
The basic tenants of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) are in direct contrast to her statement, but unfortunately that doesn’t mean her statement is untrue. Continue reading
Many children with special needs will qualify for related services. Related services in special education are a variety of supportive services that are required in order for a child with a disability to fully benefit from special education. If you have a concern about a particular developmental issue with your child, make sure and alert your case manager prior to the initial or re-evaluation assessments being conducted. In order for a child to potentially receive a related service, assessments must be completed to determine the child’s educational needs in a particular area. Most school districts, except for very large school districts, do not have all of these related service providers on staff Continue reading
You should receive an IEP progress report on your child’s annual Individual Education Program (IEP) goals and objectives as often as you receive report cards, which is usually three or four times during the school year. There is usually a key or a scale at the bottom of the progress report that explains the letters or numbers generally used to indicate whether a concept has been introduced or not, as well as what level of proficiency your child has reached with each objective that has been introduced. It is important for you to review the progress report so that you know Continue reading
IEP Meetings are held throughout the year for children with educational disabilities. IEP is an acronym for Individual Education Program. Each child who is determined to have a disability according to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) must have an IEP created just for them. The IEP should include several different components that are critical to your child’s success. It has been my experience, with both parents who are new to the IEP process and parents who have been in the system for years that many do not fully understand the complex document that dictates what their child will learn each year. I believe that most school districts need to do a better job of fully explaining the different components of the document to parents.
In my opinion, there are many different reasons for misunderstandings between parents and school districts regarding the IEP and/or the IEP process. One reason is that the federal law, IDEA, which governs everything regarding IEPs is very long, complex and cumbersome and each state has some leeway for interpretation of the law. Another reason is that parents assume that school personnel fully understand the educational laws. Another reason is that school districts often do not allow adequate time for IEP meetings. Another reason is that parents trust that school personnel are experts in working with children with disabilities and so they leave everything related to IEP up to the school personnel. These reasons for misunderstandings, along with others, I haven’t mentioned lead some parents and school districts to end up in long, drawn out battles over the education of a child with an IEP.
In the best of all possible worlds, parents and educators should be willing and able to work out their differences of opinion in order to assist the child with a disability to experience as much success as possible. Sometimes this does happen and other times is does not. In some cases, either the parent or the school district files for mediation and/or a due process hearing. The scope of this article is not to talk about due process hearings but to discuss things that you, as the parent, need to know about the IEP document in hopes of avoiding due process. This is not to say that, at times, this will be a necessary course for you to get what you believe your child is entitled to.
I encourage every parent to read the entire IEP document before signing it. This is not a simple task, as the document is usually between 15-60 pages long. It is rare, in this age that the facilitator of the IEP meeting will go page by page through the IEP at the IEP meeting because meeting lengths are often limited. Early in my career, it was not uncommon for IEP meetings to last for two hours but more recently, I have been surprised if there was even an hour scheduled for the meeting. An hour usually seems insufficient for me as the teacher, so I can just imagine that it is often insufficient for the parent. This shift has happened for many reasons-the primary one being limited available time for both parents and professionals. It seems that it has become more difficult for parents to get time off work to attend school meetings and it has become more costly and complicated for schools to release the school personnel from their regular duties to attend IEP meetings.
The document that is presented at the IEP meeting, whether it is an initial meeting, an annual review or a triennial meeting, is a “draft” document. This means that the school district personnel have put together an IEP based on your child’s assessments and needs into a working document. This means that the document presented at the IEP meeting is not a finalized document. Information can be added, deleted, amended or extended based on the discussion during the IEP Team meeting, of which you as the parent are an equal member. Due to the time constraints that are often put into place for meetings, I suggest that you tell the case manager that you would like a copy of the drafted IEP at least 2 days prior to the meeting. It is important to give this information to the case manager as soon as possible, as he/she will have to assure that all of the school personnel have input their information into the draft document by the date you have requested to pick it up from the case manager.
Let’s take some time to briefly dissect the different components of the IEP so you can fully understand the importance of each section.
Assessment: Both informal and formal assessments are completed with your child for the initial IEP, the Triennial (every 3 years) IEP, anytime an addition or deletion of a service is being considered and/or if a placement change is being considered. Annual IEP’s often include informal assessment results conducted over the course of the year. These assessments are completed to determine if your child is eligible or remains eligible for special education services. Formal standardized assessments compare your child with other children of their same age and/or grade level to get a statistical look at their abilities. Informal assessments may include, but are not limited to, teacher notes, observations by staff members, student work samples, pre and posttests and therapists notes from sessions. All of this data is compiled to create a profile of your child that helps determine if they are a child with a disability who is entitled to receive special education services.
Present Levels of Functional and Educational Performance: Every IEP should have a section completed by the service providers who either assessed and/or worked with your child since the previous IEP meeting. This section of the IEP should clearly describe your child’s performance in all areas of their educational program. It should include growth and skills your child has as well as educational needs and concerns to be addressed in the IEP. You should see present levels for academics with specific areas of disability addressed (i.e. if your child has a reading disability this should be discussed in detail), social, emotional & behavioral , motor, speech and language , cognitive/memory, transition and any other specialized area that your child receives services in, such as audiologist services, Braille services, augmentative communication services, etc.
Goals and Objectives: Goals and objectives should be written based on the areas of need indicated in the present levels section of the IEP. Goals are broad areas that your child needs to gain skills in. Goals are usually written based on State or Core Content Standards so they tend to be wordy and long. The objectives are the meat of the IEP. The objectives are the specific skills your child will be taught over the course of the IEP. Each objective should be specific and measurable which means it must have a current baseline.
Programming & Service Delivery: This section should clearly delineate what services your child will receive, what type of professional will deliver the services, what environment the service will be delivered in and the frequency and duration of the services. If your child is being placed into a certain program this is where it should be written and explained (i.e. resource room, self-contained, out-of-district, special school, etc).
Statement of LRE: This may or may not be connected to the service delivery page. There should be a statement that explains that the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) was discussed and considered in making the IEP and the percentage of time that your child will be educated away from his/her nondisabled peers should be indicated.
Accommodations and Modifications: This section of the IEP discusses the interventions and strategies that your child is entitled to in both the general education environment and the special education environment. Accommodations and modifications help your child to have more success in their educational program. They are often referred to as factors that help to “level the playing field” for children with disabilities.
Specialized Plans: If your child needs a specialized plan such as a behavior plan or an augmentative communication plan or health plan these documents should also be included in the IEP.
I have several articles either on my blog or on ezine articles that explain each of these components in more detail. I just wanted to give you a quick run-down of what you are looking for. If you receive the draft document before the meeting and take the time to read it you will make better use of your time during your meeting because you will know where you need to ask for clarifications and explanations, where items are missing, items you do not feel are appropriate and where you want changes made. This arms you with the information you need and empowers you to be the best advocate for your child’s education.
Please share your stories about your experiences at IEP meetings and your experiences with getting draft copies of the IEP prior to an IEP meeting.
LRE is an acronym for Least Restrictive Environment. The least restrictive environment definition in the law states that every child with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) is to be educated in their least restrictive environment. Least restrictive is referring to how much the child is educated away from neurotypical peers in the general education setting. Children with IEPs must have some form of a disability that negatively impacts their ability to achieve reasonable educational benefit from the general education curriculum and structure alone.
In the United States, prior to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) children with disabilities were usually removed from and educated away from their “typical “peers. This removal often led to stigmatization, isolation, discrimination and misunderstanding of children with disabilities well into their adulthood. This law requires that special education teams carefully consider whether and how much a child with a disability needs to be educated separately from their neurotypical peers.
Each child’s LRE differs depending on their disability, their level of impairment, their educational needs, their behaviors and their learning styles. For example, many children with Specific Learning Disabilities (SLDs) and Physical Disabilities will benefit most from full inclusion. Although some children with SLDs and Physical Disabilities have significant deficits that will need specialized instruction in a resource room or therapy room type of setting. Likewise, many children with moderate to severe Autism will benefit most from a self-contained program that is specifically designed to maximize the learning of children with Autism. However, some children with Autism will be able to be included into general education for specials and for academic content. It is not a cut and dry decision based on disability. Each child’s individual education needs should drive the placement decision.
For some children their LRE may be a general education setting with specific accommodations and/or modifications that assist them to gain educational benefit from the regular education content. Another child may be able to be fully included in the general education setting with support from a special educator. Some children may need to go to a separate classroom for specialized instruction in one or more content areas. For example, a child with a math disability may need specialized small group instruction in just that content area and may not need assistance in any other content areas.
Some children who have more significant disabilities that greatly impact their ability to learn in a general education setting may need to be educated in a smaller special education classroom for the majority of the day. For these children there is still a responsibility to establish as much interaction with non-disabled peers as possible. This may include attending specials, such as PE or music with their “typical” peers. It could also mean exposure to non-disabled peers through lunch in the cafeteria, recess on the playground and/or school-wide assemblies.
Some children’s disabilities so significantly affect their ability to be educated in a regular public school that they are placed by the special education team at an out-of-district special school. Whenever this decision is made, it is always the hope and desire that the child will gain enough skills to come back to a public school setting in the future as to not be isolated from non-disabled peers. Placement and service delivery decisions must always be made based on what the child’s educational needs are and what environment is the least different from a general education setting for the student to meet his/her goals and objectives adequately.
In my experience, school personnel often make a decision about where they want to place a child before the IEP meeting has even taken place, even though this should be a team discussion that involves the parents. As a parent, you have a say in this matter. I encourage you to ask questions about the placement recommendation and make sure you feel comfortable with the placement. For many students it is highly beneficial to be included in the general education environment for the whole day, while other students have significant needs that require some or all of their education to occur in a different setting. Make sure you understand what type(s) of environments your child will be educated in and that you feel this matches what your child’s educational needs are. It is important to note that if your child’s stated education needs from the IEP require a certain type of program or a certain environment the school district is required to provide that either within their own school district or find an appropriate out-of-district placement.
What has been your experience with your child’s placement decisions? Did you feel like you had a voice in the decision making process? Did you want your child to be more integrated into general education or were you advocating for a more specialized program to meet their educational needs?
I was recently asked by a parent to write about my definition of a quality education for teaching children with special needs. The specifics of a quality education vary for children with different disabilities and even for varying levels of needs within a disability category. I will do my best to answer this question in a general way based on my experience and my philosophy. Please feel free to write comments or start a conversation in the comments section regarding certain disability categories.
An important factor to bring up regarding teaching children with special needs is FAPE (Free Appropriate Public Education). Every child with special needs who qualifies for an Individualized Education Program (IEP) is entitled to FAPE. The word ‘free’ in this acronym means that the parents should not accrue any charges for their child with special needs to be educated in the public school system. This means that if a child needs a service that the school district is not currently utilizing the school district must find someone to provide that service. All costs involved in that process are paid for through the school district’s budget. The word that is most hotly contested in this acronym is ‘appropriate’. There has been much discussion and many due process hearings over what this word means. The Supreme Court ruled in the Rowley case in 1982 that appropriate means “that the child gained some educational benefit”.
With that said, my philosophy is not for my students to only “gain some educational benefit”. My mission is always to maximize the learning experience for my students. If a child has qualified for an IEP their disability has indicated that they need some type of individualized instruction. Children, whether they are gifted or special needs or nuerotypical, learn best in different formats and through various avenues. This is why you should rarely see the traditional lecture/”talk at you” format used for the majority of teaching scenarios anymore. Therefore, in my opinion, the first step in a quality education is to get an accurate assessment of the child’s primary learning style. Some children learn best auditorily, others learn best visually, others learn best kinesthetically, others learn best through using highly structured methods, others learn best experientially, others learn best through small group discussions, others learn best through explicit instruction and so on. Understanding how a child learns best helps me to plan the instruction in a way that is most beneficial for the child.
Another important step in a quality education is that the educator builds rapport and trust with their students from the beginning of instruction. In order for me have a positive influence, children must feel like my classroom is a safe and engaging environment. Taking a small amount of time up front to build a working relationship, establish structure and boundaries and show my students that I do care about their growth will allow them to have so much more success as a student. Children need to know that I am in charge but that this is our classroom and we are here to support every persons learning and growth.
The next step in a quality education is getting current assessment data that gives me a true starting point for the child’s skills so I can measure whether my interventions are successful or not. I am a believer that assessments should drive instruction. Assessment does not have to mean a formal or traditional test. Many of my assessment techniques are informal. The most important part is for me to understand what the child knows before I teach them a new concept, after I teach them a new concept and then again assess their knowledge after a reasonable amount of time has passed to see if they have retained the new skill. Repetition is critical for all of us to learn, so quality teachers are constantly spiraling their instruction to hit the key points repeatedly in as many areas as possible.
Another very important factor for a quality education is that educators need to look at the needs of the child as a whole. If I only focus on academic or cognitive development, I am missing the point. In order to provide a quality education for young people I must always look at social development, emotional development, physical development, communication development and life skill development, in addition to cognitive development. Quality instruction assists children to become integrated into society in a healthy and positive way. One-dimensional teaching does not do this.
As a special educator, I also believe that regular parent-teacher communication is part of a quality education. In the vast majority of situations, the more parents and teachers work together, the more successful the child will be. I know this is sometimes a controversial topic, as some parents believe that teachers need to educate and parents need to parents and vice versa. In my opinion, in today’s complicated, highly technical (and highly distracting), face-paced world working as a team with parents increases the success rates for children with special needs to become healthy, happy, productive, integrated members of society.
Share your thoughts below about what you believe are the most important factors in a quality education?
As I mentioned early in the post, if you want to discuss best practices for children with certain diagnoses start a conversation below.
Functional Behavioral Assessments (FBAs) are used to create solid Behavior Intervention Plans (BIPs) that help children with special needs change their inappropriate behavior(s) using research based positive interventions. FBAs, when done correctly and thoroughly, take a lot of time and effort but yield very useful information that can create lasting positive changes in your child’s behavior(s). The overall goal of an FBA is to better hypothesize about why a child may be exhibiting certain behaviors. In order to change behavior we have to understand why it is occurring. All behavior happens for a reason, even if it “appears to come out of nowhere”.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) does not mandate that school districts conduct FBAs except in disciplinary situations where a child with and IEP has broken the rules of conduct to the degree that he or she has been suspended for more than 10 days in a school year. This could mean a significant offense that warrants a long suspension of 10 or more days or multiple smaller offenses where the total number of days of suspension in a school year reaches 10 days. If a child with an IEP reaches 10 days of removal from school and an FBA has already been conducted, then the law states that the BIP must be reviewed and revised to increase the likelihood of more appropriate behavior(s).
Some school districts are forward thinking and conduct FBAs on any child with an IEP who is exhibiting a pattern of negative behavior. However, because this is a time intensive process it does not often happen proactively. If you are hearing about (usually because you’re getting calls, e-mails or regular notes in a communication log) a pattern of negative and inappropriate behavior you may ask the school district if they will conduct a Functional Behavioral Assessment on your child to create a BIP to address the behavior(s).
A thorough FBA includes many steps. These steps do not have to occur in a specific order and may be happening at the same time. One important step is a record review of all the documentation the teacher has been taking. Hopefully, the classroom teacher has a system of record keeping the ABC’s (Antecedents, Behaviors & Consequences) of behavioral incidents in place. This has become more and more common, especially among special education professionals but also among general educators. An analysis of the most common antecedents, behaviors and consequences can be quite revealing about what may or may not be facilitating the continuation of inappropriate behaviors. In addition to reviewing classroom records, it is customary to review attendance records, discipline records, assessment records and academic records.
Another step of the FBA is observations of the child. It is very helpful for an objective observer or group of observers to watch the child and his or her interactions. Sometimes it can be difficult for the people who work with your child on a daily basis to be objective so it is best for the observations to be conducted by someone outside of the child’s daily routine. It is important for the child to be observed in different settings within the school, at different times of the school day and with different educators to get a better handle on why behaviors may be occurring.
Another very important step in the process is the completion of rating scales and/or interviews with the parents, the teacher(s) and the child if they have a cognitive understanding of cause and effect. I have seen this step missed in many circumstances and I believe it is often one of the more useful tools for developing a successful BIP. Parents may be able to shed light on circumstances that the school is totally unaware of, teachers may be able to pinpoint certain times of the day, certain people, certain locations or certain requests that tend to precede the behavior. Many professional do not think to talk to the child about their behavior. It is amazing how insightful some children can be about what is going on and why. Many of the students I worked with and interviewed during the FBA interviews had very helpful and creative ideas about what might help them change their behavior(s). Some, of course, did not have good insight, or were too guarded or angry to talk but I still believe it is worthwhile to try, especially with any child over the cognitive age of 12.
After all this data is collected and analyzed the team can usually make some pretty accurate hypotheses about what is leading up to, creating, sustaining and interrupting the inappropriate behaviors. I will talk about BIPs in a future post because this one is getting too long.
Does your child have a pattern of inappropriate behavior? Do you think an FBA might help clear up some questions about the behavior? Has your school done a thorough FBA on your child? I would love to hear about your good and bad experiences with FBAs.
I hope you find useful information here and that you share this website with other parents with children with special needs. Below this post you will find all of the articles I have written.
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Individualized Education Program
An IEP is an Individualized Education Program. This is a complex legal document for residents of The United States of America that has two primary purposes:
1. To determine if a child is or is not eligible for special education services under Federal guidelines laid out in the 2004 reauthorization of the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act).
2. If a child is eligible for special education services, this document specifies goals and objectives, service delivery methods and providers, time lines and supplemental services and materials used to help your child succeed in school.
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