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IEP Academic Goals: A Remnant of an Older Age?

7 Jan

At my job, tensions and stress are running high as we try to do everything perfectly for a state organization that has all but declared war on us. Having failed at the ballot box, they are trying to accomplish administratively what they could not get done politically. At least this is how it feels. The level of compliancy required of our special education department surpasses anything done in any other school in the state. And we have 66 days to get all 1000 IEPs perfect.

In my previous writings regarding goals and objectives, my experiences were with those students who were k-8 or those with more severe disabilities. Since changing to a more inclusive environment that makes up the vast majority of those receiving services in high school, my eyes have been opened. There are some glaring problems and inconsistencies in the process that extend far beyond my particular school or the students I serve.

With students who have severe disabilities, or in a self-contained setting the caseloads were relatively modest and I was their main teacher for most of the day. This made collecting data, making observations and writing effective goals relatively easy. Whats more, these students were following an alternate and adapted curriculum, so even if we were basing what we did on grade-level standards, we had a great deal of latitude in what was taught.

In a more typical high school setting, none of these things are true. The caseload sizes are larger, the students switch classrooms several times daily and may even switch their class schedules in mid year. On top of this, the caseload manager may or may not even have this student in one of their classes. All of these things make monitoring progress problematic.

However the standards-based curriculum has rendered traditional academic IEP goals and objectives almost useless and meaningless on the high school level. As a caseload manager I have absolutely no say in the curriculum of a student as it is dictated by the state. The graduation requirements are dictated by the state. The topics on the end of course tests (EOCTs) are dictated by the state. The amount that the test counts toward the final grade is dictated by the state. The type of diploma is dictated by the state. The scope, sequence, and the speed at which material must be covered is dictated by the test, which is dictated by the state.

You see the trend?

So the question is this: what can an IEP committee possibly write in the way of academic goals that are meaningful? We can write anything we wish, although we are admonished to make sure they are based on the state standards. The problem is that the goals that we write are worthless if they do not lead to a student passing a required course that gets them through the required exam that grants them the required credits in order to get the one college prep diploma offered by our state. The true measure of any IEP component is whether or not it gives the student access to the regular education curriculum in the least restrictive environment. At the present time, there are no academic goals that succeed in doing that. The dictated curriculum can not be modified nor can the passing score on the required exam be modified.

The frustration I’m feeling comes from the fact that we are being pushed and driven into writing progress reports over our academic goals. Suzie is a 9th grader who is struggling mightily in her algebra class. She struggles with algebraic concepts like positive and negative integers and multi-step problems. She is lost with anything involving fractions. And she feels absolutely hopeless when confronted by a word problem. Suzie is not alone as most of the students in her co-taught class struggle the same way. You may know some students like Suzie. YOU may be like Suzie! Oh, and this is Suzie’s second time taking algebra after failing it the first time.

In the old days, we had a lot of options in what we could do for Suzie. There were other math classes that were geared to business, career and consumer needs. Suzie would like to be a chef or a work in a restaurant after graduation. But the hopes for graduation start to fade as she is stuck and unable to pass algebra the second time around.

What academic goal could I write for her to help her get her diploma? I COULD write one relating to learning how to use a calculator, as that is a standard test condition. But what objective and goal do I write that will help her pass the class? And once I write that goal, how can I or another teacher support and monitor it?

The academic goals and objectives of every high school student in our state are already written in the standards. There is nothing an IEP committee can do to alter those. The best we could do is to perhaps pick a couple of general goals to monitor. But monitoring is already taking place in the form of benchmark assessments, tests and quizzes and instruction is altered on the basis of those formative assessments in order to pass the summative assessment of the EOCT.

I wrote my goals with fine precision, making sure they were SMART and were in line with both the standards and the needs of the students. Suzie struggles with multi-step problems, which is a pretty consistent thread throughout any of the math classes. So my goal is “Suzie will independently solve an array of multi-step equations, using her calculator, scoring at least 75% on 3 consecutive trials.”

It is a wonderfully concise goal and designed for easy monitoring. I could give Suzie an array of problems at least 3 times and see if she can pass my little quiz. OR, more likely, I am going to look in the grade book to see if she has passed 3 consecutive quizzes. If she can do it 3 consecutive times, I’m pretty confident of mastery. If she can’t I am going to figure out why and see if there are any accommodations I can offer to help her. But what of she can’t do more than 2 in a row? Ever?

Do I lower the bar on the goal? Do I change the goal to something she might be able to master? This is how this game ends up being played, as there is some pressure to show mastery of goals. But even if Suzie has mastered 100% of her IEP objectives, if she does not pass her algebra EOCT, she is in for a third round or how ever many rounds until she either passes it or drops out. So where should I, as a teacher, devote my limited time? Should I monitor her and the other 25 students on my caseload more often and give them more quizzes or should I spend more time trying to teach them and help them pass the quizzes and tests they are already assigned? Do I help them by making MORE work for both them and me in order to get data for the IEP or do I devote myself to getting them through the class so they can get a diploma?

Unfortunately, there are no diplomas for mastered IEP objectives. There are no credits toward graduation that can be earned through mastering IEP goals. EOCTs are not tailored to the current functioning of a student who has a disability. Individual Education Programs can address student supports, but they can not touch the requirements of getting a diploma as those apply to everyone, regardless of need, disability, aspirations or aptitude. Academic goals at the high school level are not worth the time it takes to write one let alone the time spent trying to track them individually. The academic goals at the high school are very explicit and clearly spelled out in the state standards. Everything written in the IEP should be geared to accessing and mastering those standards if that is what our schools have turned in to. We don’t need extra academic goals to track unless the state is going to award some credit for students mastering them.

I don’t mind extra work and effort if it is for something that is worthwhile and produces some results. But the standardization of the curriculum, diploma and tests works against our kids who are by definition nonstandard. We are trying to fit square pegs into round holes here. Our kids are not stupid. They are often creative and brilliant in very nonstandard ways. We do nothing to honor creativity by wringing it out of them by our insistence upon the standardization of our educational system. We are going to have to find creative ways to facilitate and reward their brilliance and creativity while addressing their strengths as well as weaknesses.

I suppose that is why I am bothered and overwhelmed by the task at hand. It requires me to pigeon hole my kids into categories and then justify why they are not fitting into a system that was not built for them. While our school does its best to offer individualized and engaging ways to meet the needs of our students, we are hamstrung by a system that punishes nonstandard ways of doing things. The state wants to rig the game so they can point at us and say “SEE?!? You can not possibly meet the needs of these students in your setting!” Never mind that it isn’t working in the other settings any better. We’re a nontraditional setting, teaching nontraditional students in a nontraditional way. The measures and systems designed to measure us were designed for and by those married to the old system. We exist because there are those looking for ways to escape and flee the old way of doing things. They are refugees from places where they previously did not fit and did not thrive. And now those old forces are marshaling their influence and position in order to make sure no one thrives here, either.

Sir Ken Robinson is carrying the message. Am I the only one for whom this resonates?

Goals and Objectives Part 2:The Tyranny of 80 Percent

11 Aug

 

I need to write this to get it out of my system, despite the fact that I have a mountain of tasks that need to be accomplished before Monday. A major portion of my task list revolves around IEP goals and objectives.

 

One of the amazing things I discovered when I wrote my blog post back in 2006* about IEP goals and objectives (which later became published as part of a collection of articles in book form) was the level of concern parents have about this topic. As teachers, we have to write them and are supposed to be tracking them, because it is the law and best practice. However it always seemed parents were more anxious to talk about placement rather than spend much time on goals and objectives. However that article continues to be the most read post I have ever published, getting almost 28,000 hits out of 350,000 all-time views, plus it is read at the TPGTA website as well as many liking and reading it in the book. The message is clear: parents are intensely interested in this topic. Therefore, we owe it to them as well as to ourselves as teachers to get it right.

 

To their credit, the folks I am currently working with have revised their goals and objectives to be much better and pretty much follow the guidelines that I set up in that article. They are actually the best goals I have ever seen written as a an entire school. They get it…sort of.

 

As I started looking at my caseload and preparing to track the goals, the shortcomings of the 80% criteria mastery became more and more glaring and disturbed me more and more. While the goals were better written and more measurable, it was going to be an absolutely oppressive task to decipher, measure and track all of these goals for literally hundreds of students. We need to do better.

 

Somewhere along the line, 80% became this mysteriously magical number. To be sure, it is better than 60, 70 or even 75%. But in real life, our tolerance for 80% is low to negligible.

 

What if your employer offered to pay you 80% of your agreed salary 80% of the time? Would you accept that?

What if your car only started 80% of the time? Would that be acceptable?

What if 1 out of every 5 planes crashed while taking off?

Do you feed your children 80% of the time?

Do you think the government is going to accept you paying your taxes 80% of the time?

Which appliances do you want to perform on demand 80% of the time?

In which store would you shop at where you have an 80% chance that the merchandise you bought will be what is inside the box?

 

The 80% criteria is the criterion of mediocrity. There ARE times when it may be appropriate but they are few and far between for most busy special education teachers. Even moreso for parents who might be responsible for tracking some of these things.

 

Here is a goal I saw today (Name changed, but I think it might have actually been an example for how to write a goal):

 

“ Given instruction Wilma will increase her words per minute (WPM) to 100 by the end of the school year” The criteria was 80%

 

That was the objective, and it is pretty straight forward. It fits the SMART definition: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time limited. But there are still niggling problems.

 

Is she already reading 80 WPM? Is she going to read 100 words and miss 20% of them? Increasing reading rate is certainly a worthwhile goal. And if reading 100 WPM is worthwhile, why are we satisfied with 80% ? Why not 100%?

 

And this is where I have gotten LOT of resistance from colleagues, present and past. “100 PERCENT! OMG! **I** don’t do anything 100% of the time or with 100 percent accuracy! I would hate for anyone to expect me to be perfect 100% of the time!”

 

It is true that we are flawed human beings and prone to error. But when we take a plane, we expect to arrive at the correct terminal 100% of the time and have our luggage arrive at the same place 100% of the time. If it does not happen the way it is supposed to, we get mighty cranky and demand that things be fixed and made right.

 

While our students are as flawed as any of us, the assumption is that they are somehow more badly broken. Only a broken toaster would perform at 80%. Only a broken car would start 80% of the time. Only if we think a thing is broken and we have no intention of fixing it do we accept 80% as a criteria for performance. We need to change our thinking.

 

If the child is reading 80 WPM, and our goal is to get them reading at 100 WPM, then that needs to be the goal. And the criteria needs to be 100%. They either read 100 words correctly in a minute or they don’t. However, when we write the goals, we need to set proper conditions:

 

“Given one trial per day, Wilma will read 100 WPM for 3 consecutive days.” Criteria = 100%

 

Is Wilma expected to be perfect all the time? No. But given the deliberate and planned nature of a trial, I am pretty confident of her mastery if she can be perfect 3 times in a row. THAT, my friends, is a much better picture of true mastery. Yes, there will be the occasional plane crash, but most of the time, thankfully, things go exactly as planned. Sure, there are delays but the main goal is arriving at the destination. And even with how common delays are, we are not necessarily happy when they occur. So should it be with our goals and objectives.

 

While my thinking on goals is evolving, let’s try another goal:

“Given a weekly homework schedule, Fred will complete and hand in his work over 4 of 5 opportunities”

 

This goal is way better than most goals on the subject of handing in homework. Again, it is SMART. At least it does not have the onerous 80%, right?

 

Welll…it is actually not-so-cleverly couched within that criteria. It is a major improvement over “Handing in his homework on time with 80% accuracy” but it still has some brokenness and failure built into it. Why did we say 4 of 5? Why not just 5? Will Fred be capable of handing in 5 assignments over 5 opportunities this year or not? If he is, then why do we settle for 4? If he is not, then why are we making ourselves track 5 data points that he will never hit? Again, we need to strive for consistency in performance that indicates mastery. If we want him to turn in 4 assignments in a row over 4 days, then that should be the goal. And the expectation is that he will be able to hit 4 days in a row without a miss. “4 of 5” is actually like saying “3 in a row” because there is no possible way to hit 4 of 5 with being able to hit at least 3 consecutive times. It’s mathematically impossible. If you miss once, you are out after the second miss. This is why I often will truncate my objectives and do 3 consecutive trials with 100%.

 

So: Given a weekly homework schedule, Fred will complete and hand in his work, on time, 3 consecutive times” Criteria = 100%

 

Now this is a behavoral issue. Fred is a smart guy, and he will master this objective in the very first week as it is written, You grade his first 3 worksheets and they are turned in on time but they are all blank! Or he rushes through them and scores a 50. THIS is where the 80% can come into play:

“Given a weekly homework schedule, Fred will complete and hand in his work on time 3 times in a row scoring 80% or better. Criteria = 100%” If Fred has academic problems we might say 70%, but we are making sure he actually passes the work he turns in. He does not have to be perfect in the academics, but he DOES have to demonstrate mastery on the behavioral part. If he misses just once, we reset the clock, give some additional support, and try again. We can track academics in a separate goal.

 

“Trials” v “Opportunities”

Our students have many, many opportunities to read, write and complete tasks, but we are not going to track and measure each one. We are going to set specific conditions when we measure progress. This deliberate and planned setting of an antecedent gives rise to a trial, which demands a response or behavior. This is the most fundamental component of instruction. We give a cue, they respond and we give feedback in the form of comments, a grade or even a reward. We certainly want our kids to generalize across settings, and this should happen once the task is mastered. We plan to test and teach Wilma to read 100 WPM, and we want this to carry over to when she reads social studies or science. But she has to master the target under the best of conditions before we go into other areas. A trial optimizes those conditions. An “opportunity” simply looks more haphazard. Most teachers use “opportunities” when they mean “trials”. Say what you mean, and mean what you say. With the huge number of goals a teacher has to manage with a caseload of 26 students, we can not afford to be haphazard. And since someone else might end up tracking the objective or goal you are writing, it is simply more humane to make the goals as easily trackable as possible. We need to stop abusing our colleagues with poorly written goals that require a math degree and several hours to track.

 

Let me give one more reason to make our goals easier. They need to be understood by parents and the students. Unless you are prepared to make a graph, you need to shy away from partial and broken goals. Almost 90% of my students struggle with math, and parents and and special educators do not vary substantially from that. Otherwise we would all be math teachers! Everyone understands 100% mastery and know it when they see it. This is especially true for behavioral goals but is just as true for many academic goals. Stick with making the goals more simple and achievable. Almost any goal can be manipulated into a 100% mastery criteria. Any parent will be able to understand and know when it is achieved and so will most students. Many of my students are gamers and they have a better understanding of striving for mastery than many adults. They understand the concept of questing and mastering a series of objectives is a sort of quest. We set our kids on it and when they complete one quest, we give them a new, more challenging one. But if they don’t understand the quest or know when it is completed, they quickly lose interest in the game.

 

So when is 80% or its fractional equivalent (4 of 5 or 8 of 10) appropriate? When we are doing something where we are willing to make a graph and when we can track larger arrays during our trials. Math achievement is a good example, where there is an array of 10 or more problems. The larger the array of measured trials, the more a percentage is appropriate. In the case of math, each problem represents a trial. Some behavioral goals where you are using time sampling or event recording and have over 10 data points lend themselves to using a percentage or fraction of a large total. The larger the sample, the more appropriate it is to use a percentage. But in that case, you still need to think about your marriage to 80% mastery. Percentages lend themselves nicely to automated collection systems, like computer-graded tests. If a computer is not doing the collecting and scoring, you are making your life miserable by living within a percentage,

 

One more thing about goals: Less is more. I have some students with over 20 objectives. If I have a caseload of 25 students (it’s actually 26), that means I am trying to track over 500 separate pieces of data! I can be either complete or accurate, but it is inhumane to expect both. It is simply impractical to devote the attention that each goal requires if I have to manually enter, manage and track individual trials and then decide if we are at 80%. It’s far easier to look for “3 in a row” or however many and mark that quest as complete as we go. Especially if I can keep it down to 100 or less.

 

When potty training our children, our goal is 100% . Accidents can and do happen, but that is the exception not the rule. We start out wanting Freddy to be dry an entire day, then 2 days in a row. Not for 2 days at 80%. Two days. Period. Then 3 days and so on until his diaper is dry for an entire week. Every parent nows that at that point, he is “getting it.” Then we move up to pull-ups and eventually his “big boy underwear”. We support him at every stage, striving for more and better consistency. Are we demanding that little Freddy be perfect 100% of the time? No! But we are striving for consistency. I won’t buy from any eBay retailer with less than 97% positive ratings. Why do we settle for so much less for our kids?

 

For most goals, 80% is simply not consistent enough. When we disengage from mediocrity, it makes life easier and better for all of us. I’m not programming for mediocrity or failure, I want to program for success! And true success in most meaningful things requires a higher level of consistency than 80%.

 

*Note: Back in 2006, I was blogging pseudonymously under the name “Dick Dalton,” hence how I was addressed in many of the comments at that time.

Preventable IEP Anxiety

7 May

I don’t have any IEP’s to write this year, which might be the best and only good thing about being underemployed.  Well…actually I do have one IEP to write; my son’s.

And this year it has been enough of a headache to make up for not having 10 others to write and schedule.  This one has been rescheduled at least 3 times.  Right before the original IEP date, I submitted a letter of parent concern that sort of threw his case manager into a mild panic.  I admit, that this sort of violated about half of my own rules for avoiding the long and ugly IEP meetings.  So I was not too concerned about delaying the meeting a week to enable people to get their legs back under them, and to address my concerns in a thoughtful manner.  But then another delay ensued and finally she wanted to delay until after the CRCT results.  The CRCT, for those who don’t know, is Georgia’s Criterion Referenced Competency Test, which is the state-wide high stakes test.  I decided to go along with this, but each and every time and during each and every communication I asked for exactly the same thing: a draft of the IEP.

And now I am absolutely convinced that failing to receive such a draft in a timely manner is the single greatest cause of preventable stress during IEP season.  This is why it is such a critical part of my aforementioned rules.  Procrastination and surprises do not serve anyone well.  It does not serve teachers well, because they are deciding and writing in a hurry.  It does not serve parents well, because their anxiety mostly comes from not knowing and the fear of the district ambushing them.  It does not serve the system well, because when parents feel ambushed, they tend to become contentious and litigious.  And yet, I witness this time after time after time, year after year after year, the same exact thing.  The worst was when I was the high school representative at a middle school IEP meeting and we were already an hour behind.  We were all in the meeting room, waiting for the case manager. When I asked the SLP where she was, I got an eye roll “She’s upstairs, writing the IEP draft.”

If you are a teacher with an IEP tomorrow morning and have not completed the draft yet, you should consider another career.  You are probably already on some sort of blood pressure medication.  Being a special education teacher is stressful. But this is one source of stress in your life that you can minimize by simply moving your own deadlines up a week.  I used to be like you.  I would wait and then scramble to get my drafts done, and then worried and ended up with all sorts of mistakes as I hurried and rushed.  I finally had enough and began writing my drafts further ahead of the actual meeting dates and got them to parents over a week in advance.  And guess what happened to that stress?  It disappeared.  And here is why:

Being a parent of a child in special education also consists of a stress, only this is one that rarely ever sleeps.  Although I knew this first-hand, it took me time to translate that into a practice that actually minimized worry for the parents as well as myself.  Having a draft in their hands a week in advance allowed the parents to think and consider what we were doing.  And it instilled a sense of trust. You have no idea how precious that is, until you realize that you have attained it universally and fully.  And it shortened my meetings by almost hour.  Parents could talk about what THEY wanted, because we had agreed on most things ahead of time.  Most of the heat fell on the itinerant providers who failed to submit their reports and recommendations in advance.  They were also procrastinators.

Having a draft written also diminished the effects of having to reschedule meetings.  I HATED rescheduling, but on the few occasions where it was absolutely necessary, it did not impact me significantly because I already had the draft written and distributed to the parent.  I used any extra time to talk to the parent some more, making sure everything was okay and it was just the way they wanted it.

It took some SERIOUS arm twisting to get an advanced draft this year, even though it should have been completed 2 months ago.  And what I got was something that was barely written at all, with no mastery or goals and objectives.  This means that this is going to be a very long and drawn-out meeting because we have to hammer out goals and objectives.  Fortunately I had already done some work on a few that I wanted, but I’m seeing some other concerns that have come up that will have to be addressed.

I’m going to challenge all special education teachers to set a goal to get their IEP drafts completed 5 days in advance of the meeting and get them in the hands of the parents at least 3 days ahead of time.  Of course it is a little late for most of you this year, but if you take the 5 day challenge I guarantee you will lower your own stress as well as the stress level of the parents.

It’s getting to be that time again…

27 Jan

Time to think about annual IEP reviews.  I know many teachers are still working on their GAA’s, but you need to be finishing those up and turning your sights on your next big thing which is IEP annual review season.

I don’t always agree with everything she posts, but Carol Sadler is definitely someone that is worth following on Facebook.  And she recently posted this:

Advocates Advice – We are quickly moving into “IEP Season”. Time to get your year end IEP meetings scheduled and on the books. Better to get scheduled in advance to make sure you have time to invite your help. Be sure to notify the school you will tape record the meeting and ask for a Draft copy of the IEP “that has been updated” with their proposed PLOP’s, accommodations and goals/objectives. Take the time to compare the Draft line by line to last year’s IEP to see what they changed and what they are proposing and make sure it is appropriate.

If you are a teacher and reading this, your hair might be turning a bit white or falling out.  Or you might be tempted to start pulling it out.  Let me tell you that what she is suggesting should be a matter of best practice for competent teachers.  Getting the meetings on the calendar early serves everyone well, and knowing who all is going to be attending will help secure a place that is big enough for everyone.

Tape recording the meeting (or using an mp3 recorder) is not a big deal.  If you are a teacher, bring your own to the meeting as well.  Both the parent and the district should be recording at the same time.  There is no presumption of privacy at these meetings, even though they are confidential.  You can’t podcast the meeting.  But by now teachers need to be getting used to being in the spotlight being recorded at any time, any where.  Transparency is our friend.  Stop being hostile to it, and open up your records, your mind, your intentions and your heart to the parents of the children you teach.  You might discover a wealth of rewards await you as the relationship transforms from confrontation to cooperation.

The idea of having a draft prepared a week ahead seems to always trip up teacher case managers. They can not seem to wrap their minds around the idea of moving their entire time table up one week.  You have to write this thing one way or another.  Stop the procrastinating and the excuse-making and just do it, and get it done.  You send it out a week or so ahead of time, with “DRAFT” written by hand in big letters, and attach a note “Please look over the enclosed proposed IEP DRAFT.  Please write down any concerns and/or suggested changes that you might have on the draft and send it back to me so I can include them and make sure they are acceptable to you before the meeting.”

Imagine an IEP that is less than an hour long, and everyone leaves the room smiling, and pleased and relaxed, feeling good about what just occurred.  If you have several annual reviews that are NOT like this then you should probably consider sending out your drafts well in advance so parents can look at them.  But aside from pleasing a parent, there are also other good reasons to move your time table up a week.  Remember you HAVE to write the thing regardless.  Why not do it well in advance when you can actually THINK about what you are writing instead of having that deadline looming over you?  You will discover that you make better choices and decisions when you are not rushed and pressured.  And if there are problems looming ahead, you have some time to begin addressing them before the meeting with the parents and the rest of the team.

I always did this as a matter of regular practice.  I always tried to get the draft done and out at least 4 days ahead of the meeting regardless of who the parent was.  If I get a parent making a request like Carol, guess what?  I move my time table up TWO weeks!  I want to swap IEP drafts, ideas and suggestions several times in advance of this meeting if at all possible.   If the parent is bringing an advocate, then I would rather the advocate look over my IEP, mark and bleed all over it with red ink and send it back however many times before the meeting, rather than rip me to shreds for hours in front of the rest of the team.  The advocate will have plenty of fodder for bloodletting at the meeting from other members of the IEP team but not me if I can do anything about it.

This is because the other members of my team balked at writing their portions in advance.  The occupational therapists, physical therapists and speech language pathologists have HUGE caseloads and I understand that.  BUT the workload is exactly the same whether you do it now or later.  I put all members of my team on notice as to the day the draft is going out.  It is up to them if they are ready or not, and 95% of the time, they failed to meet that deadline.

IEPs are exactly the same as alternate assessments that way.  If you procrastinate, you will end up under a huge backlog, and it will seem like a dark pit that you forever are trying to dig yourself out of as each deadline comes and overwhelms you.  You have got to get ahead and try to stay ahead.  Give yourself some wiggle room.  Waiting until the night before is a terrible choice that invites mistakes and trouble.

I actually attended one middle school meeting where everyone was there except the caseload manager.  When I asked the SLP where she was, I saw an eye roll and she whispered “She’s upstairs trying to write the IEP!”  This was a meeting that was already an hour late.  It was a good thing that parent was not paying Carol’s hourly rate!

Check out The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism!

9 Jul

I was hoping that the next post I was writing would be all about the new job I found and the excitement involved in looking forward to a fresh new start in a fresh new place.

I hasn’t happened….yet.  I have had several good interviews and I walked out of each of them feeling like I had hit it out of the ballpark.  These were positions that screamed my name as far as the skills required and my background, experience and desires.  I was wondering “How am I going to choose between them…they all seem great!”  But then days turn into weeks and no follow-up call comes.  One did send an email stating they had hired someone else, and that is totally fine.  It is possible there are some other highly qualified, experienced people who are also looking might be better suited to some spots.  But Some of these seemed SO tailor-made for me.  I’m scratching my head, but continuing to pursue what pening there are and trying not to get discouraged.

You can only imagine Jane’s anxiety.  And my two boys also know that this summer is different because we are not taking any real long trips or vacations and holding on to the money a little tighter.  They know it is all about Daddy’s job.  At least we still have medical insurance for a couple more months.

But I DO have some good news to share!  Liz Ditz has been a sort of guardian angel of my blog since its earliest days, linking, commenting and promoting articles she thought were good, and driving a lot of readers my way.  She is just a dynamo of reading and writing and promoting the cause of disability advocacy.  Every blogger should be so lucky to have a Liz in their readership!

A few weeks ago, she emailed and asked about an article I had written from my IEP series and wondered if I would be interested in participating in a project of contributing it toward a book she and some other folks are working on.  And so after doing some editing and updating, we finished it and you can read the revised version of my article on IEP goals at the Thinking Persons Guide To Autism which will eventually become a print book!  How cool is that?

I invite you to seriously check the blog out, because it has many awesome articles written be some very accomplished bloggers.  I totally wish I had a resource like this in the earliest days of son’s diagnosis.  It is a common sense and scientific look at autism issues without the weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth that I see in so much autism literature and articles by parents and professionals in the field while being sensitive to the emotional overhang associated with autism.  There are some great articles there that are worth a look as a professional as well as a parent.  This blog is decidedly parent-centric written by and for parents but is a great resource for teachers and othe professionals too.

What is a Good Teacher Worth?

25 Mar

I have been up to my elbows and eyeballs in annual reviews. I’m doing a bunch of my own this week, as well as acting as LEA for several others. Some teachers have reviews that go smoothly and amazing well. Some need a bit of help. And some are absolute disasters. It is this last category that results in headaches for everyone and unfortunately it happens all too often. There are many reasons why an annual review can go poorly, but I find the single biggest factor is in preparation. The more preparation, the better the meeting goes. The less preparation, the worse it goes.

The most hideous meetings I ever attended was at a middle school. I was the high school representative and drove half way across the county to get there. Once I got there, I had to wait nearly an hour because other meetings were running late. Fortunately the parent was not there, as the teacher was anxious to postpone which I thumbed down. I made her call the parent and get permission to hold it, which the parent was happy to do. Then the IEP was not filled out. We had to bang it all out there. Oy. Or another middle school meeting where I arrived, and the parent and itinerants and everyone was there except the caseload teacher. Where was she? In her classroom trying to type the goals and other parts, thus making us all wait. Or, yet another middle school meeting where I was late because the one I was attending across the hall ran late. When I walked into the crowded room, the parents were visibly fuming and the tension was so thick everyone was about ready to suffocate. This was because the teacher had made some careless comment and now the parents were loaded for bear.

In each of these situations, even though none of these were my students and this was not even my school or my meeting, I managed to help salvage the situation from potential disaster. Even the middle school LEAs and graduation coaches seemed at a loss as to how to handle these situations. In the first case, we were able to bang out the IEP in about an hour once I overcame the team’s reluctance. It was the last meeting of the day and everyone wanted to go home. But my general rule is the death is about the only reason to postpone…or an attorney, which is practically the same as death. It takes an enormous amount of coordination to get all the players in the same room at the same time. Don’t blow it. In the second instance, I got the teacher to just print out what she had plus the previous year’s IEP….after problems with the printer. This is why waiting until the last minute courts disaster, and Murphy WILL move in and take up residence. In the final case, I discovered there were things in the IEP that were negotiable enough for the parents that they could walk out less mad. They still did not like that teacher, but at least felt better about high school transition.

An IEP is often treated like a court case just waiting to happen. And it is not a bad idea to view it as such when writing one. But you can not become so paralyzed with fear that you end up avoiding it. It must be done, so you might as well grab it and run with vigor to get it done. It is daunting but not impossible to write a decent IEP that will serve the student well without causing either the school or the parents to feel like they have been robbed. I have suggestions right here in my blog that might be useful for both parents and teachers.

This is one field where experience really does count as long as it is good experience. Someone who can write a proper, legal IEP can save the school thousands in litigation costs. A teacher who knows how to talk to parents without ticking them off can save an administrator countless headaches. A competent teacher who can actually teach the students can help the school meet its goals and the all important AYP. I have seen all too often what happens when a teacher is incompetent. People get frustrated, corners are cut and then parents are ready to go to an attorney.

An experienced, competent teacher is also more likely to stick around, as long as minimum efforts are made to retain him/her. I’ll talk about retention in a future post, but experience does help endure future obstacles and deteriorating conditions at least up to a point. I was able to handle a caseload larger than any other SID/PID teacher in the county with less help than any other teacher by virtue of my experience and tenacious commitment to NOT allow anything to happen that would endanger the students. Over time I developed experience enough to keep little things from turning into big things and when a big problem came along I learned how to handle a fair number of those. And finally, I learned to recognize when something was too big for me to handle and that I needed to ask for assistance fro m people paid to handle the bigger problems. Those are all skills that you can learn only through experience. In special education, there are a ton of judgment calls that we are called on to make because there is not a set textbook way of handling our students. That is what makes it “special!”

A Few Comments on the Supreme’s Ruling

25 Jun

Earlier this week, the SCOTUS made a ruling concerning special education and private tuition reimbursement.  you can get a quick summary from the Washington Post here.  You can also get a summary from the SCOTUS blog and read up on it in a couple of posts from Jim Gerle’s Law blog.  He’s also got a link to the pdf file of the decision slip.

I first want to correct the first line of the washington Post article:

Parents of children with disabilities may seek reimbursement for private school tuition even if they have never sent their children to public schools, the Supreme Court ruled yesterday in a decision with wide-ranging implications for Washington area school systems.

That is not necessarily the case.  Basically, this case involved a student who was entering high school and his parents were concerned about the student’s lack of academic success.  So they made a referral for services.  The school counselor did some testing and found that the student was not eligible for services.  As such, no IEP was written.  The parents were still concerned during the student’s 10th grade year but the student was still not deemed eligible for services according to school testing.  So the parents eventually obtained a diagnosis for learning disabilities and ADHD.  They withdrew him from his high school and placed him in a private school that specialized in providing services for students with LD and ADHD.  It was during this time that they began filing for due process against the school for failing to provide FAPE, and sought reimbursement for the private school tuition.

The student finished his junior year at the private school and graduated from there the following year in 2004.  Yeah, this case has been dragging on for six years! And for most of that time, the student was pressing the case forward since the parental rights trnasferred to him at 18.

The school argued that the law provides for the reimbursement for students who have already been served in special education for at least one year.  But this student was never served in special education.  The WaPo article leads the reader to believe that the student never attended the public school, but in fact he did for most of his school career.  But he never received special education services and never had an IEP.  One major argument given by the prevailing side in this case was the fact that a school district could easily avoid all special education costs by simply not identifying students, which clearly flies in the face of the intent of the IDEA.

The school district argued that having to reimburse tuition for students who never had received services and whose parents unilaterally put their child in a private school would place an undo burden on the system financially.  Private schools serving special ed. students are not cheap.  This one attended by this student was a residential school, so we could easily be talking over $100,000 for this one student.  So, yeah, the district is going to fight!

Will this result in bankrupting school budgets?  I doubt it.  Remember that by the time this thing settled, the student was probably graduated from college! The time and persistence in getting through all the legal proceedings routinely takes several years.  By the time this case got only to district court level, the student was already done with school.  But the school does have a case that parents might be more aggressive about pursuing their rights.  Given the time it takes to get resolution on a case like this, a parent needs to start early in order to be assured of getting their child needed services.  Unfortunately, it is sometimes necessary to be an attack dog on a school system because the culture of discrimination and prejudice runs so deep and is so pervasive.  Don’t believe me?  Look at the Atlanta Journal Constitution blog on the subject and read the comments.  Students with disabilities are routinely scapegoated in the comments, whether or not that is actually the topic on this blog.  They actually got off kind of light, here.

Another reason why the impact of this is going to be somewhat minimal is the simple matter of there not being very many private schools who are willing to take and cater to students with special needs.  Georgia already has a law that offers a $10,000 voucher/scholarship for any student that wants one and very few ever take advantage of it.  And you can simply forget about any of my students ever being included in anything like that.  The impact on my students and their parents because of this ruling is ZILCH because there is not a private school anywhere that is going to take them, even if parents wanted to take advantage of any scholarship.  And no private school would house a student through their 22nd birthday.

You’ll hear a lot of noise from both sides of this issue, but I think it’s mostly a zero-sum game.  Parents aren’t going to be able to get tuition reimbursements whenever they want.  Even if they did get a favorable decision, it would likely be several years and several thousands of dollars after their child started a private school.  A parent would need the means to afford the tuition well in advance of challenging a school district.  The district still has the upper hand, but with stakes a bit higher they have more of a reason to work with parents instead of blowing them off.

The RTI and POI procedures, if they are followed and implimented correctly will also head-off a lot of these sort of challenges.  These procedures were not widely implimented in 2003, if at all, so there is already a procedural safeguard with documentation that is built-in to the process.  Today, there would be more than just one test and a one-time procedure for getting additional help.  IF it is implimented.  That’s a big “if.”

I encourage anyone interested in special education law to read the case, as it isn’t often a special education case makes it in front of the Supremes.  I’m betting against this being a big decision that changes the game, but I could be wrong.

7 Steps to a Bulletproof Annual Review IEP Schedule

30 Apr

IEP season is in full swing and indeed we’re but a few weeks from it being all over. This year, I have not had any LEA duties since our department head has taken over those duties full time. I’m exceedingly thankful but I don’t regret the experience and knowledge previous years and scores of meetings have lent me.

However I did have a middle school that needed a high school representative and have been busy trying to get their meetings scheduled. Whenever I speak to an itinerant teacher or therapist about this particular school and IEP meetings, they roll their eyes. They (the middle school) seem to have some problems in this area, so I’m blogging it to help them and anyone else who cares to look into it.

The Problem

Scheduling an IEP is a lot like herding cats. Everyone is everywhere and it seems like no two people are headed in the same direction. The primary responsibility for scheduling an IEP should fall on the case manager, who should be in regular contact with parents through progress reports and other avenues anyway. I remember my first try at being a special ed. teacher, I was told that I had to talk to my parents. I didn’t want to, and soon learned that if I didn’t contact them, they would be contacting me, and not necessarily under the most ideal of circumstances!

The students I teach are very involved and get many services from many people. An IEP involves bringing all of these people together on the same day at the same time, when there are many, many other meetings and people competing for their time. But it is sometimes the only time a parent gets to see and talk to everyone. How can we get all of these people together who are all running amok at this time of year?

A month or so in advance

1. Set Options and limit them. This part is done by our department head. Basically she designates a given week when we (each caseload manager) are supposed to hold our meetings. Having an online calendar accessible to everyone has been a great help, because several caseloads can occupy each week. So now it can be a bit of a free for all, but now at least there is a time frame to work from and each teacher has a guideline within to work. Of course manifestations and eligibilities can wreak havoc, but we’re talking about annual reviews, here. They happen annually so we know when they should take place. Annually.

2. Talk to the Parents. There’s some disagreement as to who you should talk to first, but I start with the parents. I let them know what week we’re doing annual reviews and get a feel for their own feelings. I want to know how they feel about attending, when the best time of day for them and what their concerns are. Basically we begin the process I’ve written about before.

3. Talk to other service providers. Get a feel for their limitations and preferences and any issues they might have. I’m just trying to get a general feeling here and I let them know the general time frame I have to work with.

4. Set up the time. Notice that I haven’t set a specific time up until now. Sometimes the planets align and service providers and parents all have a common time when they can meet. Hallelujah! But most of the time, this is not going to happen. So my first point of contact is the parent. I get them to committ to a time from the best possible options and try to nail them down. Hard. By that, I mean to say that I make it easy for a parent to say, “No, I’m not going to be able to make it.” without guilt while I also press them to commit and make their yes mean yes. I do this by reassuring them that we can talk before the meeting or after the meeting anytime about any issues. Once they sign that they are or are not attending, I set it in the calendar. This should be done about a month out, if possible. I don’t know many teachers who are doing this, but it is best practice for annual reviews. At this point, I try to get as many service providers as possible on board, but if some can’t make it, that is the nature of this beast.

Within 1 week of the meeting

5. Keep in touch! That especially means parents, but also everyone you have invited to the meeting Service providers need time to input their portion of the IEP and compile notes, grades and reports. Reminding everyone is good practice but reminding parents also helps cover yourself later as part of the due process.

6. Draft the IEP. You need to have this draft done several days in advance of the IEP whether other service providers have their portion completed or not. This will help you move things along as part of due process.

7. Send home some forms and the draft. I try to do this 3 or more days in advance. There are a lot of forms that can be done in advance, like the bus/transportation forms, consent for evaluation, and any surveys that might be due. This will speed things up and they are part of due process. Have extra forms at the meeting, in case the parent forgets, but anything done ahead will help in keeping the communication line alive and active.

When someone wants to change the date and time of the meeting.

Someone better have a good reason that is burnished in gold. Fact is, at our school with hundreds of annual reviews taking place, we do not have room to niggle about with the foolishness of small inconveniences. If that person is a parent, I’m not going to move at the last minute unless I’m dying. Even then, you can roll me up in a wheelchair because when we are a week out, we are going forward at the appointed time. If the parent wants to reschedule, I’m going to try to make it an individual conference, after the fact. The reason why I can do this and get away with it is because I have a draft of the IEP I can send home a few days in advance and the parent can rewrite any portion that they see fit ahead of time. We can do so many things in advance that the actual IEP is merely a ratification of several turns and rounds of negotiations and discussions. Note that this only works if parent contact is an ongoing thing. The most important thing is to include parents from the beginning and give them adequate time and opportunity for input. Leaving parents out has dire consequences.

What’s happening at the middle school, is that these meetings are being scheduled without following the above steps. Consequently, they are constantly being rescheduled and canceled at the last minute. Parents end up jerking the process because they are not being empowered enough at the earliest stage of the review process. The other thing that is happening is that case managers are not getting the things done on time, so they simply reschedule. For a busy itinerant, who may have hundreds of meetings, this is simply untenable. It ends up being a nightmare for everyone involved and a backlog of make-up meetings accumulates and the end of the year turns into a snake pit of frantic hell. Do not let this happen! Teachers who have gone through this more than once have no excuse. It is a violation of our own professional code of conduct as well as our contract by not having the thing written on the appointed day. By starting the process early and collaborating with everyone involved, you can make the process relatively easier on everyone.

As a parent, I like to know the general time line, even if we are a month out. Right now, we have less than a month of school left, and we have not heard a word from my son’s case manager about his annual review. I’ve tried and tried over the years to get his various teachers and case managers to draft stuff in advance, but it never happens. I totally understand procrastination but I’ve managed to simply move my own deadlines up so “last minute” for me is 2 days before the meeting. Having a draft a few days ahead would really help streamline the process plus lessen whatever anxiety Jane* and I might have about it. Having a scheduled date well in advance helps us keep the calendar clear and helps to keep us from feeling jerked around. It makes it less likely that we’ll be the jerks. A smooth process requires advanced planning. Sure, things happen and come up, but it is easier making provision for such things with advanced notice and preparation.

IEP ideas for Parents: 8 tips for avoiding a butt-long (and ugly) IEP

2 Apr
Let’s make a special note of my standard disclaimer since this post ight annoy a few people!
  • I remember a few years ago I went to an autism conference where a parent advocate was talking about IEPs. She described various methods she used in order to successfully advocate for her son and get him the services that she needed. I wish I could remember her name, but it is probably better that I don’t because right now I am am feeling very hostile toward these adversarial strong-arm tactics. I’ve been a victim of strong-arm tactics from both sides: those inflicted by the school system, and those inflicted by a parent. At the moment, I’m having issues with the stupid tactics parents are using. The main one being the long, drawn-out, slow, painful, watching-paint-dry, line-by-line meeting.
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    We are getting more and more and more parents that are adopting this tactic in my county and it has some very real, very painful and very detrimental consequences.
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    I’ve talked a bit before about how the itinerant teachers are in a bind when it comes to having IEP meetings. Feedback from other teachers around the country indicate that they help mediate the crush of meetings by having annual reviews throughout the year. This makes some sense to me if there some meetings at the beginning of the year, and some at the end, instead of doing them all at the end. However, given the nature of the educational beast (i.e. testing) there are end-of-the-year meetings that are unavoidable. It becomes difficult to plan for a student’s upcoming year if you don’t know if they will be able to advance to the next grade and that depends pretty much on test scores. Are you going to write an IEP for the 9th grade and high school or another year of 8th grade? There’s a big difference in the level of support needed. Depending on the the graduation test or end-of-course tests, it might be the difference between graduating or doing another year in high school. I suppose you could write an IEP anticipating a best-case or worst-case scenario, but you can expect to be holding some addendums later. I prefer just having the one meeting.
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    Like it or not, we are in IEP-Full-Tilt season. And now we encounter several parents who arrive to an 8:00 a.m. IEP with a picnic basket for lunch and pizza coupons for dinner and possibly a cooler and snacks if they are feeling generous. These folks take a day off work and fully expect and anticipate spending an entire day for an IEP. I have major problems with this tactic, because it causes a hardship that radiates out beyond just the one school, parent and student. But the problem is that most parents that do this don’t care about the other students because they make it their sole business to advocate for their own. This is all well and good. The hard-core advocates are correct in that parents are the first and best knowlege-base when it comes to their own children. No one will advocate like a parent (mothers in particular) and parents should be willing to go to the mat. However, waiting until the day of the IEP to decide to become and Advocate Mom is not the best way to do it. Advocacy is a continuous thing that demands diligence the entire year and not just on a single day during a single meeting. Properly done, advocacy can actually make IEP meetings less traumatic. I’ll share a few ideas about that, but first I want to share why this is bugging me right now.
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    It is our county policy that we need at least 3 people in order for an IEP to be legitimate. LEA, parent, and case manager are a minimum along with a regular ed. teacher and then other service providers on top of that. Of course, parents and teachers can invite many more participants. I’ve had meetings with nearly 20 people that included the nurse, cafeteria manager, someone from transportation, DFACS, a healthcare agency, and two sets of parents plus other teachers, administrators and therapists. That was just an annual review, not a manifestation. And we did go on for a couple hours on that one but it was only my second year at this level. But while all of the teachers and therapists were at my longish meeting, there were NOT serving any other students. They were not at any other meetings for any other students. They were in that one meeting, mostly not saying or doing anything when other students in the county were being denied services. There are no such thing as substitute OTs, PTs or SLPs. These are highly skilled positions that you can’t just grab someone off the street to do. Would you want the just laid-off Microsoft programmer giving your son or daughter PT services while the PT is in an IEP meeting? Substitue teachers might have a degree but they do not have specialized skills our kids need.
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    In my case, my son is not going to get OT or speech services for the next couple of months because of IEP meetings. The kids that I teach will get a reduced number of services because of IEP meetings. And many of those same service providers will not be attending IEP meetings for my students because they will be attending one meeting that is sure to last all day. I tried to schedule several of mine during the one day when most services were at my school. That happens to be a day when Advocate Mom is having an IEP for her child at another school, so all of the itinerant services are going to be there and they will not be allowed to leave because Advocate Mom brought a lunch along and possibly an attorney. No special occasion, it’s just the way she decides to operate on a yearly basis.
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    I need to be perfectly clear that I do not know who this particular Advocate Mom really is. I did not ask because even though the lives of my students (and my own) are being disrupted here, it isn’t any of my business. I do happen to know more than one Advocate Mom who does operate in this way and if I happen to get an opportunity I intend on sharing my concerns directly in a less public forum to whoever. So indulge me in making some suggestions as parent and teacher so that you can have your say, your rights and your time while not wasting the time and efforts of others:
    1. Keep communication open all year. Do NOT wait until the annual review to unload a bunch of issues that have been brewing for the last 7 months. If you are concerned, you have a right to bring them up at the point you are concerned directly with the provider responsible. If you make no headway, work your way up the chain of command as needed. But communication is truly the key. If everyone is open and transparent, there really is the possibility of everyone walking away happy.
    2. Submit proposed goals and other input ahead of time. I strongly advocate that teachers share their proposals well in advance, and this also goes for parents. If you have stuff you want included in the IEP, let it be known far enough in advance that it can be included in the draft presented at the meeting. If you have independent evaluations and data from other providers, it can really help write a better draft that requires less niggling.
    3. Try to cut a deal before hand. Yeah, I know that the IEP is supposed to be a committee process, but as a parent you have most of the cards. Go ahead and play ahead of time and see if there are points that you can get agreement on before the meeting from the folks who you need to win over. If you want para support for your son or daughter, try running it by the director of special ed. in advance. Your case manager is likely to support your efforts, and he/she can help you make your case. If you run into a dead-end, then at least you know ahead of time and can go ahead and pack the lunch and pizza. But a lot of bargaining and discussion can take place ahead of time over the phone and with stakeholders. It happens at schools among the staff all the time. There’s no reason why you can’t be in on the preliminaries. A few things to put on the table in advance: ESY, para support, major placement change, adding service hours, an evaluation request. These are all things that may require extra forms, paperwork and consultation. If I know you might want an evaluation we can actually start getting consents and screenings done ahead of time instead of waiting for the meeting.
    4. Request a draft of the IEP, copies of mastery records and data ahead of time. I know teachers and service providers really grouse about doing this, but it really can save a lot of grief in the long run. If they are not giving their stuff to you voluntarily, send a note in demanding it by a certain time, say 5 days or so before the meeting. I suppose you could make the holding of the IEP contingent upon that condition. If they refuse, you simply turn the tables…go to the meeting and table it as soon as you get the stuff. School systems will automaticaly table a meeting if you show up with an attorney without giving them advance notice. You have the same right to NOT be surprised.
    5. Look for other ways and times to communicate. Special Olympics can be a good time to touch base as well as other events that happen during the school year. Some of it might involve volunteering. Afterall, you don’t have to be a nuisance ALL the time!;-) Communication and being open is a real key to getting the best services possible for your student. If I know you want a certain service or device in advance, I can hunt around and look into it. I might find something better than what you wanted. But if I’m surprised by something at the annual review, I’m going to have a more difficult time agreeing to it. We all have a hard time agreeing to things we don’t understand or are unprepared for.
    6. Be realistic. “Realistic” is a very subjective thing, and I get that. In fact, this concept of realism probably causes more conflict than anything else. Yes, we have the technology to put your son or daughter inside of a space capsule and launch them into orbit around the moon and bring them back safely. But when you’re asking tax payers to foot the bill for your moon shot, we’re going to have some problems. And do you really want the school system building that rocket? While school systems are capable of many things, I’ve come to realize that the school system is not terribly capable of doing many things very well. You’ll get para support and ESY but the folks doing those things may not be as skilled and committed as you want. It’s a given that they will not be as committed as you, the parent. So by “realistic” I think parents need to realize that they are much better equipped to deliver most of the skills their kids need themselves. I only have 7 students, but they are the neediest students in the building! On a good day, I can get 45 minutes with each individual student, and that includes changing diapers and feeding. If you want your child mainstreamed, the ratio gets worse. Para support involves a new level of devilry addressed next…
    7. Get the student involved (as appropriate). With my SID/PID population, it is going to be somewhat negligible as it is with very young students. However, by the time they are a middle schooler, most students should be writing some sort of “Fact Sheet” indicating their own interests and their own understanding of their limitations and strengths. I have been in many meetings where parent and school system are squared off and a very capable student is in the middle left saying absolutely nothing. That student needs to be in the middle, but not as a spectator. Which gets back to para support, because a para often becomes a sort of surrogate parent. For the very young or the very impaired, this is often what is needed. But as students age, that para support needs to be dimished and independence needs to be increased. Same with testing accomodations. The best example of a student self-advocating was one time when we were discussing testing accomodations and the teacher was ready to include extra time and a small setting “just in case he needed it.” The student shot back (quite forcefully) “I just took the PSAT and had no problems with 100 other students for 3 hours. I hink I’ll be okay taking other tests without all that!” Okay, this fellow might be an exception but the point is, is that he was ready to shed the support and let it be known.
    8. Let My People Go! It’s not just something Moses said to Pharoah, it’s good for the rest of us. If you feel the need to have an IEP that lasts several hours, okay. But please let the service providers go do what they get paid to do or at least attend some other parent’s meeting. I have 5 meetings on one day, and all 5 of those parents deserve a shot at talking to people who serve their children, just like you. Allow those participants who need to leave after the first hour to do it, if you can. I know no one likes the “revolving door” of many meetings with people coming and going, but this truly is the nature of this beast. We simply have not mastered the ability to be several places at the same time. It really is rare that a teacher or service provider can spare more than an hour for these things, but we do what we have to.
    Surprises are NOT anyones friend during the IEP process. Time is also not a friend. The whole “wear them down by making everyone stay long” might get you what you want but there are consequences which I’ve outlined. Okay, you don’t give a crap about other students, the teachers, the service providers or anyone else but your own kid. But the bad will you generate WILL trickle down to your student whether anyone intends for it to be so or not. It’s just human nature. While I don’t know exactly who Advocate Mom is, if I ever found out, I do not think I would be looking forward to ever teaching this child no matter how sweet he or she is. Every one of my students deserve my time and attention and I resent stuff that gets in the way of that, even if it is a well-intentioned parent. For my son, I expect the teachers and service providers to do their jobs to the best of their ability with a minimum of fuss. If Jane and I have to fuss at the school, we will. But by and large we’ve found ourselves taking up more and more of an active role in the education of our children. And we’re trying to teach them how to take a more active role in their own learning. If you’re depending on the government school to do it all, you’re going to be perpetually frustrated. As parents, we’re not just a child’s best advocate, we’re also their first and best teacher. Teachers, parents and administrator; I haven’t met any of them who really looked forward to an IEP. But if we work together we can make this a bit less stressful for everyone. Surely there must be someone else you’d rather have a picnic with than an IEP committee!
  • A Final IEP

    4 Mar

    While the biggest part of this blog is involved with what I do for a living, there is also another part that is invested in me as a parent.  It’s the parent-teacher combo that gives a bit of a more unique flavor to this enterprise.  It’s also what helps my blog fall under the category of “protected speech.”

    I have two boys, and it has definitely been a case of diverging paths here in our household.  Today, my youngest (blogname Percy) had an IEP. I’m almost ashamed to say I haven’t been to any IEP’s of his, but I do have my reasons.  One was that I learned from experiences with my oldest that whenever I walk into an IEP it can precipitate a certain amount of wierdness.They can be long and arduous affairs, as everyone is double sure of crossing T’s and dotting I’s.  So I’ve stayed away and allowed his mother to handle these and for the most part they have gone pretty well.  At least up until this point.

    Percy qualified under the SDD label: significantly developmentally delayed, which is the same label his older brother qualified under.  When his older brother, Thomas, turned 7 they did an evaluation and he qualified under the Autism label.  But no had started on Percy’s evaluation which is sort of unusual considering that they aren’t supposed to be any SDD 7 year-old kids as they are all supposed to be evaluated and go therough a new eligibity by then.  But Percy did not follow a typical SDD trajectory.  He did have a lot of shyness and social deficits when he started pre-K but by the time he was in kindergarten, it was obvious that these delays were very minor.  The boy loved school, loved learning and had zero behavior problems.  Academically, he took off and he has managed to make several friend at school as well as around our neighborhood.  This year he was consultative, which means essentially no real services and he has done nothing but excel.  He’s reading a grade or two ahead, if anything.  So, Jane and I were wondering just why he was in special education at all.  It was obvious to me, that the boy didn’t qualify unless it might be for gifted.  We might have held off from doing anything until a psychological except there is some sort of policy at his school that kids with IEPs need to be in a co-teaching class.  Jane and I didn’t really want this as he did so well this year without it.  Somehow, last year’s case manager managed to keep him out of that setting but this year’s case manager seemed determined to make sure he was in such a class for next year.  I had a good mind to simpy ask for a re-evalution and put her through the rigors of going through the re-eval process but in the end we didcided it was time to pull the plug.  So we requested he be withdrawn from services and as of today, he is IEP free.  I think much of his earlier developmental lags might have just been from picking stuff up from his brother, but who knows?  In anycase, he is exceptionally in his own way.  He’s definitely the kid you want in YOUR class and the kid you hope your kids want to hang around.

    And then there is Thomas who recently turned 10.  While he is generally a good kid, he would drive you absolutely nuts if you were his teacher.  Academically, he can be pretty sharp at least until things get too abstract.  But socially and behaviorally he can be a handful.  And he has inherited a total disdain for homework, which now drives his mother (and me) nuts.  The boy can dig his heels in for hours…or at least until I get home.  At that point there is no more nonesense because I haven’t the patience for it.  I can get him to do it but it bugs me that so much of our interaction involves having to do this junk that I hated as a kid.  Now most of my interactions with him are negative because I’m having to correct, reprimand and generally get snarly on him.  He might pick up on the fact that I’m not into it, but I’m not sure how he thinks not doing it until I get home will make things any better for him.  Life is infinitely easier for him when he gets it done right away.

    I’ll have to devote more blogspace to him and his drama later, but suffice it to say that he can generate enough of it for two people!  But at least there will be one less yearly IEP to worry about.

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