IEP Service Options

27 Apr

Erin recently posted a question about placement and placement decisions. Namely:

What are the IDEA classifications that allow a student to be placed in a resource setting? What is the boundary between a CBI/EBD and just a resource class?

Placement/services is the trickiest question most IEP committees deal with and it is often the most contentious. The fact that Thomas’ first grade teacher is recommending CBI is a case in point. Just because her child is in CBI doesn’t mean it is appropriate for someone else. And is adaptive PE a reasonable option?

In my IEP series, I wrote an article that dealt with the service option question, but didn’t go into detail as to exactly how such a decision is made. We consider the present level of performance, special factors, accommodations and modifications, goals and the transition plan and all of these should point to a possible group of services. This is why, if you are a parent, you can best shape the placement by contributing to these earlier sections of the IEP. I’ve seen many parents sit tight lipped through almost the whole meeting, enduring all of the earlier spiel only to open up and let loose when we discuss placement options. But by then, it is too late.

The law is pretty plain in that the least restrictive environment (LRE) is the main aim of placement and service options while delivering appropriate services. As a parent, teacher or LEA, I find myself being pretty aggressive in this regard. Many other committee members will take a very cautious and conservative approach with the idea that they don’t want the kid to fail. However, a more restrictive environment also means less chance of meaningful success. Of course Thomas can succeed in adaptive PE! He has very few physical limitations! Is it meaningful for him to succeed in some sort of Special Olympic competition against those who do have significant physical limitations? So I’m more likely to go ahead and test a student and offer the less restrictive as an option if needed. More conservative committee members want to offer a more restrictive service or setting and offer the less restrictive option contingent on success in the lower setting. But the bind is that they will later claim the more restrictive setting is working, so why change it?

The most restrictive setting is a self-contained setting. In the elementary grades, several disabilities may be in the same classroom together with the same teacher and para almost the entire day. The class will be smaller and hopefully more structured. However the abilities of students can vary widely which makes this a very difficult setting in which to teach. The EBD student may be doing some advanced material while the MID student is doing material that is very basic and way below grade level. You can guess a major downside of this; the MID student will be learning some new behaviors from his EBD friends that his parents might rather he not. Also, the EBD student has few positive behavioral models with whom to practice his social skills. The LD student typically needs both academic and behavioral assistance. One of the few positive results of No Child Left Behind is that the self-contained setting is limited to those with the most severe disabilities, while the milder disabilities are spending more time in the mainstream environment. Even those with severe disabilities are getting more regular education time.

Things have to be fairly bad for me to recommend a self-contained setting for a child. And even then, I’m going to push for some classes in the regular setting. The intention of the law is to compel school systems to consider as many accommodations as possible before modifying the curriculum. So a student should have failed in the regular setting repeatedly and even with lots of accommodations before I go to the self-contained route. And sometimes, even with failure, I’ll try to go a bit further. As Erin points out in another post, the collaborative teachers are sometimes a fry or two short of a happy meal and aren’t giving much help. This is one reason I’m looking at getting into that side of the business.

Resource is the service model that seems to be the most common. It is relatively cheap, easy to implement and does not impact LRE nearly as much as a self-contained placement. It can also have dubious value as it depends heavily on the skill of the teacher. This might be the way we go with Thomas, but I’m a bit reluctant to go from full-inclusion to the resource model. The resource setting serves many functions and purposes. It is sometimes used as a study hall, so students can get their work done. It also functions as an enrichment setting, where supplementary instruction is delivered on organization, test taking, studying and social skills. It’s the latter that they are pushing for Thomas, but I’m thinking just giving Thomas a break from the regular setting might be beneficial for him, his regular teacher and his para. So much of what I end up hearing is the result of emotional fatigue caused by having a student that is so disruptive and demands so much attention.

Collaborative classes can be used along with the resource model of service delivery. In our district, the special education teachers doing collaborative teaching are universally the most inexperienced and least trained of the lot. How the collaboration and regular teachers are paired up depends on the school. But consider the fact that it seems like the newest teachers always get the majority of mainstreamed special education students because the experienced ones have seniority. Pair them with the most inexperienced special education teachers and you can end up with the blind leading the blind. In theory, both teachers are supposed to be adding something to the environment and make it a better one for all students. In reality, it’s a bit different. I spoke with one young biology teacher who said she didn’t really want a collaborative teacher in her room because they didn’t seem to know what they were doing. And having a para was almost like having an extra student. So she handled the 10 IEP students in her class of 30 by herself. It’s teachers like her that I worry about because she’s obviously dedicated but she’s also on a fast track to burnout.

Collaborative classes can be beneficial if the two teachers can get into a real teaching groove together. It takes some work and some effort but the payoff can be significant because it can allow some students to succeed in a regular setting where they might fail otherwise. Plus, in the land of NCLB testing, this addresses those students in the “golden band” who are just failing. Science remains the hardest part of the high school graduation test and yet this is where there are the fewest HQ collaborative teachers.

Despite what I’ve said above, I’m a big fan of the collaborative model with or without resource. I think there is a lot of potential to give more access to the general curriculum for more students with this model. But it depends on the individual teachers involved. It would make more sense to me to pair a novice in one discipline with a veteran of the other just so one can learn from another.

The consultative model is basically a transition out of special education or barely staying in with accommodations only. A student being served here should have shown mastery of the grade level content in the regular classes. My youngest will probably end up here next year because he needs very little support. He might still qualify for OT services and that’s about it. Academically, he is right where he needs to be. He’s not the brilliant super-fast learner his older brother is, but he also doesn’t have all the silly interfering behaviors, either.

Most students in special education served under IDEA should be in the resource/ collaborative services. The whole concept of an alternative curriculum for students with mild disabilities is rapidly on its way out. Our school is still doing it, but I see things changing even though many teachers don’t like it. I think parents and teachers need to be fairly aggressive in moving students along to less and less restrictive environments if at all possible. In fact, I wish we had an elective or two that MY kids could participate in, even if it was just a few days a week. But the shortage of space and teachers has put us in a bit of a squeeze that way.

I don’t know if I’ve clarified anything here, but at least I’ve cleared some of my own mental back-log!


One Response to “IEP Service Options”

  1. Erin April 29, 2007 at 11:15 am #

    Thank you so much for touching on my questions. I really do appreciate that.

    Have a great week!

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