Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Join Studentsfirst.org!!!!

Michelle Rhee, former Chancellor of the Washington DC schools, has started a grassroots student advocacy organization to promote education reform with students as the focus!  No more special interests!  No more partisan politics!  If you would like to support the effort, please visit the website. The website has some great information and statistics for parents and teachers, videos, and a blog.   True education reform needs to put the focus on students first...above the teachers' unions, the politicians, and any others who get in the way of truly innovative and drastic reform efforts.  Join StudentsFirst.org!!!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Does an IEP continue through college????

One of the most often asked questions has to do with how to access disability services at the college level.    Parents and students are often confused, but they are not the only ones.  Some special educators and guidance counselors in the schools don’t know the real score either.

There are a few things to remember when it comes to college disability services.  Having an IEP or Section 504 plan in high school does not guarantee services at the post secondary level.  Colleges make their own determinations of whether or not a student has a disability.  

The process is this:
A student needs to “self-disclose” a disabling condition to the college’s disabilities services office.  When a student wants to access services, he or she needs to go and meet with the folks in the disabilities services office, discuss with them the kind of disability he/she might have, provide documentation of the disability, and request assistance.

Disabilities Services staff will then review the documentation and evaluations provided to them, and if the student qualifies as a student needing services under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the student will be offered an “accommodation plan”.

The best way to prepare your student for accessing college level services is to work with the high school team on a proper transition plan.  Make sure the courses the student is in during high school are preparing him for the rigors of college.  Then, make sure the documentation of the disability will be up to date when the student enters college (done within the last 3 years).  Also, make sure your student can speak about his strengths and challenges, and that he is well able to communicate his needs.

Help does exist at the post secondary level, but rather than the school coming to the student and asking him if he needs help, the student needs to take control of the situation, and ask for the assistance and follow through with the recommendations of the disabilities services office.

A good website to look through as a resource can be found here:
NHTI Learning Center and Disabilities Services Office Website

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Rosa's Law is in effect!

Advocates, parents, and lots of others have been talking about it for awhile now, but it finally has been passed into law.  The term "mental retardation" will be changed in the federal laws to "intellectual disability".  Currently in the NH special education rules, "mental retardation" is still the label used. Usually, it takes about two years for NH laws and rules to catch up to the federal language, so we'll see how long the change for this will take.  The federal law is being called Rosa's Law after a little girl and her family advocated for the change.  Read more here.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Social Promotion

Social promotion is one of those "hot button" issues in education.  What does it mean exactly?  Well, when  a child isn't doing well in school, and doesn't make any progress and fails classes, etc...basically doesn't have what it takes to succeed in the next grade, they should be held back to repeat the grade, right???  Wrong...not under the "social promotion" theory.  Social promotion is when we move a kiddo onto the next grade, even though they are not academically ready, so that they don't socially fall behind.....they stay with their same age peers and friends, etc.  One of the theories is that holding a student back is too emotionally scarring, and that they will be able to catch up to their peers next time around.  Although in some instances I might agree, overall, I think social promotion is a bad idea.  What is worse...staying back in second grade because you can't read, or graduating high school reading at a second grade level and having that frustration for the rest of your life????

The topic came up today in the Manchester NH Union Leader.  Apparently, nearly 13 percent.....that's right....13 percent of Hillside Middle School students were "socially promoted" to the next grade.  That means students who can't read, write, or do math at appropriate levels have just been passed along.....only to fall further and further behind.  That is a problem.........what do you think???

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Small School Trend.....Am I Missing Something?

So I read this article on Education Week  last week.  It went on to say, “Small schools have had mixed results around the country – while students are more likely to graduate, have positive relationships with teachers, and feel safer, they did no better on standardized tests than their peers at big schools. Should the small school trend continue?” Ed Week Small School Article

I am still not sure what is bad about the above statement.  So, the focus lately has been on reducing drop out rates and making sure more kids graduate….according to the above, small schools have more students that graduate.  We also know that one of the most important factors in a student’s success in school is a caring adult connection…and small schools seem to have more positive relationships between students and teachers.   And bullying and cyberbullying are other huge concerns currently in our public schools, and apparently in small schools students feel safer.  

And, we have a lot of research and evidence to show that standardized tests really don’t mean all that much, and many colleges aren’t even requiring them anymore, and according to the above, kids from small schools do as well as their peers in big schools on these tests……..so ….am I missing something?

What on earth in that statement would support NOT continuing the small school “trend”?

Of course, it is not just all about the small size.  There are going to be bad small schools, good ones and some excellent small schools.  A strong, motivated, and highly trained school staff is as important as the size of the school in my opinion. If you have both a strong faculty and small class size, it allows for more appropriate programming and individualization and personalization…..all of which leads to better results.  And when I say results….I mean much more than test scores!!!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

So, what happens after we develop an IEP???

Some people might think that after the IEP has been signed on the dotted line, the process is done, and they can wash their hands of the whole thing.  This is simply not true…..some very important things still remain in the process.  An IEP should tell us exactly what a student needs in terms of services and support.  But, another important aspect of special education is a child’s PLACEMENT……where can a child’s IEP be implemented in the most appropriate way?  It may be that a child can be in the regular classroom setting in their neighborhood school with extra support  in the classroom from a special education teacher or specialist.  Or, a child might need a more specialized program that your local school does not offer.  If that is the case, the school needs to look at what other schools in the district can provide that program, create the program themselves, or look to an out of district placement to provide it.

The law provides for a “continuum of alternative learning environments”.   This means, depending on the needs, a child could be placed anywhere from a regular classroom to a very restrictive placement  such as a residential setting.  You may have heard the word “inclusion” before……meaning that students with disabilities are fully mainstreamed and included into the regular classroom.  This is a philosophy……not a mandate.  All children with disabilities DO NOT have to be included in the regular classroom at all times no matter what.  Some people believe that inclusion is the best philosophy, and will try to fit all students into this construct.  But the law actually says that a child with a disability should be included into the regular classroom to the “maximum extent appropriate”.  For some children, full inclusion into a regular classroom might not be the most appropriate learning environment.  It might be best for a student to receive some pull out services.  Or, it might mean they need so much specialized instruction, that an alternative day placement might make the most sense.  This is exactly why the law provides for a “continuum”.

Placement is determined by the team, and should be based on what program can most appropriately fulfill the needs in the IEP for each individual child.    Placement is another step that needs consent from a parent.  You will need to sign approval for a placement decision.  This also means that a child’s placement can not be changed, without consent of the parent.  Here is a scenario for you….a child is “placed” in a regular education classroom 100% of the time with an aide.  The student has some behavioral issues, and goes to a “planning room” or “quiet space”  when they have a major outburst in class.  If that child starts being taken to this room every single day and spends  time there every single day, and is out of the regular classroom often, this could be considered a change in placement, because they are no longer spending 100% of the time in a regular classroom.  The parent would need to be notified and a meeting called, to review the IEP and make the appropriate changes.  This happens a lot, and parents need to be aware of the daily goings on of their kiddos in school, to assure that the child is receiving appropriate services according to their IEP and placement.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

It is IEP season....are you ready?

With many schools reviewing and writing new IEPs for the next school year this spring, are you ready to be an active, contributing member of the team?  Here are some tips for parents in preparing for the important meeting……

   1. Make sure you have your documentation ready to go.  Be prepared with all IEP progress checks, report cards, and any other testing information like the NECAPs etc.
   2. Review what these documents say, and make sense of them before you go to the meeting.  What do the results all mean?  Is your child making progress in a way that is measurable and functional?  Can you tell that he or she is making progress or not?
   3. Write a list of any questions that you have so that you don’t forget to ask them.
   4. Make sure that when the teachers review progress at the meeting that they are using specific examples and measurements of progress.  Just saying that “he has come a long way”  or “ she is doing great in class” doesn’t cut it.  By how much have they improved?  Has his reading level gone up ½ a year?  Can she multiply fractions or not…to what degree can she do it?  Etc…  Remember to always ask for measurable and specific examples of progress.
   5. Make sure the IEP is updated appropriately.  Present levels of performance need to reflect the year’s growth (or lack thereof), add new strengths and needs as appropriate and make sure that all goals and objectives are rewritten.  An IEP shouldn’t be the same year to year—progress is not being made if it is, signifying that the programming is not appropriate.
   6.  Do you have concerns about regression of skills over the summer, or that extra time is needed to catch up?  If so, make sure you have a discussion about Extended School Year services.  If your child will regress during the summer months without school programming, make sure you ask for specifically what you think is appropriate for your child.
   7. Remember….document, document, document.  Take your own notes from the meeting and get copies of the school’s notes.
   8. If you are uncomfortable going into a meeting alone, remember that you can bring someone with you to the meeting for support.
   9. Remember, you have 14 days to sign the new IEP.  Do not sign on the spot.  Take the document home and review it and make sure you are comfortable with it.  Have someone else look at it and give you a second opinion.

Don't be afraid to ask questions of the school team.  It is part of their job to make sure you understand what is going on and what it all means for your child.  If you have questions, let me know and I can try to help!  Good luck.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Firing Teachers?!?!?! It Might Just Work!

So, maybe it is a little drastic, and maybe it won’t hold up in court because of the union…..BUT…..it sure did get people’s attention, didn’t it?! Sure, the firing of all of the teachers at Central Falls High School in RI might seem a little like overkill, but as a constantly underperforming school, maybe a complete shake up was necessary.

If you have a school that has a majority of truly inspired, dedicated, and talented teachers, I really doubt student performance would be so bad. I think creative and dedicated administration and faculty could have pulled together and put forth the proper effort to right the ship. This, unfortunately, was clearly not the case at this particular school. I don’t think this happened because a couple of teachers were doing a poor job. It seems to me that there existed a pretty negative culture and uninspired mentality, and that in order to really get some results, drastic measures had to be taken. According to a Newsweek article, at this school, “half the students drop out of school, and proficiency in math measured by state exams stands at a pitiful 7 percent among 11th graders. Under state pressure, the local superintendent, Frances Gallo, tried to improve scores by requiring teachers to work 25 minutes longer each a day, eat lunch with students once a week, and agree to be evaluated by a third party. The teachers, who make about $75,000 a year, far more than average in this depressed town, balked. They wanted another $90 an hour. So Gallo took a brave and astonishing step: she recommended firing all 74 teachers. Her boldness was praised by Education Secretary Duncan—and supported by President Obama.” Read more at http://www.newsweek.com/id/234590/page/1

Sometimes, reality is harsh. An extra twenty five minutes, and some lunch time....really???   Maybe those teachers will renegotiate their priorities and careers. The quality teachers will return because they believe in children and want to do the hard work, but maybe the deadwood will find something else to do.

Monday, February 15, 2010

“We don’t do that here……”

This is probably a familiar story….it goes something like this…

The IEP team is sitting around the table developing the IEP. The parent brings up the fact that their child really needs some pull out type, one on one instruction in reading, or small group instruction with a reading specialist or something similar. The case manager, and even sometimes the person authorized to sign for services who should know better, says “Oh, well, we don’t do that here”.

This comment always makes my jaw hit the floor.

First of all, if a child’s needs indicate that some particular service is appropriate, that particular service should be included in the IEP when the IEP is under development. That is NOT the time for a school to discuss “placement” (think program-by even mentioning that they do not offer that there). IEP development comes first. Once the IEP is agreed upon, then it is the team’s job to look at the needed services and determine the best way to implement those services.

If a school does not have a particular program or service, then they need to do one of two things……find a placement/program that does provide it, or…..create it and provide it at their school.

Many times the school will try to tell you that they don’t offer any pull out services because they are a full inclusion school. They will try to make it seem that full inclusion is the law. But the reality of the matter is that full inclusion is a philosophy. And while admirable, and possibly appropriate for some kids, inclusion is not appropriate for all kids. The law says that a school is to provide a Free and Appropriate Public Education in the Least Restrictive Environment. In other words, the school needs to educate students with disabilities with their nondisabled peers to the maximum extent APPROPRIATE. It does not say that a child with a disability must be included at all times!

This is why the law provides for a “continuum of alternative learning environments”- everything from a regular classroom to full time residential placement or hospitalization is included in this continuum.

Bottom line…do not let a school try to convince you that a one size fits all approach is what is best for your child. The team needs to look at the INDIVIDUAL child’s needs and create an individualized program to fit those needs.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Transitions are Tough!!!

Okay, so this isn’t necessarily about special education, per se, but in a way it does relate. Let’s talk about transitions. There are a number of transitions that take place in the lives of children. Going from home to daycare, entering kindergarten, going to a new school, or moving homes and schools, are all transitions that children face at one time or another.

Being an educator, and having dealt with personal change in my own life, I always felt that I understood transition and change pretty well…. until an experience my own family had recently, involving a rather abrupt school transition. To make a long story short, the school we had chosen for our son, which we loved for its small environment, personalization, caring and thoughtful teachers, and its great admiration and utilization of the outdoors, abruptly shuttered its doors the day after the holiday break. This closure forced 70 children and their families to find new school and daycare placements basically overnight.

As angry and disillusioned as I am, I am hurting for my young son who is now working on a month of trying to transition to a new school program mid year. He is quiet and shy, slow to warm up to new people and new environments. Once he does acclimate, he does great! He is always well loved by teachers and peers, and succeeds in most things he does in terms of school. The abruptness of this transition, though, has really affected his ability to cope. He is trying to deal with lots of anxiety, tears, and lack of confidence, while trying to break into an already well formed second grade class in a much bigger school. Although we, his parents, chose the new school carefully in hopes it would match our son’s personality and learning style, every morning starts anew with tears and the mantra of “I don’t want to go to school”.

So, we as parents, force him to go each day, leaving quickly at drop off so as to not prolong the agony for either side, because we have been assured by his teacher that he is fine during the day. We have put our trust in her and this new school, as it should be, but it has been difficult since the last school we trusted crushed our confidence.

Instead of providing answers to questions in this blog, I am looking for answers. I am trying desperately to be positive and help my son overcome his fears and anxieties. For instance, really focusing on having him breathe deeply when he gets upset, and to tell himself that he can do this….he has before, he can again. And telling him that before he knows it, he will feel a part of this new school, and that we love him no matter what and just want him to try his best. But for now, it remains difficult, and I keep uttering the mantra “this too shall pass”. I also think about my son’s friends who have gone on to other schools, and how they and their families are coping and grieving, what to many of us would see as a “loss”. I am hopeful that, eventually, one day, I and all the other parents will be able to say, that although difficult, this transition led to bigger and better things!

It also reminds me to remember, in my professional life, how very difficult transition is for children and young adults, especially for those with disabilities. This is why an IEP has a “transition plan” component…..to give the team and the family time to plan for the upcoming transition to the adult world. Unfortunately, my son’s former school did not give us this time to plan, which is, I think, one reason it has been so difficult!

If nothing else, this experience has made me that much wiser and thoughtful in both my professional and personal life, and hopefully I can use the knowledge gained to assist others in the future.

Monday, January 18, 2010

English Language Learners and Mandated Assessments.....A Good Question

The Union Leader carried a news story recently that touches on an interesting point. Should students who are new to the United States, within a year or two, who are English Language Learners, be required to take the federally and state mandated assessments? Obviously, when a child who is an immigrant or a refugee comes into this country and into our school districts, they have many things to deal with…least of all learning the language. A new culture, a new environment, new rules, new friends, etc…all on top of learning how to communicate in a new language, is a very large burden to bear. So, should these students be required to take the NECAP tests in their first or second year of living here? It is a valid question. Obviously, they will not do well if they can not read English. When they score poorly, it reflects badly on the district and when the district doesn’t make AYP (adequate yearly progress), it makes the district continue in its in need of improvement status. On the other hand, the results of these tests allow the district and the state to see how students are doing, and allows officials to place more emphasis and resources on the groups of students that need the most assistance. Typically, those groups include special education students and English language learners. Read the article here and let me know what you think.