IEP Writing 101

Just to give a little background on myself. I am a graduate of James Madison University (JMU; and former student of Dr. Jen Newton)! I remember after my first day of her class, I sat down with her one-on-one and we probably spent a good 90 minutes talking about educational assessments and problems with special education in America! I taught special education at the elementary level for three years, and have been working as an educational consultant at the Shenandoah Valley Child Development Clinic, located at JMU in Virginia, coming up on five years. One aspect of my current job is to review educational records, which definitely includes IEPs!

Unfortunately, more often than not, I run into a lot of poorly written IEPs, in the areas of the PLOP (Present Level of Performance), goal writing, identifying appropriate accommodations, and determining services. So let’s explore each section one at a time, but really focus on goals!

PLOP

Although the PLOP is the child’s current functioning, there is a section for history. Personally, I found the more information I put in the PLOP, the less I had to consult a child’s cumulative folder for past records. In addition, everything was in one place for the parents, the general education teacher, and most importantly myself; thus, I could consult a single document for the child’s full academic career. When you first do it, it is laborious, but once accomplished, all of your data is in one place, and it really helps for everyone to see a holistic history of the child you are supporting! Plus, once you have it in, it transfers over year to year (with online IEP programs), so you only have to type it up once!

I list all of the child’s cognitive and achievement scores from ALL eligibility assessments. You should at least have the most recent eligibility, but I find being able to see ALL previous helps me show progress across multiple years. I also include all historical Standards Of Learning (SOL; Virginia state assessment) scores for all years, and the most recent data from PALS as well as other intervention data, such as AIMSWeb. You should also include a history of other interventions (i.e., Title I, ESL, afterschool tutoring, etc.) the child has received throughout their career, including the names of any specific programs used (i.e., Wilson, LLI, etc.).

If you are a first year teacher, a lot of the information regarding previous interventions can be found in the cumulative file, but also asking previous teachers of the student as well as your school’s instructional coach or intervention specialist can be helpful. I find it very pertinent to know what the child has and has not been doing in terms of past interventions. You do not want to waste time doing something someone else has already done or is currently doing already! This is why documentation and communicating with other resource teachers is vital and necessary!

Your intervention should directly match the student’s needs! For example, if a child has a decoding issue and is struggling to sound out words, doing Leveled-Literacy Intervention (LLI) is not going to help. The child would need a structured literacy program, such as Wilson Reading or Orton-Gillingham. This seems like common sense, but I see this mismatch very often with many schools trying a “one size fits all” approach. Special education is specialized instruction for each individual.

Identifying effective interventions for your students’ needs will require some research on different strategies, so check out “What Works Clearinghouse” to get an overview on interventions you are considering, and the research behind their effectiveness.

GOALS

Let’s be honest, goal writing can be difficult, and laborious, I’ve experienced it myself! How many goals do I need? Do I need a goal for every single academic weakness? How will I track progress on the goal? Can I combine everything into one large goal?

The first step would be looking at the child’s most recent eligibility data. This is really helpful if the child has been tested for the first time, because looking at the scores, you would be able to know what areas are needed. Here’s some data (note: Average = 85-115; Below Average = 70-84; Low = 69 & Below):

– Reading Decoding = 69

– Reading Comprehension = 84

– Listening Comprehension = 100

– Spelling = 60

– Written Expression = 90

– Math Problem Solving = 95

– Math Calculation = 95

Clearly, I would need goals for decoding and spelling as they are the weakest areas. But what about reading comprehension, which fell one point into the Below Average range. I can see when the story is read to the child (listening comprehension), they are strong. In this specific case, I would focus my goals on decoding and spelling as of right now, because they are likely what is impacting this child’s understanding of what they are actually reading. In addition, the child is going to be getting comprehension work during guided reading with their general education teacher. I can always add in a comprehension goal later once decoding skills have improved.

So I have reading decoding and spelling at a 69 and 60 respectively, so I know the child is struggling and I need a goal. But what areas of decoding and spelling are needed? You can go look at the specific protocols to get a rough idea, but this is where other data sources are important. For example, PALS data (or a Ganske or Words their Way spelling inventory) would be able to give you more insight to a starting point (do they know sight words? CVC patterns? blends/digraphs? long vowels?). Never underestimate the value of informal data with helping you determine your starting point with goal writing. I have read records where reviewing the previous intervention assessments and progress monitoring data gave me enough knowledge prior to my own assessment that I was usually able to predict what I will see myself with that child. I have had three fourth graders recently, all of them similar to the data example I provided above. In all three cases, they all struggled with long vowel patterns (i.e. silent /e/, double vowels, ambiguous vowels, etc.), and in all three cases, when I reviewed historical informal data (in this case PALS data), this was a historically documented issue going back to first grade with each child struggling with long vowel patterns each year of the PALS spelling section. The school had the information, but were not matching it to the correct intervention! Interventions MUST match needs!

Let’s take our data and figure out a goal. We will use my fourth-graders as examples. Let’s say our 69 and 60 scores were the result of a deficit with all long vowel patterns. Should I write a goal for each type of long vowel pattern and for decoding and spelling?

Goal 1: Billy will improve his decoding of silent /e/ long vowel patterns.

Goal 2: Billy will improve his decoding of double vowel long vowel patterns.

Goal 3: Billy will improve his decoding of ambiguous vowel long vowel patterns.

Goal 4: Billy will improve his spelling of silent /e/ long vowel patterns.

Goal 5: Billy will improve his spelling of double vowel long vowel patterns.

Goal 6: Billy will improve his spelling of ambiguous vowel long vowel patterns.

Yikes! You can see how goals add up quickly if we are not careful! So let’s try to be a bit more succinct.

Revision 1

Goal 1: Billy will improve his decoding/spelling of silent /e/ long vowel patterns.

Goal 2: Billy will improve his decoding/spelling of double vowel long vowel patterns.

Goal 3: Billy will improve his decoding/spelling of ambiguous vowel long vowel patterns.

We cut it in half! Let’s try again!

Revision 2

Goal 1: Billy will improve his decoding of silent /e/ long vowel patterns, double vowel long vowel patterns, and ambiguous vowel long vowel patterns.

Goal 2: Billy will improve his spelling of silent /e/ long vowel patterns, double vowel long vowel patterns, and ambiguous vowel long vowel patterns.

Getting closer!

Revision 3

Goal 1: Billy will improve his decoding/spelling of long vowel patterns including: silent /e/, double vowels, and ambiguous vowels.

Look at how our one goal now incorporates everything with our original six goals without increasing all the extra time of goal writing. We could then put individual objectives for each pattern (silent /e/, double, and ambiguous) if you wanted to break it down more specifically, but consult your special education administrators on your individual school district’s policy on this. Personally, objectives would only be necessary for this goal if the percentage of mastery was going to be different between the three types of long vowel patterns. For example, if you wanted Billy to learn silent /e/ with 100% accuracy, double vowels with 95% accuracy, and ambiguous vowels with 90% accuracy. If you want the same amount of accuracy achieved, then objectives would not be necessary in this case.

I see this “mistake” of too many goals a lot in all subject areas.

Goal 1: Billy will comprehend fiction texts at grade level.

Goal 2: Billy will comprehend non-fiction texts at grade level.

Revised: Billy will comprehend fiction and non-fiction texts at grade level.

Goal 1: Billy will improve mastery of addition facts.

Goal 2: Billy will improve mastery of subtraction facts.

Goal 3: Billy will improve mastery of multiplication facts.

Goal 4: Billy will improve mastery of division facts.

Revised: Billy will improve mastery of math facts for all operations (addition, subtraction multiplication, division).

However, this only takes care of trying to combine our goals, so we do not walk out of an IEP with 14 goals, (which yes I recently read in a child’s records, and it was due to these same mistakes!) Combining is fine, as long as when you instruct and track your own data you separate out each skill!

But our goal is not ready yet for our IEP. We need to make it measurable, this is the most crucial step in IEP goal writing. How is anyone supposed to know if the goal has been reached if there is no measure included to identify the outcome? Again, seems like common sense, but it does not always happen.

When talking about measurability of a goal, three pieces need to be included: the amount of accuracy that will be achieved, the frequency of which it will occur, and how we will collect data to demonstrate the achievement.

Let’s return to our decoding/spelling goal from earlier:

Goal 1: Billy will improve his decoding/spelling of long vowel patterns including: silent /e/, double vowels, and ambiguous vowels.

Three questions emerge:

1. How much will Billy improve?

2. How consistently (i.e. frequently) will Billy demonstrated his improvement? This should include number of trials as well as over what period of time.

3. In what way will we collect data to show Billy’s achievement?

Let’s revise this goal with each of the three questions:

Revised goal – Question 1: Billy will improve his decoding/spelling of long vowel patterns including: silent /e/, double vowels, and ambiguous vowels with 90% accuracy.

We know we want Billy to demonstrate 90% accuracy. I personally was taught your bare minimum percentage should be 75%, and that 80-85% is a better minimum. We need to establish high expectations for our students! However, with a child that may require more time for mastery, that is where we could include objectives where they reach 50% mastery, then 60% mastery, and slowly build their achievement over a long period of time if necessary. Some children need a more specific breakdown of mastery levels, but others do not. It depends on the individuality of each child.

Revised goal – Question 2: Billy will improve his decoding/spelling of long vowel patterns including: silent /e/, double vowels, and ambiguous vowels with 90% accuracy in four out of five observations each week over a six week period.

Let’s look at this one and think about it. If we had just put four out of five observations, and left out the rest, think about semantics. Once we see Billy achieve 90% in four out of five observations a single time, we could technically say the goal is mastered. But we know as teachers, just because a child demonstrates mastery a single time, does not mean it is solidly mastered consistently over a specific time frame. Imagine how quickly the goal would be achieved if we only did it one time! That’s why the rest is so vital. We are communicating the frequency to ensure mastery is generalized.

Revised goal – Question 3: Billy will improve his decoding/spelling of long vowel patterns including: silent /e/, double vowels, and ambiguous vowels with 90% accuracy in four out of five observations each week over a six week period as collected through a teacher checklist and informal reading/spelling inventories.

Now we have included how we are going to collect our data, let’s talk about it. You can choose whatever data collection method words best for you as well as the skill being taught. For example, an informal reading inventory is not appropriate for collecting data on a math goal!

It pays to be non-descriptive!  It ensures, that as the teacher, you can figure out which method of data collection is best for you, and appropriate for what you are measuring. For example, a teacher checklist could be an actual list of words we want Billy to read/spell accurately, or just tallying when he makes errors with each pattern with level reading passages. An informal inventory could be a running record, PALS quick check, or an updated Ganske. Keeping your methods non-descriptive allows you more autonomy for your data method collection. The most important aspect is not which specific tool you utilize, but that you are collecting data consistently and fairly to show that your instruction is effective, and the child is making progress towards his/her goal! There is no need to add extra measures of tracking data, if you already have some established in your current teaching. However, teacher observation alone should never be your only measure for recording data for two reasons: (1) observation is not tangible if you do not record anything and (2) multiple measures should be used for each goal to support achievement.

Note: You would also put a time frame for when the goal is achieved, likely one year from the IEP date (i.e., By August 2020, Billy will…); however, most online IEP programs already have that programmed in to save you time. Check with your district’s special education administrator if your IEP program does this or not.

When talking about measurability of a goal, three pieces need to be included: the amount of accuracy that will be achieved, the frequency of which it will occur, and how we will collect data to demonstrate the achievement. Think about the criteria for measurability, and look at some of these IEP goals below and consider what is missing to become a stronger goal.

Goal: Billy will interact and respond to peers appropriately in 75% of observations.

Not only are specific levels of measurability missing, but in this case, we should also define “appropriately” either by saying what it is or is not (not cursing, not hitting, etc.)

Goal: Billy will interact with peers within the instructional setting (small group and/or partner) five consecutive observations sessions within a nine week period as measured by teacher observation.

Another case of defining better for semantic purposes, if Billy only has to interact with peers one could interpret this as either positive or negative interactions. So, technically, Billy could hit another child and according to the above goal he is “interacting” with peers.

Here are some others (and yes these are real IEP goals that I have read):

Goal: Billy will ask a teacher for a break prior to demonstrating negative behaviors in six out of 10 opportunities weekly.

Goal: Billy, when give a prompt, will construct a strong topic sentence and closing sentence.

Goal: Billy will master 80% of grade level SOLs by the end of the school year.

Goal: Billy will improve reading skills by engaging in sustained silent reading for 20 minutes in English class, measured by earning 10/10 points weekly for reading participation grade.

ACCOMMODATIONS

The biggest rule of thumb when it comes to accommodations is identifying the difference between a “need” and a “benefit.” Just because a child will benefit from a specific accommodation, does not necessarily mean they “need” it. We are trying to level the playing field, not provide an advantage!

In addition, certain accommodations are not necessary in an IEP since they are available to ALL students whether they have a disability or not. For example look at this document and scroll down to the final page.

How often have you seen “small group testing” as an accommodation in an IEP, yet ANY child can receive a small group testing environment?

Note: This applies to students in Virginia, contact your respective state’s Department of Education for information about standardized testing accommodations.

Another important aspect is that an accommodation should be connected to an IEP goal in some way.

For example, with Billy’s scores of 60 and 69 on decoding and spelling, then it would be beneficial for him to receive read aloud on assignments/assessments, because we also have a reading goal, and would not want his lack of reading decoding skills to impact his ability to demonstrate his knowledge of non-reading content (i.e., math, science, social studies, etc.).

However, I personally have read multiple IEPs where a child received a read aloud accommodation for assessments, but had no reading goal, no services related to reading, and their data showed they were reading on grade level. This would be an example of providing an advantage over leveling the playing field.

I often see children being given the accommodation “dictate to scribe” without a writing goal or fine motor goal in their IEP. If we are providing an accommodation, we need to include a goal to show how we are trying to improve this skill through a goal. By just handing out any accommodation to a student without providing them instruction to improve their skill deficit, we are creating learned helplessness.

SERVICE TIMES

Service times, like accommodations, need to be connected to a goal in some way. Inclusion service time is a little different, because we can choose any general classroom to serve in (i.e., a child with behavior goals can have those skills taught in any classroom whether it be reading, math, art, music, etc.); however, with resource service times, we need to be specific in which skills we are addressing during that time.

I recently came upon an IEP where a child was receiving 250 minutes weekly of resource services for reading, and receiving a read aloud accommodation. What was shocking was the child had no reading goal!!! So what was the child doing during this specific time with reading, since there was no goal to identify what skills were to be taught?

Let’s say Susie is a child eligible for the category of other health impairment (OHI) due to ADHD. She has two behavior goals related to her staying seated and staying on task as well as a writing goal to work on organization of thoughts and also giving her an accommodation of blank graphic organizer templates on writing tasks. We want to utilize a blend of inclusion and resource services. When identifying our service times, we need to make sure we are noting the specific goals we are addressing during those times. Here is what we are proposing:

Inclusion – 60 minutes weekly

Resource – 30 minutes weekly

A lot of questions come into play with what exactly is the special education teacher doing with Susie during these times frames. A better way would to state this:

Inclusion (staying seated/staying on-task) – 60 minutes weekly

Resource (writing) – 30 minutes weekly

Now we understand which skills are going to be addressed, where it will be, and for how long. By matching the goals with respective services times, transparency is increased. This allows the teacher to demonstrate accountability for Susie’s progress by communicating when and where Susie will be receiving her specialized instruction with her respective goals.

Important Items to Remember

1. Know your students’ academic history in terms of previous interventions implemented.

2. Organize your students’ formal and informal data all in one place to identify areas of need.

3. Match your intervention to each student’s area of need.

4. Combine relevant skills together to decrease the number of overall IEP goals.

5. Be sure your IEP goals are measurable in terms of level of accuracy achieved, frequency of how often this accuracy will be demonstrated, and the data collection tools necessary.

6. Accommodations should level the playing field, not provide an advantage.

7. Service times should state what goals are being addressed and in what setting.

8. A child’s data, IEP goals, accommodations, and service times should all connect together. If all four pieces are not present, then ask yourself what is missing or why including it is necessary!

Simultaneous Renewal: An Inclusive Approach to Collaboration and Teaming

We have a new article out today.  I hope you’ll check it out!

Abstract:  Collaboration goes beyond direct service provision. It is critical for effective personnel preparation and professional development as well as high-quality program implementation to close the gap between research and practice in early childhood contexts. Simultaneous renewal provides a framework for continuity from teacher preparation, inclusive teaching practices, and professional development to engage all stakeholders in teaming processes that promote child outcomes and improve teacher practice simultaneously.

Individualized Education Programs

We’re kicking off a new series on IEPs!

Starting with the basics to ensure we have a mutual understanding of what IEPs are and are not.

The IEP is a legal document and every component of special education (beginning with the fact that it exists at all) comes through litigation and advocacy. We are accountable for the things we agree to and despite the fact that oversight and accountability is severely lacking, we, as professionals, must enter into IEPs with integrity and good faith.

IEPs are specific to the child. The tendency is to write goals (more on goal writing later) that are specific to the person responsible for the goal. So we have a “speech goal,” two “OT goals,” and two “academic goals.” We get it . . . BUT is that functional? Does speech operate in isolation from academics? Does OT matter if it isn’t applied to a skill of independence or context? The objective would be for us to build collaborative, functional, shared goals supporting the child’s access to the general curriculum.

Remember, an IEP is not a curriculum. It’s a plan for the services and supports the child needs to be success accessing the general curriculum. Yes, we offer adapted curriculum to some kids but an IEP in and of itself is not an adapted curriculum.

It’s also not a behavior plan.

When I teach IEPs, I have the students work through writing one on themselves. On their present levels, current needs, what supports and services would help them be successful. It helps to personalize the language we use, to focus on strengths, to shut down the deficit framing, because when it’s time to write one on a child, we need to see ourselves and the IEP as a support, not a fixer.

What questions do you have about IEPs?

We can’t get into goal writing without working on our PLAAFP/PLOP/PLP writing. All good goals start as clearly written PLAAFPs.

The words “functional performance” are important here. Working together as a team (WITH families) to ensure we’re addressing functional needs rather than isolated skills is truly the heart of the IEP.

I get lots of messages about how, yes, that’s ideal but not practical or what happens in practice. And I know. However, when we know better, we can do better and advocate for best practices. Here’s to the ones shaking it up out there!!

Lots of requests for goal writing strategies so we are working on some resources for that but in the meantime, what are IEP goals? Are they written for specific academic skills based on assessment data and deficits? Or are they written for providing the missing foundational skills the individual child needs to gain access to the curriculum? This is exactly why general ed teachers need to know about goals, IEP specific data collection, and accommodations and modifications. Supporting learners is all of our work!

This gives the IDEA charge for goals. The words here are important.

IDEA has four purposes. 1) equality of opportunity 2) full participation 3) independent living, 4) economic self sufficiency

It helps to keep the big picture in mind when writing goals.

More on this to come but for now, what have you found helpful in writing meaningful goals?

 

IDEA Disability Categories

Remember, we talked about the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the 6 principles of IDEA.  Now, we’re going to add the legal definitions of each of the 13 disability categories with a little info for each.

 

 

 

Autism is considered a clinical diagnosis. It is determined by a team of qualified professionals generally including a developmental pediatrician, psychologists, and/or neurologists.

If learners present with communication impairments, difficulties in making and sustaining relationships, sensory sensitivities, repetitive or nonproductive motor movements, they may meet the eligibility criteria for autism.

Using terms like low functioning and high functioning communicate more about how the learner’s autism impacts those around them rather than how the learner with autism experiences their autism. Changing our language to reflect the amount of support learners need in specific areas is more beneficial in meeting the learner’s unique needs.

Some states/districts allow school assessment teams to make eligibility determinations of autism without a medical/clinical team assessment.

The needs of a learner with autism are unique to the child themselves. Presuming competence, using the child’s interests to provoke engagement, and putting the child’s strengths in the forefront are critical components of supporting and teaching kids with autism.

Deaf-blindness is considered a low incidence disability as about .03% of those served in special education are eligible under this category.

Approximately half of those .03% have Usher Syndrome. Each child has their own unique combination of hearing and vision loss. It’s not necessary to experience total vision and/or total hearing loss to be eligible in this category.

Strategies will utilize touch cues, assistive technology, Braille, screen readers, TDD with Braille, and more!

The American Association of the Deaf-Blind is an excellent resource!

Deafness is it’s own IDEA category – separate from hearing impairment because the strengths, needs, values, culture, interventions, and decisions of Deaf children are unique. Families engage in complex decision making when raising (D)deaf children and professionals must partner with families and honor their decisions and priorities in terms of language, medical interventions, and educational goals. 

 

Let’s take a look at this category carefully, shall we?

I know it’s wordy! It’s important to see the words included in the law’s definition – and those NOT included.

Emotional disturbance (ED) is an umbrella term. Many many medical and psychological diagnoses qualify for services and supports in this category. Anxiety disorders (🙋🏽‍♀️), eating disorders, depression, mood disorders such as bipolar disorder, conduct disorders such as oppositional defiance disorder, and the rare childhood onset psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia.

This category is often overapplied in particular to black and brown children and to children living in poverty. The characteristics of children with ED (hoping this category is renamed very soon!) are characteristics exhibited by most children at points along the developmental continuum – the difference for learners with ED is the persistence over a long period of time.

We are challenged with considering the WHY before rushing to an ED determination. Highly qualified child psychologists and mental health experts are necessary partners in determining ED as a primary category.

This is an example of when educators wield great power over the lives of young children. We must be sure we are using that power for the good of the child focused on services and supports for the child’s success.

Why is hearing impairment its own category? Because hearing is COMPLEX!

There are a variety of ways in which hearing can be impaired – conductive hearing loss, sensorineural hearing loss, mixed, and central hearing disorders are all types of hearing loss.

And the extent to which a child’s education is impacted by their loss is complex and unique to the child!

Sound is measured by loudness (decibels) and frequency (hertz). Hearing impairment can occur in just one or both as well as in one or both ears. Do you know we have two ears to allow us to locate sound in space? Loss in one ear makes it very difficult to tell where sound is coming from!

Loss is described as slight, mild, moderate, severe, or profound based on how well a person can hear and differentiate sounds at intensities most common in speech.

Services and supports vary so never assume that one child with a hearing impairment who used an FM system means the next child with a hearing impairment will!

About 7% of kids receive services and supports under the category of intellectual disability. This (like all?!) category is also complicated because there are some genetic disorders, issues during pregnancy, birth complications, and health conditions that result in intellectual disabilities. Background information coupled with multiple means of assessment in cognitive and adaptive development provide the data necessary for eligibility in this category.

Developmental delay (or significant developmental delay in some states) provides an eligibility category to serve and support young kids before age 8-9. This gives time for loads of evidence based intervention before determination of an intellectual disability.

Due to the highly biased and problematic nature of intelligence testing (IQ tests), we have the responsibility to be aware of how kids may be underperforming on assessments for reasons unrelated to their cognitive abilities. Multiple means of assessment in a variety of modes and environments are critical. If we fail to provide a child with a highly qualified teacher and an evidence based curriculum, we cannot make a determination of ID.

Kids with intellectual disabilities can and want to contribute to and be a part of your classroom and school community. Meaningful inclusion is critical. Learn as much as you can about ID and about the individual learners in your classroom and school. Chunking, task analysis, and extended time for learning and engagement are just a few of the many strategies teachers use effectively with kids with ID. Partner with special educators to meaningfully support and include kids with intellectual disabilities in your classrooms and community. Everyone benefits when we do.

 When it’s not possible or reasonable to determine a primary eligibility criteria, IDEA gives us the “multiple disabilities” category. The key to this category is that the combination of two or more eligibility categories are causing the student to have significant educational needs.

Every single kid in this category is unique. This is an eligibility determination only. Now it’s time to learn about all the strengths and needs your learner has!

**story time**
When I was a first semester/first year faculty member in my very first tenure track position out of my doc program, I was teaching in an inclusive early childhood program. A colleague asked me to come in to her course and present on how to include “kids in wheelchairs and whatever.”

This is an extremely low incidence category for PK-12 because remember a couple of things. 1) the child’s education must be adversely affected by the disability. 2) we have ADA and Section 504 of the Rehab Act to cover environmental access issues and limitations 3) wheelchairs and walkers and standers and all the amazing accommodations we have available to give kids access to the curriculum, to their friends, and to their environment.
Less than 1% of kids receive services and supports under IDEA in this category. It is more frequently a concomitant category in the multiple disabilities category.

I asked the class how they would welcome and include a child who uses a wheelchair to access their world. They said the right things – ensure tables are the right height, adequate space between tables, accessible supplies, books, etc. Then I said physical inclusion is not meaningful inclusion and that disabilities that affect a child’s educational opportunities are rarely ones we can see. Ensuring every kid has access to their educational environment is only one of three critical components of inclusion (the other two are participation and supports).

It’s another umbrella term for a number of medical concerns and needs. This one is tricky because the diagnosis of one of the named disabilities or disorders does NOT ensure services and supports under IDEA (remember – it has to adversely affect the child’s education) AND a diagnosis other than the ones named within the law COULD result in services and supports under IDEA. Totally clear, right?

Let’s use ADHD as an example since we’re probably all familiar with it. Child is diagnosed with ADHD. Child is achieving as expected in school, on assessments, and showing adequate growth over time. Does the child qualify for services and supports under IDEA?

It’s usually not that easy but in this clean example, no. If the child needs more breaks, some environmental supports built in, a 504 plan is a better option. This child’s education is not adversely affected.

There are also medical diagnoses not stated that may fit under this category – mood disorders such as bipolar disorder. How do we determine if a mood disorder like bipolar disorder should be categorized under OHI or ED?

OHI allows us to serve and support kids who are experiencing a variety of health and medical needs. It does not mean we HAVE to qualify them under IDEA. Remember – adversely affects the child’s educational performance.

Say it again – adversely affects the child’s educational performance.

Speaking of umbrella terms . . .

First, specific learning disability does not include learning problems that are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor disabilities, of intellectual disability, of emotional disturbance, or of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage.

That last one is important.

There’s so much to say on SLD, more than we can say here, but know that the discrepancy model (significant difference between achievement and ability) is no longer used and that kids no longer need to fail in order to get support. Eligibility determination can be made through the RTI/MTSS process.

The lack of an appropriate evidence based curriculum or highly qualified teacher cannot be a determining factor in determining if a child has a SLD. Nor is learning English as a second language.

The word SPECIFIC is important too. When we say, “she has a learning disability” we are failing to communicate specific needs we can support. SLD is broad and encompassing category but kids served in this category have SPECIFIC learning and intervention needs.

Speech language impairment is the second most prevalent category under IDEA! (Do you know which is THE most prevalent?)

Communication is critical! No matter how kids do it – words, pictures, gestures, signs, apps, assistive technology, a mixture of all, communication is everything. Make your SLP your best friend and learn with them!

There is no right way to communicate. Whatever works for the child to get across their wants and needs, use it! Keep it always and readily available if it’s a device or a picture book. Not just for direct instruction or teaching time but always! Keep kids voices at their fingertips.

“Traumatic brain injury applies to open or closed head injuries resulting in impairments in one or more areas, such as cognition; language; memory; attention; reasoning; abstract thinking; judgment; problem-solving; sensory, perceptual, and motor abilities; psychosocial behavior; physical functions; information processing; and speech. Traumatic brain injury does not apply to brain injuries that are congenital or degenerative, or to brain injuries induced by birth trauma” (Sec 300.8(c)(12)

The key here is ACQUIRED. This category is specifically for kids who acquire brain injuries after birth. TBI range from mild to severe and the effects of the injury are unique to the individual.

Concussions are traumatic brain injuries.

Keep in mind that the emotional trauma of such an injury is also affecting the child. We can’t just focus on academic and behavioral supports but also emotional supports for navigating the world post-injury.

EVEN WITH CORRECTION

Kids served in this category account for less than 0.5% of kids receiving special education services and supports. It’s referred to as a “low incidence” disability because of how infrequently it occurs. This is important because if you are a teacher educator asking students to create modifications and/or accommodations for kids with specific disabilities and you use visual impairment, TBI, and a child who uses a wheelchair as your target children, you’re doing it wrong.

Kids with visual impairments, including blindness, have unique mobility and orientation needs and skills. Use your resources! Learn from mobility and orientation experts on how to set up your classroom routines in ways that include and support independence for your learner.

Additionally, visual impairments are widely variable – people experience vision in a variety of ways. So, again, teacher educators, stop using blindfold simulations and sighted guide simulations as that is ineffective and inaccurate in representing the experience of impaired vision.

Learn from the child and family! Ask! Ask more! Use color and shade and all the cool adaptations the mobility and orientation experts have available!

This is our 13th and final IDEA category. I know it hasn’t been super exciting but it’s critical we get this right. It’s the work of ALL educators to support and include kids with disabilities in our schools and communities.

What should we talk about next?

Make Parenting Great Again!

Parenting has changed, huh?

Let’s see . . . take me back . . . when was parenting “great”?  Was it in the early 1900s when kids were working, earning?  Was it before child labor laws and child welfare laws?  Was it when many kids didn’t persist past 8th grade?  When teachers were simply high school graduates themselves with no specialized training?  Was that the time we should aspire to return to?

Or was it post-WWII when families were adjusting to the industrialization of America and women in the workforce?  Or was parenting great when moms stayed at home in “traditional” gender roles with men coming home to dinner on the table and quiet children?  Is that your image of when parenting was great?  When we didn’t have compulsory education for all kids so many simply did not attend and no one cared?

Was parenting great in the 60s, 70s, 80s when kids like me were raised on TV, parents who smoked in the house and in the car, and largely ignored us?  We didn’t wear seat belts, no one read to us or played with us?  Yes, we left our house from sun up to sun down but do you have any idea what was happening to us when we were banned from our houses for that idyllic childhood you so romanticize?  Was that when parenting was great?

Remind me how parenting has changed for the worse?  Remind me when it was so great?  Families have ALWAYS struggled in this country.  Kids have long been neglected and abused.  Generational poverty and making ends meet is a struggle for far too many.

Now parents are TOO involved or not involved enough.  Very rarely just the right amount of involvement, apparently?  What motorized device are parents today?  Are they helicopters or lawnmowers?  Oh wait is it tiger?  It’s hard to keep all the categorizations of ways in which parents aren’t doing it right straight.  Maybe . . . just maybe . . . we could stop creating these flawed and insulting categories and start partnering with the families we have.

Don’t tell me parenting has changed.  It is incredibly hard to make it in this world and teachers, who are also working side hustles and second jobs to make ends meet, must be partners with families and communities.  We don’t make progress when we demonize each other.  Fight the systems.  Fight the policies.  Not each other.

Making Social/Emotional Education a Priority

The first year I taught kindergarten—my first year out of college—I had two classroom parents die.  Another child would barricade himself in the bathroom and refuse to leave when his parents arrived.  And I tried to restrain a five year old girl with a seated bear hug from behind only to have her drag me across the carpeted floor when she found out her father was being released from jail.  I started questioning my career choice.  Not because it was hard—it’s supposed to be hard.  I knew the hours they spent at school were the one constant in their lives. But what about the 22 year old who was standing in front of them?  Was I enough?  Could I be enough?

While the child who lost his mother chanted my name calling me an asshole from the office, I knew I couldn’t give up.  I didn’t have any answers. Heck, I didn’t even have a clue where to start.  All I knew was this:  these kids needed someone in their corner.  They needed someone to show up day after day and love them no matter what.

My own childhood was challenging.  Much like the kids I would teach years later, I was carrying secrets.  Big, emotional secrets.  Secrets and feelings that I couldn’t understand or share as an adult.  How could I expect the children in front of me put words to what was happening in their lives.

I wish I could say I changed things that day.  I wish I could say I made things better for the kids in my class.  I know I tried.  But I didn’t have the experience, the education, or the tools my first year.  Not the second year or the third year either.  Let’s be honest.  It’s been 20 years and I’m still finding my way.

The educational powers that be have felt it necessary to push curriculum standards on our youngest learners.  I have a notebook of standards my littles are expected to learn.  None of them have to do with the social/emotional learning they need most.

If we are going to make school a safe place for our students, we have to start with making it a place where they and talk and explore freely.  Children don’t come to school knowing how to do this.  These skills have to be taught.  These skills have to be modeled.  Time has to be given to our students to practice these skills.

Social/emotional understanding and education has always been important to me, but it became the focus of my classroom two years ago.  There has been a tremendous difference in my kids.  Below are some of the changes I made in my classroom.

–Classroom Meetings Daily.  Classroom meetings have been a part of our school-wide anti-bullying program for years.  The requirement was once a week.  My class has a meeting daily.  It’s a chance for us to check in on the day.  Was there something I missed?  We also role play situations they may encounter, learning to put words with what we are feeling and what we can do to control feelings, yell and tell, putting a lid on feelings while we get help,–the list goes on and on.

–Worry Jar.  I tell my kids it is my job to worry, their job to be kids.  If they have a worry, let’s work it out together.  I introduce the worry jar early.  We each add our fingerprints to the jar as does the principal.  The worry jar stays on the shelf with a stack of post-it notes.  If a kiddo has a worry, they put their name in the jar and I meet with them privately.  There are a lot of “my dog is home alone” kind of worries to test the jar, but I take them all seriously.  The goal is for them to feel like someone is there to listen.

–Good Bye Morning Meeting/Calendar Time.  I am not a morning person.  It takes a lot for me to get to school and be ready.  How can I expect all my little learners to be ready just because the schedule says they should be?  The kids come in, put their things away, and go do their own thing for 15 minutes.  Some chose to play with toys.  Some color or look at a book.  Some chat with a friend.  And some sit by their cubbies trying to wake up.  In that time, I get to greet them all individually, look in their eyes, and observe them for behavior that may be out of the ordinary for each individual child.  It is also another opportunity for the kids to tell me all the things important to them.

–Cubby Décor.  Most of my littles spend the majority of their waking hours at school.  At back to school open house or the first day of school, I give my kids a picture frame.  Their “homework” is to take it home and put a photo or a picture they draw in it.  That is how we identify their cubby for the rest of the year.  I get pictures of families, pets, favorite things, etc.  They are also allowed to bring a small stuffed animal to keep at school.  Having a little bit of home means a lot to the kids.  It is also another tool I can use to monitor the kids’ emotions.  If they are spending more time at their cubbies looking at their family photo or cuddling their stuffy, I know I need to check in with them.

–Open Door Time.  We team teach kindergarten at my school. The two kindergarten classrooms have a connecting door.  Each day for 15-20 minutes, we have open door time.  The kids get to choose which room they want to be in and what activities they want to explore.  So much of school is what we as teachers plan.  Open door time is the kids’ time to explore, experiment, and let us know what their interests are.

–“I Love You and Think You Are Wonderful!”  One day, completely out of the blue, I told my kids I had a very important announcement.  They stopped what they were doing.  The words “I love you and think you are wonderful!” came out of my mouth.  From that day forward, I have made sure I have said it every day.  It’s become my tagline.  The kids act like they are embarrassed or annoyed.  They tell me they already know that or that I say it every day.  But every single face has a smile on it at that moment.  I also say these words to them individuals when they need to hear it the most.  After they have gotten in trouble, if they are having a rough day, or just missing mom.

–End of the Day Meeting.  At the end of the day, we all come together as a kindergarten community.  I check in with them about their days.  This is another opportunity for the kids to tell me about concerns or problems I may have missed.  We look for solutions as a group.  Then we talk about the best parts of our day and write it on the calendar.  Some days, this meeting goes quickly.  Some days it takes time.  Either way, the kids have come to depend on this part of the day.

–End of the Day Homework.  It’s a very simple reminder to all of us (including me) that kindness matters.  Their homework is to “Smile a lot.  Laugh a lot.  Give lots of hugs. And share your joy with the world.”  While this simple phrase is one that I blurted out over five year ago when a little boy was begging me for homework, it is one that has stuck.

These ideas are nothing new.  They are simple things teachers have been doing for years.  But for me, putting them altogether has caused me to slow down and focus on the kids in front of me in ways I wasn’t before.  Academics are still important.  Standards are still being met.  But now we are building a community in my classroom.  One where everyone is accepted, everyone makes mistakes, and everyone gets to learn from those mistakes.  Above everything else, it is a community where everyone is loved.

Tagging Parents for Summer

First, it is super to debut a guest post on TII. This work matters and is changing conversations for education and ambitious teachers.

“Tag Parents, You’re It.”

It is probably already, or otherwise soon approaching, summer for your students. While the hugs and tears and genuine statements of pride and hope are all present at this time of year, we must talk about something that is innocently NOT compassionate: “Tag! Parents, you’re it.” (also seen as “Tag, parents – Your turn.” or, on t-shirts, as “Dear Parents, Tag…You’re it. Love, Teachers.”).

T-shirt

I get it. You’re tired and ready for a margarita by the pool (because that is what teachers do during the summer, right?) but when you use/retweet/say this phrase you perpetuate a normative family, a lack of empathy, the de-professionalization of teaching, and that children are burdens in educator’s lives. Let us take a look closer at each of these messages.

  1. The normative family.

Embedded in the phrase is the loaded assumption that children go home to parents. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 69% of children live with two parents, 27% with one (23% are single mothers, the others fathers). That means that about 4% of our students have other household arrangements – grandparents, aunts/uncles, neighbors, foster parents, etc. Note here, also, that this doesn’t even scratch the surface of family diversity in terms of what “both parents” looks like (e.g. adoptive parents, same-sex parents, emerging families) or the actual presence of adults in the household (e.g. working multiple jobs, health, homelessness, vulnerabilities).

  1. Lack of empathy.

Summer is tough for many children and families. About 21% of children live below the federal poverty threshold with 41% of those under 18 considered living in “low income families” (National Center for Children in Poverty, 2018). It is a great privilege if students can attend camps, go on vacation, or, more simply, have an available caretaker at home. At a bare minimum, we have to consider the implications of summer and added stress on parents to provide breakfast and lunch that was being provided by school: the number of children living in food insecure households (due to cost, proximity, and/or other resources) ranges from 8.5% to 20.8% in states across America (Household Food Security in the United States, 2015; Map the Meal Gap, 2016).

  1. The de-professionalization of teaching.

With teacher strikes and BAT groups rising, it is clear that it makes educators mad when others don’t take teaching seriously. It angers many of us when the “Those who can’t, teach.” statements are seen or heard. At the same time, though, there are so many versions of “anybody can teach” that get promoted all the time, like this. Families aren’t always equipped with the knowledge and resources to simply continue “school” throughout the summer. They can’t just be “tagged” for the job. That takes dedication and hard work on the part of educators to partner with families and support them in efforts to continue academic and social development at home. The phrase basically says, “Poof! My job is your job now.” without supplementing it with suggestions to families for active learning, continued practice, and reading and educational opportunities overs summer (although, return to #1 about the assumption about families to determine whether they have the time and resources to do this even when suggested).

  1. Children are burdens.

This one seems fairly self-explanatory, but I will partially flesh it out anyway. Tagging families because you are ready to wash your hands clean from the year suggests that you are tired of your students and ready for them to leave. Aren’t you sad? Aren’t you going to miss them? Does all the joy and learning they brought to you throughout the year get outweighed by your desire to kick them out of your classroom door? And while we’re at it, the phrase also indicates that the 6.5 hours that teachers are spending with children is equivalent to 24 hours a day they spend at home. Remember during the school year, families guard, care for, and exchange with them the other 17 hours and weekends: teachers are not parenting, they are not your children

At this point, I wonder how many have said, “Sheesh, it’s just a joke, of course I love and will miss my group of students and value families.” But, we have to mean it and we have to follow it in every facet of our teaching and in every post and comment we make. Deleting these phrases is akin to banding together to say that calling people “gay” or “retarded” is reprehensible.

So, next time you feel compelled to chuckle at or post “Tag parents, you’re it!” as your students are on their way into June, replace it by checking in with those without available adults, acknowledging the challenges summer presents, providing support for continued learning, and remembering how lucky you have been to share the lives of 17 (or 20, or 25, or 35, or 150) children all year.

Discipline, Suspension, Expulsion, and the School to Prison Pipeline

On to Week 2!  Articles will be posted here, updated throughout the week.  My students are also watching the documentary Resilience this week which is based on the ACES study and the work of Nadine Burke Harris.  You can watch her TED talk here.

The School-to-Prison Pipeline- Disproportionate Impact on Vulnerable Children and Adolescents, 2017

Justifying and Explaining Disproportionalityy 1968—2008- A Critique of Underlying Views of Culture, 2010

Alternate Realities- Racially Disparate Discipline in Classrooms and Schools and its Effects on Black and Brown Students, 2016

An Evidence-Based Approach to Reducing Disproportionality in Special Education and Discipline Referrals

A Decade of Disproportionality

Breaking The School-To-Prison Pipeline for Students with Disabilities

The Gestalt of the School to Prison Pipeline

Race_Is_Not_Neutral_A_National_Investigation_of_Af

Action steps using ACEs and trauma informed care- a resilience model

LRE and Inclusion in Practice

It’s already summer school time and I have a course titled Critical Issues in Special Education.  We’re kicking off with some conversations about LRE and inclusion backed by the literature on the topic.  I’ll share the articles we read here in case you want/need to learn more or brush up on the nuance of LRE.

McGovern, 2015

Kauffman & Badar, 2017

Kirby, 2016

Carson, 2016

Kurth, Morningstar, & Kozleski, 2014

Preventing Double Segregation for Students with Disabilities

Rozalski, Stewart, & Miller, 2010

Rafferty & Griffin, 2005

Primary Pre-Service Teachers’ Attitudes Towards Inclusion Across the Training Years, 2018

Sometimes Separate Is Better, 1994

Instructing Students With High-Incidence Disabilities in the General Education Classroom

Social Acceptance and Paraprofessional Support for Students with Severe Disabilities.pdf

Inclusive education, Beyond Popular Discourse, 2018

Educating Students with Learning Disabilities in Inclusive Classrooms, 2013