From late winter through the end of the school year, many parents of kindergarten-eligible children wrestle with the option of keeping them in preschool for one more year. The child may have a late birthday that would make them among the youngest in their class. Many parents assume that boys have a particular challenge with maturity that might make them good candidates to sit out a year and continue their social development before going on to the “big school.” As always, these are very personal decisions that parents have to make based on their knowledge of their child and a host of other factors.
For parents of children who experience disabilities or significant developmental delays, things are a bit more complicated. Many of these children already receive special education services as preschoolers. Even if their child is making progress, many parents think about what is typically expected in a regular kindergarten class these days and they don’t see their child as being able to meet those expectations. Some children are also small for their age, can’t communicate well, have poor motor skills or are medically fragile. The parents may conclude that their child is just not “ready” for kindergarten, and therefore should remain in preschool. This may sound logical, or make sense on a parent gut level, but there is still more to consider.
1) The child may not continue to receive the special education services that they now get as a preschooler. The special education funding that comes from the Federal special education law, IDEA, is connected to the different parts of the law. In general, a school system cannot use preschool money to serve school-aged children, and they will not be able to draw down funds for a school-aged child unless the child is enrolled in school. That basically leaves no special education funds available to serve a school-aged child who is not enrolled in school, except for in a couple of specific rare circumstances. Unless you have another way to obtain the services that your child needs, you may have to weigh the cost of not having services against the benefit of more time.
2) Are you just delaying the inevitable, or will this extra year be a game-changer? Some children may be behind in their development due to challenges that have been reduced in terms of impact. For example, a child may have had a visual, hearing, or motor problem that has been corrected or compensated for. Other children may have experienced medical conditions that limited their ability to interact with the world and do the developmental work of childhood. For these children, having a year to grow and gain skills under much improved circumstances may make a tremendous difference in their overall functioning. One could still debate whether planning for two years in kindergarten to allow time to catch up, would be just as, or more beneficial than the extra year in preschool.
3) All children should be expected to make progress in their development if they are provided with stimulation and proper nutrition. Many children, however, will probably continue to be functioning well below their typical peers, even after an extra year. A 5-year-old with a chronic condition, who is functioning at the 3 year-old level, will probably still not be ready for kindergarten a year from now. He’ll just be a year older.
4) Is kindergarten ready for your child? That’s the real question. Don’t think of school as a one-size-fits-all situation that your child has to fit into. As a child with a disability and an individualized education program (IEP), your child is entitled to a free appropriate public education that meets her unique needs. You and the rest of the IEP team will decide what that should look like for your child. Your child can get extra support in the regular education setting, in a special education setting, or a combination of the two. She can spend time with typically-developing children and still get the special education and related services that she needs. She can have modifications and accommodations that will allow her to access her education and participate in school activities in a way that makes sense for her. An individual health plan can be developed to address any special health or medical needs.
Instead of trying to keep your child out of school until you can make a round peg fit into a square hole, you and your child’s IEP team can design a heart-shaped hole that the child you love can fit into with relative ease. School doesn’t have to be scary.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) gives parents of children with disabilities several rights and protections. One of these is the right to request an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) at the school system’s expense if they disagree with an evaluation that was conducted by their public school system. The IEE is intended to provide a “second opinion”, and would be limited to the same areas of focus that were included in the school evaluation. For example, if the school evaluation included psychological, educational and speech/language assessments, the IEE would only include psychological, educational and/or speech/language evaluations. The parent would not be able to add an occupational therapy evaluation and have the school system cover that cost as part of the IEE.
Most of the time, there is no need for an IEE. A properly planned and conducted school evaluation will typically give the IEP team the information that is needed to make decisions regarding a child’s eligibility for special education services, and to develop an appropriate individualized educational program (IEP) to meet that child’s specific needs. However, there are other times when a parent may want to consider the option of requesting an IEE.
If a child is found to be not eligible for special education services based on a school system evaluation, an IEE may provide additional information for the team to consider and perhaps change the eligibility decision. Sometimes the test scores will be higher or lower, or they may show a larger gap between the child’s general ability and his functioning in an area where there are concerns. The independent evaluator may use different tests or assessment methods that provide additional insight into the nature of the child’s difficulties and the pattern of strengths and weaknesses. This new information may tip the balance and convince the team that the child does meet the eligibility requirements for special education services.
In some cases the school’s evaluation has resulted in scores that meet the eligibility criteria, but the team feels that there is not enough evidence that the student requires “specially designed instruction.” Team members may cite an acceptable level of performance, or a belief that factors, other than a disability (e.g. excessive absences or a lack of appropriate instruction), may be responsible for the child’s weaknesses. In this situation, a second round of testing is not likely to change the eligibility decision.
For a child who gets, or already has, an IEP, there may be decisions that are influenced by initial or re-evaluation results. The need for related services, or certain accommodations or supports may be based, in part, on information gathered during a school evaluation. Inaccurate evaluation results may result in low expectations, disability issues that go unrecognized (and unaddressed) or even placements in more restrictive settings. The IEE could provide the data that could prove to be a “game changer.”
The school system may provide a list of local clinicians who are qualified to conduct the requested evaluations, in an effort to assist parents in obtaining the IEE. However, parents are not limited to the persons on the list. They can select any professionals who are qualified to conduct the evaluation(s). The school system cannot establish an arbitrary dollar limit on the cost of the evaluation. The school system also cannot require the independent evaluators to only use certain assessment tools. Typically, billing arrangements are set up before the actual evaluation is scheduled, and the school system will receive a copy of the evaluation report. Note: When parents pay the cost of a private evaluation themselves, they can control whether or not that information is shared with the school.
If you feel that the school’s evaluation does not paint an accurate picture of your child and his or her needs, then the IEE may offer one of the best chances of providing the information needed to possibly change the outcome when the team re-considers the matter.
Answer: No. The type of support that a student requires has nothing to do with the degree to which her educational placement is considered to be “restrictive” under IDEA, the Federal special education law.
IDEA requires that students with disabilities are served in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) where their needs can be successfully met. The continuum of alternative educational placements that goes from least restrictive to most restrictive is based on the amount of time that the student is removed from the regular education setting and non-disabled peers. The continuum includes the following placement options: Regular, Resource, Separate, Separate School, Residential, Home/Hospital. Each step along the continuum reflects less and less contact with typical children, and would be considered to be more restrictive than the ones listed before it and less restrictive than the ones listed after it.
Children can receive special education services in the regular education classroom, in a special education classroom or therapy room, or in the total school environment. Some students receive a lot of special education services, accommodations and supports in the regular education setting and are not removed from their non-disabled peers at all. This would still be considered to be the least restrictive placement on the continuum.
Some parents who ask about a one-on-one assistant for their child are told that this kind of individual support would be the most restrictive setting for their child, and that moving the child into a separate classroom or separate school would actually be less restrictive. This is simply not true, and probably reflects a lack of information on the part of the person making that statement.
If this happens to you, talk to someone who would be expected to have a greater understanding of special education rules and regulations. Even if you have to speak with the Director of Exceptional Children’s services for your entire school system, it will be good for them to know that there is a need to correct misinformation. This may not get a one-on-one assistant for your child, but at least the decision would not be made for the wrong reason. The IEP team has an obligation to consider the use of supplementary aids and services that could increase the amount of time that a child with a disability would be able to be educated with non-disabled children.
When parents make a referral to have their child evaluated to see if they need special education services, they are sometimes told that the school must first complete a process called RtI. In North Carolina RtI stands for Responsiveness to Instruction. In many other states RTI is short for Response to Intervention. Either way, RtI offers a process for selecting and implementing interventions to help students who are struggling academically or behaviorally. RtI also includes regular monitoring of the student’s progress.
Details may vary from one school system to another, but there are parts of RtI that should be present:
- Decisions are made by a team of people who can offer a variety of knowledge and experience.
- Interventions should have been shown to be effective through scientific research.
- Data is collected about how the student is responding to the interventions.
- The student’s progress is tracked over a period of time.
- There are multiple “tiers” and the interventions become more intensive as the student moves to a higher tier due to inadequate progress.
- At the final tier the data collected, along with other information, can be used to determine that the student qualifies for special education services.
When done well, RtI provides an opportunity for students to get the help that they need without having to declare them students with disabilities. This helps prevent the over-identification of students and keeps more special education resources available to those students who really do have disabilities. One possible down side of RtI is that moving through the tiers of interventions can take several months. When a parent sees their child continue to struggle, that can feel like too much precious time is being lost.
The Exceptional Children Division of the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction has issued guidance to all school systems in the state. Schools have been reminded that North Carolina’s Policies Governing Services for Children with Disabilities* require that when a written referral for special education services has been received, schools have a maximum of 90 days in which to complete needed evaluations, determine eligibility, and put an Individualized Education Program in place for any student who qualifies for special education services.
The 90-day time limit applies even when the student is involved in the RtI process. Period.
If you are worried that RtI will create an uneccessary delay to your child getting the special education services that you feel he needs, make a written request to have him evaluated to see if he is eligible. Interventions are required for some categories of eligibility, but they can be implemented during the time that the evaluation will take place.
We are just about at the halfway point in the school year. Report cards will be coming home. If your child receives special education services you should also get a report on his/her progress on their IEP goals. This is a great opportunity to think about how things are going and whether or not some changes need to be made. Ideally, we would all like to have a happy, socially-successful child who is learning and developing at or above the expected rate in all areas. If that describes your child, you should give a word of thanks to all who have helped make this happen!
If your child’s grades are lower than you think they should be, try to get to the root of the problem. Is your child having difficulty learning the material being taught? Is he doing poorly on tests even though he seems to understand the work? Is she doing fine on tests, but has a low grade average because of zeros for several school assignments that were never completed or turned in? Has your child missed a lot of instruction because of disciplinary actions that have taken him out of the classroom too many times?
Even if the grades are okay, there may be other reasons to be concerned. The grades may seem to be inconsistent with what you see when your child is doing home work. The progress on IEP goals may be moving much slower than expected. Instructional assessments may show that the gap between your child’s skills and the achievement standard for his grade is getting wider instead of more narrow. Is your child saying, or showing, that she does not want to go to school? Are you getting more reports about problem behavior at school?
If you do see any red flags, the first action to take is to try to understand what is working and exactly where there may be some problems. Talk to your child and your child’s teacher(s). Ask what you can do at home to help your child be more successful. Work with the teacher(s), other school staff, and the IEP team as appropriate to come up with solutions to any problems that are identified. Make adjustments in terms of instruction, materials, strategies, accommodations, services, supports, environment…whatever makes sense for your child at this time. Keep an eye on things to see if there is improvement or a need to try something else.
We knew this would happen…again. The tragic shooting at the elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut was bound to trigger heightened sensitivity to anyone and anything that seems to be even remotely threatening. While we should all be thinking about what can be done to keep our schools safe, we have to be careful that we do not react in a way that produces, rather than prevents, harm to students.
Some students with disabilities are at particular risk of becoming victims of hyper-vigilant policies and practices. The other day an obviously-distressed parent called because her son’s school was planning to conduct a “threat assessment” on her son after he drew pictures of guns during class. My guess is that this was not a new behavior for this child, but it was now seen as threatening after being viewed through post-Newtown lenses. This child had been diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and the parent was (rightfully) worried about what he would say when questioned by the school’s guidance counselor and principal. There are several things about that situation that should give one cause for pause, but I will approach the topic at hand with recommendations rather than criticism.
The very first thing to do is talk to your children about school safety and how the behavior of individuals can be seen as a sign of problems or threats. Even if the child does not fully understand why someone would consider their comment, joke, writings or drawings to be threatening, you have to give them specific examples of behavior to avoid. Mention or representations of guns, knives, bombs, explosions, killing, etc. are topics to be avoided anyplace except home. Even if the child is studying a time of war in a history class, they should limit their comments to the specific questions being asked (ex. no speculation about what could have happened if the good guys had a super hand-held weapon that could wipe out hundreds of people with the press of a button). We can encourage imagination in other forms, as well as other interests for those children who seem preoccupied by violent themes.
If you have a child that likes to carry or use a pocket knife, sticks, rocks or anything else that could be considered to be a weapon, check their pockets and backpacks frequently to make sure that they don’t accidentally or intentionally end up bringing something to school that will get them in trouble. Keep in mind that when weapons, drugs or serious bodily injury are involved in a disciplinary action, a student can be removed to an interim alternative educational setting even when the behavior is found to be a manifestation of the child’s disability. Such removal is not required though, and school administrators have the authority to look at each incident on a case-by-case basis.
Be proactive! Review your school system’s Code of Conduct, and disciplinary/school safety policies. If you see glaring problems with the policies, address them with your School Board. If the policies include the possibility of a required “threat assessment”, make sure that the assessment will be done by qualified individuals with expertise in mental health and any disabilities that the child may have. Even if your school system’s policy does not clearly state such a requirement, you should raise that issue if your child becomes involved in this type of situation. Some disabilities can impact the child’s ability to truly understand the questions that will be asked and how his answers might be interpreted by others. The disability may also have contributed to the behavior itself. Those making decisions about how to respond to a potential threat should have enough knowledge and experience to understand all of the factors involved, and take actions that are appropriate to each specific situation. One-size-fits-all does not work for special education and it also does not work for discipline or school safety!
The Individualized Education Program (IEP) that describes special education services and supports for a qualifying student with a disability is created by an IEP Team that is defined by federal law. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) lists the core membership of an IEP team as including the parent, a special education teacher, a regular education teacher (at the student’s assigned grade), and a representative of the Local Education Agency (school system). The student is a required member of the IEP team when their transition to adulthood is being discussed. In addition to this bare-bones requirement, there are others who can or must be invited under varying circumstances.
Whenever evaluation results are being discussed, the IEP team should include individuals who are qualified to interpret those evaluation results and the educational implications of them for the child. Most parents can read evaluation reports with some degree of understanding, but the IEP team needs input from individuals who are in a position to connect the dots and make sense of the various pieces of information available when an evaluation has been conducted.
When children are aging out of the Infant-Toddler Program and are being considered for eligibility for Preschool services, the Child Service Coordinator or previous service providers can be invited to the IEP meeting. If you want to have your child’s Service Coordinator or others attend an IEP meeting, invite them directly yourself because the school system may not automatically send them an invitation.
At an annual review when the IEP is being totally re-written (rather than amended), all of the people who are currently providing special education services to the child will normally be invited to the meeting. Sometimes a related service provider (e.g. speech, occupational or physical therapist) will submit written information and some proposed goals when they are unable to attend an IEP meeting. If you feel that it is important that specific school system staff members (regular education teachers, clinicians, administrators, classroom assistants, etc.) participate in the IEP team discussion, communicate that to the person who is coordinating the meeting so that they are invited and the meeting scheduled at a time when they can attend.
In addition to the required IEP team members, the school system and the parent each have the right to invite others who they feel can contribute to the IEP process. Individuals who have particular knowledge of the child or specific expertise can be involved upon request. For example, grandparents, Sunday School teachers, tutors, behavior specialists, psychologists, individuals who have disability-specific information, or private service providers can become invited members of a child’s IEP team. These individuals can either attend in person, submit written input, or participate via conference call or another technology-supported means.
When your child’s next IEP meeting is being planned, communicate with the meeting coordinator to make sure the all of the right people are at the table to create an educational program that effectively addresses your child’s unique educational needs.
Homework is a fact of life for most students from 1st grade to high school graduation. It is intended to be an opportunity to practice newly acquired skills, review what has already been learned, and apply or extend instruction beyond the classroom. If the homework is appropriate for a student, they should be able to complete their work with very limited assistance from their parents. Parents are expected to show an interest in their child’s education and monitor their homework as well as the class work and tests that are sent home. They should make sure that the child has a reasonably quiet workspace and needed school supplies. Many parents will find it necessary to either prompt their child to get started on their homework, or ask them if they have already done it. What they should not do is take over the assignment and end up doing most of the work themselves!
I will occasionally hear a parent use the word “we” in away that makes it quite clear that they are way too involved in their child’s schoolwork. “We studied for this test…”, “We do homework for __ hours every night”, “We don’t understand the assignment,” “We are taking Algebra I,” etc. I sometimes challenge the parent to think about whether their excessive involvement is actually against the child’s best interest. Here are a few things to consider:
- Helping too much may keep the child from learning how to function more independently. Ask yourself: Am I teaching my child that he must have the full attention of an adult at all times? Can my child learn to use a textbook, dictionary or computer to look something up, rather than just asking me question after question? Can my child read the directions for themselves instead of handing me the paper with the expectation that I will explain, demonstrate and/or guide them step-by-step through the entire assignment? Does my child even attempt to do work on their own, or have they completely accepted that they “can’t do it.”
- Helping too much may mask the actual challenges that the child is having. The teacher who sees correctly completed homework coming back to school everyday won’t know that you spend 3 hours each night re-teaching everything, or pretty much giving your child the answers to the questions. This keeps important information about the student’s learning from being available to guide instruction. It could also lead to educators concluding that the child is “doing fine” when you ask the school to provide extra assistance or evaluate the child for special education services.
- Helping too much may lead to unrealistic expectations. The student may end up being placed in classes that are too difficult for them when they could possibly be more independently successful in a class that moved at a slower pace or required a more manageable number of work products. The student may feel pressure to get all A’s and B’s when they are really just an average kid who would probably earn mostly C’s under normal circumstances. A student who has been “helped” all the way through school may set (or be pushed toward) unobtainable career goals, unless the parent plans to go to law or medical school with them. And then what? Instead, each child should get the message that, as long as he is doing his best, that he is good enough!
- By trying to protect your child from failure, you may also cheat her from experiencing her own success. It seems that some parents are afraid that their child will be traumatized by getting a low grade, turning in an unimpressive product, or having to tell a teacher that they had trouble with an assignment. They forget that some risk and struggle is often necessary for growth and the ability to overcome adversity. Making things appear to be okay is not the same as developing real competence.
There is much value and satisfaction gained when a person can say that their achievements, great and small, were truly the result of their own efforts!
Our federal special education law, IDEA, requires that a re-evaluation occur every three years for all students who receive special education services. This does not mean that every child has to go through the full battery of tests and assessments that were done when the child was first evaluated to see if they eligible for special education services. What it does mean is that the IEP team must have a discussion about whether additional evaluation information is needed to determine:
- If the student continues to be eligible for special education and related services;
- Present level of academic achievement and developmental needs;
- Whether changes need to made to the student’s special education and/or related services.
If some additional assessment information is needed, the IEP team then decides the areas in which the child will be evaluated. The re-evaluation can include some or all of the initial testing, or may include new areas where there are concerns. if the parent gives permission, the school will move forward with the evaluations. The IEP team will meet again to discuss the evaluation results and what they mean for planning the child’s education.
When the re-evaluation meeting happens in high school, the team often decides that no evaluation is needed. This can cause problems later if the young person tries to access adult services or accommodations with outdated documentation of their disability. For example, most colleges will only accept evaluations that have been conducted within the last three years. Some will want the evaluation to be current within one year in order to consider accommodations for a student that has a specific learning disability. Students who are seeking accommodations on tests like the SAT and ACT also have to provide current documentation of their disability.
Another reason to think about conducting some evaluations in 8th grade or high school is to gather information that could assist with planning for the student’s transition to adulthood. Students who have an IEP that meets their needs in a typical school situation may need to learn new skills in order to function as independently as possible as an adult. having current information about the student’s skills and functioning can help the student and IEP team identify appropriate post-secondary goals and the transition services and activities that could help the student reach those goals. Occupational therapy, assistive technology, and vocational evaluations may be important for some students as the focus shifts from how the student participates in the classroom to how they can access and function within the larger community. The evaluation results may impact several parts of the IEP.
Do not allow the re-evaluation meeting to become a compliance exercise. Have real discussion about how obtaining additional assessment information about that particular student might be truly beneficial. Also remember that, even if the rest of the IEP team does not feel that new evaluation information is necessary, the school is required to conduct the evaluation if the parent requests it.