Blog Archives

Mid-year IEP check-up time

We are just about at the halfway point in the school year.  Report cards will be coming home soon.  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!

However,check-up-bottom not everyone is going to be so fortunate.  If there are things that concern you about your child’s education, there is still time to take actions that could help.

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.

Your child is the winner when his educational team is working together toward the same goal!

Second Semester, Second Chance

It’s report card time and time to see how the first half of the school year went. If your child’s report card reflects solid grades and good work habits, some sort of celebration is in order. One of my co-workers learned that her daughter earned a 96 in an advanced math class. She offered to buy ice cream, but her daughter wanted her bedroom painted instead.  Fair enough!

If, on the other hand, you were disappointed in your child’s progress or performance, there is still time to turn things around. You and your child can press the reset button by looking for ways to improve on things that you have been doing. Think about changes that can be made on many possible  levels.

  • If your child has poor sleeping habits, try establishing a bed-time routine that gradually steps down the amount of activity and stimulation in the household. A well-rested brain functions better.
  • If your child wastes time in the evening and then stays up late doing homework, set a firm cutoff time to stop working, shut down the computer and place everything in the backpack (which will “live” in a designated spot in another room).  Then start winding things down toward bedtime. Provide prompts and reminders earlier in the evening to serve as fair warning.                            It may take a couple of incomplete assignments or disappointing test grades to get the real message across. Don’t cave in though, because it is essential that students develop good work habits, including learning how to effectively manage their time, if they are going to be able to sustain their success throughout the school and college years. Showing up for class exhausted and inattentive will eventually take its toll. Throwing together projects at the last minute and cramming for tests will also lead to poorer quality results that your child will take less pride in. I know this first-hand from my experience as person who went through school with undiagnosed ADHD.
  • If your child is overwhelmed by an over-packed schedule that doesn’t leave enough time for schoolwork and “down time,” consider taking a break from one of the activities.  Unless your child is talented enough that a sport or cheerleading scholarship is a real possibility, they might be better off burning the candle from only one end. Keep the activities that give them joy, and  set aside those that are on the schedule just because of habit.
  • If your child has an IEP or Section 504 accommodation plan, review it to see if it adequately addresses her current needs. It might be time to update the accommodations and supports to match performance expectations that tend to get higher each year. Get your child’s input so that any changes are going to be ones that they think will be helpful and will cooperate with.
  • Re-establish lines of communication with teachers and other school staff. If your child will have different classes for the 2nd semester, there may be new teachers who may not be aware of his special needs or the fact that you are a concerned and involved parent who expects to be considered an equal part of your child’s educational team. Set a positive tone and let them know that you are looking for this semester to be better than the last one.
  • Look for any other areas where a change for the better might be possible: diet and nutrition, general health and well-being, mental health, organization (personal and/or household), social skills, etc.  Consult with trusted friends, family and professionals to see if they have any suggestions.

If things are going great, keep doing what you are doing.  If not, try something different that might lead to better results. Remember, there can be no growth without change!

Promotion after Third Grade has become more complicated

https://i2.wp.com/daphne.blogs.com/photos/uncategorized/reading1.jpgIt used to be fairly simple to talk with parents about how promotion and retention decisions were made in North Carolina.  Except for high school students, whose grade classification is based on the number and type of course credits earned, our Public School Law (G.S. 115C) gave school principals sole authority over how students were “classified” or assigned to a grade.  Principals were expected to make this decision thoughtfully, considering factors like classroom work, standardized test scores, teacher recommendations and other relevant information.  If parents were worried that their child might be retained, they were often advised to meet with the principal and share their concerns with the hope of influencing that decision.  This is still good information, unless your child is in third grade.

Recent changes in North Carolina’s Public School Law  (2012-142, s. 7A.1) offer some good, bad and not-so-bad news.  Let’s discuss them in that order.

Good News:  The North Carolina Read to Achieve Program is intended to put intense focus on effective reading instruction in the early grades (K-3) as a means of increasing academic achievement long term.  It has a goal of ensuring that “every child is reads at or above grade level by the end of 3rd grade and continue to progress in reading proficiency so that she or he can read, comprehend, integrate and apply complex text needed for secondary education and career success.”

The positive purposes of this legislation are that (1) difficulty with reading development is identified as early as possible; (2) students receive appropriate instructional and support services to address difficulty with reading development and to remediate reading deficiencies; and (3) each student and his or her parent or guardian be continuously informed of the student’s academic needs and progress.  So far, so good.

Bad News:  In addition to the purposes listed above, the purpose of this law is to determine that progression from one grade to another be based, in part, upon proficiency in reading.  More specifically, the State Board of Education must now require that a student be retained in third grade if they fail to demonstrate third grade level reading comprehension skills on a State-approved standardized test.  Even though this law allows for certain specific “good cause exemptions” from mandatory retention, the Superintendent will now make the final promotion/retention decision.  The Principal can only make a written recommendation to the Superintendent if they determine that a student qualifies for a  good cause exemption and should be promoted.

Not-so-bad News:  Students who are retained under this law will be given the option of attending a 6-8 week “summer reading camp.”  At the end of the camp the students will be tested again and will be promoted to 4th grade if they demonstrate grade-level skills,  either on that test or through a reading portfolio.  If they do not improve their reading skills to that level, they will repeat 3rd grade with a possibility of being promoted mid-year if the are able to reach grade level by November 1st.  Retained students will be provided with intensive reading instruction.  Those students who are given a good cause exemption will also receive instructional supports and reading interventions appropriate for their age and reading level.

Students with disabilities can be considered for a good cause exemption if they have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) that calls for reading interventions and the use of alternative assessments when they participate in the state testing program.  If your child is below grade level with her reading skills, make sure that there is a reading goal on her IEP.  Whether or not she has an IEP, you should monitor your child’s reading progress closely and ask questions if you feel that her skills are developing too slowly.  Maybe something different needs to happen.  Some children have disabilities, such as an intellectual  disability, that make it unrealistic to expect grade level academic skills.  However, it is extremely important that every child be provided the appropriate type and amount of instruction that will allow them to reach their fullest potential.  North Carolina’s public school laws no longer mention “full potential” but, like most parents, that will always be  my goal for each child.

It’s time for a mid-year school check up

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!

However,check-up-bottom not everyone is going to be so fortunate.  If there are things that concern you about your child’s education, there is still time to take actions that could help.

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.

Your child is the winner when his educational team is working together toward the same goal!winner

Can there be too much help with homework?

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!

Using IEP Progress Reports

Parents of children with disabilities who have an Individualized Education Program, or IEP, should receive reports on their child’s progress toward meeting their IEP goals at least as often as report cards are issued.  The IEP team can require more frequent progress reports if appropriate, and document that decision on the IEP itself.  Many parents, however, are not quite sure what to do with the progress reports when they get them.

Some school systems, or good teachers operating on their own, do a great job of providing details about the child’s developing skills, continuing struggles and even some insight as to the strategies that they are using. Other progress reports are perfect examples of minimalism.  There will be a single letter such as a “P” to indicate that “the student is making progress at a sufficient rate to reach the IEP goal” or a “T” to indicate that “progress is limited due to more time needed.”  When the progress reports are adequately detailed, there may not be a lot of clarification needed.  When the report contains only letter codes, there will almost always be a need for some sort of follow up in order for the parent to get the information that they need to effectively participate in their child’s education.

Additional information can be obtained in a variety of ways.  Parents can request a conference with the teacher, during which they can view work samples and materials used for instruction.  Seeing the classroom setting may also be helpful to understanding why their child is responding or behaving in a certain way (good or bad).  For example, after noticing that the place where my son’s 1st grade class did “circle time” was right next to the classroom computers, it was quite clear to me why the teacher was having difficulty keeping his mind focused on the lesson and hands off the computers.

Parents can also request a telephone conference to get more information from the teacher and ask any questions that they might have, or perhaps exchange email messages to accomplish the same thing.  Most teachers will understand that requesting more information is simply a way for you to better understand what’s going on with your child’s education and how you can best support your child’s learning.

After gathering information, parents should ask themselves (and maybe the teacher) whether the child’s progress is satisfactory. 

If the IEP goals truly reflected what the team thought the child could reasonably be expected to do by the target date, there should be evidence/data that they are on pace to achieve those goals.  If progress is slower than expected, there should be some discussion about why that may be, and whether changes should be made in terms of instructional strategies, supports or services (type, amount, frequency, location, delivery, etc).  Those changes could require the involvement of the whole IEP team, or sometimes a change can be implemented for a trial period before determining that it should be documented on the IEP.

In any event, IEP progress reports, and any supplemental information, are intended to serve as a guide for parents and the rest of the IEP team.  They are an important tool to help insure that the child is receiving adequate benefit from his or her educational program.  Tools have no value if they are left unused.