Blog Archives

Math learning disability? There are options for success in high school and beyond

With accommodations, modifications and thoughtful course selection most students who have a learning disability in math are able to make it through elementary and middle school. High schools operate on a different set of rules however, and for some of these students and their parents the path to a diploma can seem like a minefield! North Carolina’s Future-Ready Core Course of Study was designed to satisfy the minimum admission requirements for the University of North Carolina System schools and have all students graduate “college and career ready.”

adamtglass-com[1].jpgThis is a noble, and perhaps necessary, objective. But what about those students whose brains are hard-wired in a way that will always make algebra a foreign language for which there is no translation? The Future-Ready Core requires 4 units of math that include Algebra 1, Geometry, Algebra 2, and another math course beyond Algebra 2. The content of the first three courses can also come in the form of integrated Math I, II and III courses, but that does not make it easier to learn.

Fortunately, the activism of the Learning Disabilities Association of North Carolina many years ago still benefits the high school students of today. When Algebra 1 was first added as a graduation requirement a clause was placed in our Public School Law clarifying that:

The State Board (of Education) shall not adopt or enforce any rule that requires Algebra I as a  graduation standard or as a requirement for a high school diploma for any student whose individualized education program (i) identifies the student as learning disabled in the area of mathematics and (ii) states that this learning disability will prevent the student from mastering Algebra I. [N.C.G.S. 115C-81(b)]

Because of this provision in the law, schools have to provide other ways for these students to satisfy the math graduation requirement. The student and parent can consult with school guidance counselors and others to put together an alternative sequence of four math courses that is appropriate for that student. The math sequence must be approved by the school principal in order to satisfy high school graduation requirements. As a general rule, students will still have to take two “pure” math courses, but they may be “Introductory…” or “Foundations…” courses that focus on basic skills.

Many career and technical education (CTE) courses have enough math-related content that they are approved to count as math credits if they are part of a student’s alternative math sequence. In some cases, the student may have to complete a 2-course sequence in order to gain one math credit. The CTE courses also still count as elective credits. Hopefully, students will be able to find eligible CTE courses that relate to either a personal or career interest. Even though no high school offers every possible CTE course, many of them are available as on-line courses through the North Carolina Virtual Public School (NCVPS). The NCVPS can greatly expand the range of course options that can be considered. This can be especially helpful for students in smaller high schools or school systems, or those enrolled in public charter schools.

Using an alternative math sequence may not allow a student to go directly into one of North Carolina’s 4-year public universities, but it can offer a path to a high school diploma. The diploma, in turn, opens the door to lots of possibilities. A student can choose to move directly into the workforce and be able to check “yes” when a job application asks “Did you graduate from high school?” They will be eligible to enroll in any of our community colleges to further their education. Private colleges, trade and technical schools set their own admission requirements. They may be willing to accept a math-challenged student into a major or program that does not require a high level of math skills.

There is no single path to success in high school, or in life. With planning, hard work and perseverance there are few limits to what young people can achieve. Calculators come in handy too!

A Mom’s personal experience with her Deaf-Blind son’s Transition to College

By Debra Pickens 4756155697_a85f3fb6db_m.jpg

“If you don’t ASK, they won’t TELL!”

Have you ever had a feeling in your gut that something wasn’t right? When the Director of Disability Services told me that they didn’t know the Braille special math code, and that my son should drop College Algebra, I knew immediately why I had that feeling in my gut. “Here we go again, I thought. Another battle to fight!”
My son Billy was born on February 13, 1997 with Norrie’s Disease. He is totally blind with progressive hearing loss. Billy received early intervention services in the home and daycare. We established his IEP when he turned three and most of his one-on-one Specialists transitioned with him to public school, where they had a Visually Impaired (VI) resource room with a full-time Teacher of Visually Impaired (TVI).
Billy learned how to read and write Braille early. With the help of the TVI, Braillewriter and Braille Note taker, Billy was on the A/B Honor roll throughout his 12 years of public school. He graduated with a 3.5 GPA and a strong desire to attend a four-year college. He knew that there would be obstacles, and he had learned how to advocate for himself. What he didn’t know is that he would not have ACCESS to his academic materials in a timely manner when school started.

We met with The University’s Disability Services in late June and Billy’s counselor emailed his accommodation letter out to all of his professors early July. The letter told them “What” to do but not “How” to do it. When school started at the end of August, we found that his College Algebra class would be conducted mostly online, which was not in the course description when he registered. If you don’t ASK if it is an online course, then they want TELL you. We immediately reached out to the Director of Disability Services for guidance. Her advice was to drop the course until they could figure out how to get him ACCESS to the material. We knew that was not an option. He only had registered to take 12 hours and if he dropped the course, then his financial aid would not be granted.

The second suggestion was to audit the course or take an incomplete until he could obtain ACCESS to the material. Billy decided that he wanted to try using a one-on-one personal assistant to read to him and assist him in navigating the online system. This did not work because his one-on-one personal assistant did not know how to teach him College Algebra. We are still working with the Director of Disability Services to receive his quizzes and tests in Braille, which is his preferred method of communication.

The next battle was with his Theater class. The “Plays” were emailed to him as photo copies or in a pdf document. The documents would not translate to Braille on his Braille Note taker. We didn’t know to Ask them to convert to a format, which could be saved on a digital card and transferred to his Braille Note taker for him to read it in Braille, and they didn’t Tell us. He sat in class one day while the rest of the students were taking a quiz and he didn’t have ACCESS to the quiz in Braille. The inexperienced professor told Billy that she had reached out to Disability Services to ask “What” and “How” to get him ACCESS to the material and no one had responded.

By this point, Billy was overwhelmed and finally reached out to Mom for help. I communicated with the Director of Disability Services via email, telephone and face-to-face. I found out that all of the information submitted to be brailled a month ago had not been brailled yet, including the syllabuses for his classes. All of his professors were willing to make accommodations for Billy, but didn’t know “How” to do it. The Director of Disability Services had to reach out to them individually and explain the process of getting Billy ACCESS to his course materials.

The technology battle is still ongoing. Billy met with the AT Specialist at the University several times, but the AT Specialist did not know how to use this specialized equipment and Billy had a hard time understanding his accent. We had to request training through Division of Services for the Blind (DSB) and we are still waiting on a response. In the meantime, we paid for an AT Specialist who knows Billy’s specialized equipment to travel to Charlotte and train Billy on how to use some new technology. I regret that I did not include more detailed technology goals within his IEP starting in middle school.

The Orientation and Mobility (O&M) battle was by far the worst transition experience we both encountered. I sent Billy’s class schedule to DSB in early July. He was referred for O&M services in late July. He did not start receiving services until late August. She worked with him only 3 hours per day for about 3 days and she was not available during Billy’s first week of school. I had to pay for him to have a one-on-one personal assistant to help him get around the campus during that first week. The O&M Specialist was also not trained to teach someone who was born Blind and needed sensory orientation as well as mobility directions. Once again I had to pay for someone to come from out of town to train Billy on how to use the GPS Trekker.

Along the way I began to question whether or not college was for Billy? Now I know that, regardless of the obstacles we face,  with or without a disability, it is okay to REST but you should never QUIT!  Therefore, when I wake up in the morning, I will continue to ASK and FOLLOW UP until I find someone who can TELL us not only “What” to do but “How” to do it!

It’s Transition Fair time!

If you are the parent of teen-aged child who receives special education services, you have probably heard about something called Transition to Adulthood. Basically, schools are required to really think about what should happen in the last few years of school to prepare a student with a disability for their adult life.  Regardless of whether they plan to go straight into the workforce, go to college or get other training, or continue to work on independent living skills for a while, there are steps that can be taken to make the transition out of high school a smoother one.

Many school systems offer Transition Fairs to provide an opportunity for students and parents to learn more about various options for adult services, post-secondary education and other community resources, all in one place.  Sometimes the transition fairs will also include information sessions on topics that range from understanding Social Security benefits to job interview skills.  Even if your child has a bit more time before she leaves school, it is always good to know what’s out there and learn what steps you should take, and when to take them.

Unfortunately, some school systems do a better job of getting the word out about transition fairs than others. Some will target certain groups of students and neglect to inform the parents of other students who have IEPs. Students with disabilities who spend most of their time in the general education setting often don’t get notices about a transition fair that may be going on in their community. Spring is the time of year when many of these transition fairs take place.  If you haven’t heard about any in your area, ask your child’s special education teacher, case manager, guidance counselor, or the transition coordinator for your school system.  Even if there are no plans to hold a transition fair this year, your questions may give them the idea to have one next year. It’s a win either way.

Back to school: Look closely at your child’s class schedule

For students in middle and high school it is extremely important for parents to keep up with the courses that they are taking. The classes should offer the right amount of challenge (not too easy, not too hard). They should be preparing your child for whatever their goals are for life after high school. More importantly, the courses need to be chosen so that they meet the graduation requirements for your school system. With many schools using computer programs to create schedules for students, it’s not hard for the needs of individual students to be overlooked.

For many students who have disabilities, course selection is even more critical. For some students it will be important to make sure that they are placed in the course sections that are co-taught by both regular education and special education teachers. This can offer real-time assistance and support to help students be successful with grade-level material. The co-taught classes can be selected in the areas most likely impacted by the student’s disability. Sometimes the assumption is made that, because the student has an IEP, they should automatically be placed in the lowest level course available. This approach would keep many students from building on their strengths to reach their full potential. Students who need support in some subjects can also take typical or even honors classes in subjects that are areas of strength for them.

These days, most high schools are using block schedules that cover the entire content of a course during a single semester. It may be important to make sure that the courses that will be most challenging for your child are not all piled into the same semester. With thoughtful planning, the school can create a schedule that spreads the work load out more evenly. For example, your child can take two really hard classes at the same time plus a support class and an elective in an area of interest. This kind of planning from the very beginning will usually allow students to complete all of their graduation requirements within 4 years so they can graduate with their peers. Even if they have to pick up a summer class or return for an extra semester, the goal is that the student experiences success and gains knowledge that will help them throughout their life. The extra time will be well spent.

Parents also need to look out for other kinds of scheduling problems:

  • Make sure that courses are taken in the right sequence. The level1 course should come before the level 2 course.
  • Make sure that your child is not assigned to a course that they have already successfully completed. With rare exceptions, they will not earn course credit the second time around.
  • Make sure that your child was not placed in an elective course that they have no interest in, or one that is a poor fit, just because there was space in that class. Forcing an extremely shy kid to take a drama class will probably not end well.
  •  Make sure that your child is on track to graduate when expected. Your child could be taking math and science classes that are counted as “electives” that do not meet the graduation requirements for that subject area. If your child comes up short by missing even a single graduation requirement, they will not get a diploma. At least once a year have your child’s guidance counselor review the courses that your child has taken and compare them to the courses required for graduation.

Read your child’s class schedule carefully as soon as you get it.  If you see anything on that doesn’t look right, contact staff at the school immediately.  Go to the school in person if you need to.  The sooner any problems are corrected, the easier it will be for your child, and the better their educational experience will be.

College experience is possible for students with intellectual disabilities!

photo of college studentsThere has been a quiet, but growing movement taking place in the world of post-secondary education.  Thanks to demand from students who have intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) and their families, and the support of a federal initiative, there are an increasing number of post-secondary education programs that allow  individuals with I/DD to have a college experience.  Today many more young people are living their dream of going to college!

Think College! is the joint effort of several federally funded projects.  It is focused on promoting post-secondary education (PSE) as a choice for adults and transition-aged youth with intellectual disabilities across the nation. In 2009 Think College! conducted a survey of existing PSE programs and identified 149 programs located in 37 states.  Today there are at least 212 programs, with 9 located here in North Carolina!

The Think College! website has a wealth of information about PSE programs, evidence-based practices, research findings and related resources. Think College! also provides training and technical assistance for parents, self-advocates, educators, administrators, legislators and others who play key roles in developing and supporting additional high quality PSE programs. Learn more at: www.thinkcollege.net

The Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities (CIDD) coordinates the North Carolina Post-Secondary Education Alliance (PSEA), a diverse group of stakeholders who have a mission to expand the PSE options for individuals with I/DD in North Carolina. The PSEA webpage has information and links for those interested in creating new programs as well as information on the existing programs. There are currently programs at 5 community colleges: Alamance, Central Piedmont, Cleveland, Randolph, and Western Piedmont.  There are also programs housed at Appalachian State University, UNC-Chapel Hill, UNC-Greensboro, and Western Carolina University.

Visit the PSEA homepage at: www.cidd.unc.edu/psea  In addition to information about “the Alliance” and its activities, you will find links to comprehensive information about each North Carolina program. For an easy side-by-side comparison, there is also an “At-a-Glance” document that uses a grid format to provide some key information.  Thanks to the PSEA, information about post-secondary options for students with I/DD is now also available on the College Foundation of North Carolina website:  www.cfnc.org, a central information source for all students who are thinking about college.  Now we are playing on the big stage!

If you have, or know of, a young person with I/DD who may be interested in going to college after they leave school, be sure to discuss this with their teacher and IEP team. The student’s transition component, and other parts of the IEP, can be developed to help prepare the student for a successful PSE experience. Focus on the hard and soft skills that will be needed on campus, in the workplace and community, and for independent living. Many of these programs also work with adults who have already been out of school for a while, but some have a special focus on those who are in the process of making the transition to adulthood. Contact any program that you have interest in to get more information, sooner rather than later. That’s how you begin to turn a dream into a goal, and then into reality!

Re-evaluation in high school?

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.

Is your child on track for graduation?

We sometimes get calls from parents of high school students that are concerned that their child is doing poorly in school for one reason or another, and as we try to get to the root of the problem, we may ask the parent what classes the student is taking.  I am dismayed, but no longer surprised, by the number of parents who cannot answer that question.  If parents don’t know the courses that their child is taking during a given semester, then it very likely that they also don’t have a good understanding of where the child stands with regard to meeting the requirements to graduate with a diploma.

graduation cap with books and diplomaIn North Carolina there are two courses of study (COS) that lead to a high school diploma: the Future-Ready Core Course of Study and the Future-Ready Occupational Course of Study (OCS).  Each COS has it’s own specific set of requirements, which must be met completely before the student will be able to receive a diploma.  The decision about which COS is the most appropriate for a particular student is usually made late in the 8th grade year, and parents need to ask as many questions as necessary to understand what will be expected of their child.  But that’s just the beginning!

Parents and students should periodically check to see which graduation requirements have been met and which are still outstanding.  In most schools, the guidance counselors will meet with each student at least once a year, especially as courses are being selected for the following year.  What’s surprising to many parents is that a lot of schools do not routinely involve parents in this process.  The parent may have to initiate contact with the counselor and ask to have an unofficial transcript sent home, or maybe schedule a face-to-face meeting with the counselor to see where things stand.  Every school system will have it’s graduation requirements available on it’s website and in any high school planning guide that they may publish (you may have to ask for a copy in order to get one).

Think about how much time the student has left in school, and which courses have to be taken before the student will be allowed to take a needed, or desired, course (those are called “prerequisites”).  Are there any tests or projects that are stand-alone graduation requirements?  If your child plans to go to college, are they taking the courses that will meet the college or university’s admission requirements?  Is the student taking, but failing course after course, ending up with very few credits toward graduation?  Are they taking remedial courses that they pass, but only count as elective credits?  Is the student taking career-technical classes that have nothing to do with their career goal or area of interest?  If the student is on the OCS, do they have the required number of  hours for each type of work experience?  If not, what’s the plan for accomplishing by the time graduation is expected? Who can help with this?

In some cases, parents and students have made a 5-year plan for high school, only to be told that the student MUST graduate at the end of four years.  When this happens, there has often been inadequate planning for the student’s transition to adulthood and nothing is in place to support them once they leave school.  Spacing the required courses out over a longer period of time can buy the student more time to work on transition goals, further develop their skills, and have experiences that will give them a better chance for success as an adult.

The bottom line is that parents need to stay on top of their student’s progress throughout the high school years.  There is a High School Planner available at www.cfnc.org that can help parents and students keep track of graduation requirements that have been, or still need to be met.  A similar tool may be available through the high school.  Once again, the guidance counselor will be the key contact for this entire process.   Establishing a good working relationship with that counselor can only work in your child’s best interest, so it’s well worth the effort.

Transition to adulthood homework

I just had a conversation with a parent whose son was nearing the end of his high school career.  At some point, I passed along a tip to her that I was given when my daughter was approaching her last year in high school.  It came from a counselor with the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) who was manning a table next to the ECAC exhibit at a school system’s “Transition Fair”, where parents of children with disabilities learned about various adult services, organizations and agencies.

VR, or “Voc Rehab” provides a wide variety of services to individuals who have disabilities, all with the ultimate goal of helping them find employment.  VR services include vocational assessments, career guidance and counseling, work adjustment services, employment-seeking skills training, job coaching, on-the-job training, internships, supported employment services, job placement, financial assistance with post-secondary education and training programs, etc.

A person has to apply for VR services and meet established eligibility criteria.  If eligible, an individual plan is developed to help the person meet their employment goal.  The specific services that are offered to an individual will be determined by his or her work plan.

Here’s the tip: Parents or students can initiate the referral/application process themselves, rather than wait for the school to do it.  Doing this now has several potential advantages:

  • You can start the process during the summer, before the counselors get bombarded with referrals from the schools.  The counselors can take more time with each applicant and perhaps offer a higher quality service when their load is a little lighter.
  • You can start the process earlier in the student’s school career.  Some students are not referred until the last semester of their last year in school, which does not allow much time for VR to contribute to the transition to adulthood process.
  • You can make sure that the referral happens.  Every now and then, the ball gets dropped and the VR referrals don’t get made at all. This may be more likely to happen with higher-functioning students and those with a Section 504 Accommodation Plan rather than an IEP.  Note: VR’s eligibility criteria is different than those associated with special education.

The summer may also be a good time to look into other adult services and post-secondary programs.  Even though schools have a responsibility for transition under IDEA, parents will always play a key role in making sure that their children (even as adults) get what they need.  So, take the lead and get things moving!