Archive for the ‘Free Appropriate Public Education’ Tag

An IEP is not a free pass, and other misconceptions about Special Education   5 comments

Last week I had the opportunity to participate in Twitter’s #SpEdChat (READ: I actually remembered it was taking place and added my two cents). I have a special place in my heart for Special Education; I made it through 4.5 years teaching without laying hands (CODE: Channeling Madea) on any students. More importantly, I managed to only mildly inform colleagues and administrators of their ignorance of Special Education’s purpose and when they directly violated any component of IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Act). But I digress because this post is about something else. It’s about teachers being proactive in gaining knowledge to do what’s in the best interest of their students. And I can always support that!

I noticed a theme during the #SpEdChat: A lot of General Education teachers are genuinely interested in learning about ways to help those students with an IEP (Individualized Education Plan), as opposed to ‘passing them’ simply because they have an IEP. My buddy @TheJLV and I were discussing the arrangements at his school: The majority of the kids served by Special Education participate in Inclusion classes, where students are essentially mainstreamed into Regular Education classes. (NOTE: This setting, as with any other, is determined by the child’s IEP team – parents, teachers, psychologist, administrator, etc. and his/her area of disability. This is covered by the FAPE – Free Appropriate Public Education- provision of IDEA.) He shared that the staff attended an IEP training workshop, facilitated/led by the Special Education Department. That’s certainly a good first step, but I am sure some of the people were overwhelmed. Why? Because I was overwhelmed with writing IEPs for the first two years; reading them was much easier! In order to better educate teachers, both General and Special Education, it is absolutely necessary to for school’s to offer ongoing professional development regarding IEPs, IDEA, Inclusion, etc. One-shot workshops don’t usually work well for other education-related topics, so it’s no wonder why they don’t fare well with regard to Special Education.

So a few people asked questions about IEPs, including how do you write them, how do you understand them, etc. As I stated above, writing IEPs is a difficult and sometimes daunting task; however, when done correctly, a well-written one makes delivering quality instruction and assessing student growth a proverbial cakewalk. I cannot, nor will I attempt, to do a drive-by blog on writing IEPs because there is a lot that goes into that, but to start I will give you a quick run-down of what an IEP is/is not, and what it’s supposed to do-when followed.

What the heck is an IEP? (Not to be confused with EIP – Early Intervention Plan/Program)

  1. First and foremost, an IEP is a legal document; it’s contents & directives are protected by IDEA;
  2. An IEP is a confidential document. You should only discuss its contents with people who directly interact with the child;
  3. An IEP is required for any child diagnosed with any disability that impedes/affects (not stops) his or her ability to learn at the same rate or in the same manner as peers;
  4. An IEP is not a free pass for students to ‘skate’ through the system; do not let anyone tell you otherwise. You will do students a great disservice if you don’t hold them accountable;
  5. An IEP does not excuse (the majority of) students from learning the same standards/content. It does, however, provide for accommodations/modifications based upon the IEP team’s recommendations;
  6. A well-written IEP requires input from all stakeholders: Student (if appropriate age-usually 14); parent(s); teachers; psychologist; Lead Special Education Teacher (terminology may differ by state); administrator; school counselor; therapist, SLP, etc. when appropriate. This is a group effort and the child will only be successful if the requisite amount of time and knowledge are applied to writing and following the IEP;
  7. An IEP is integral to the success of any student with a disability. It should not, under any circumstances, be filed in some cabinet and ignored during the school year;
  8. By law, an IEP must be updated every year, on the anniversary date. Err on the side of caution: Schedule the Annual Review 7-10 days prior to the anniversary date. I have seen school districts sued by knowledgeable parents because the district failed to conduct the Annual Review. I have also seen students with 2-3 year old IEPs. Yes, the system is broken but we are still accountable for meeting the needs of our students.

In response to concerns voiced by some teachers and administrators during the chat: IDEA states that teachers who have direct instructional contact with the student are required to attend IEP meetings. Attendance by a building administrator is also required. I would suggest that the Special Education Department Chair collaborate first, with the principal to develop a master calendar of potential IEP Annual Review dates. Then, work with other department chairs and inform all teachers of their responsibilities. I understand that teachers now have 1,001 things on their plates, but I am sure they would much rather make time for meetings than be named in a lawsuit.

When in doubt, follow IDEA. Every state/district/school must use IDEA as a foundation for developing their respective Special Education programs. Anything above and beyond IDEA is up to their discretion, but the federal guidelines cannot be altered as long as federal funds are involved/accepted/spent.

What’s best for our kids?   3 comments

Just as I was thinking about the topic for my next blog, inspiration came from a few places. I have been seriously considering applying to Harvard’s Doctorate in Educational Leadership program for a few reasons. First, the university covers tuition and provides a stipend. Secondly, if you take a close look at all of the people who are ‘allowed’ to shape and change educational policy, a large majority of them are Harvard graduates, whether they hold MBAs or PhDs. This sends a very clear  message. The fact that our president has a Harvard Law degree does not hurt either. Add to that the fact that I have a soon-to-be 15 year-old son. We have had the ‘What do you want to do after high school’ talk several times and I think we will have the extended version over the next few weeks. Here’s the dilemma: If he does decide to go to college, then Harvard is out of the question for me. At least for the next few years. If he decides that he wants to attend a community college instead, then game on!

The other inspiration was Maureen Downey’s ‘discussion‘ on whether Georgia’s kids are better served by single or multiple track high school programs. One of my Twitter colleagues replied to the link and said he supports multiple tracks, as do I. But as we continued to discuss, I mentioned how some students were taking courses towards a Technical Diploma Track (now defunct) and did not realize that they could not apply to 4-year colleges and universities after graduating. This was more prevalent with students who had an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). My colleague and I disagreed on this. He stressed that student are more responsible for choosing what is best for them. While I agree with student responsibility, I also believe that many students are lured by the ‘graduating in 4 years’ carrot, without any real idea of plans after high school. Again, I have actually met and taught some students who were under the assumption that they would be eligible to apply to colleges and universities their senior year. Unfortunately, many of those students were working on a Technical Diploma track and, therefore, were only eligible for technical or community colleges. Why is this important? Because, although I had only taught the students for a semester or a year, I had to be the bearer of the bad news. Not a pleasant experience, to say the least. Despite the advent of email, IEP meetings, using the telephone, or pulling a student out of class, some of these kids did not know their options. This is troubling, especially considering that SWD have the lowest graduation rate among all AYP subgroups. But we must also consider the unspoken correlations: (1) A large percentage of SWD are not completing high school in 4 years. Yes they are guaranteed a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) until the age of 21, but realistically, many do not stay beyond the age of 18; and (2) Those who do not graduate in 4 years are very likely to be among the thousands of Georgia high school dropouts each year. If we are to seriously ‘entertain’ (that’s all we are doing right now) this ideal of decreasing the dropout rate, we need to start asking our district and state education officials some tough and uncomfortable questions: Namely, what is your district doing (that actually works) to decrease the drop-out rate? Perhaps this responsibility needs to rest with separate entities. After all, if the districts cannot keep tabs on their students while they are in school, can/should we really expect them to do so once the students leave? Furthermore, many students who drop-out usually report boredom as the motivating factor. Fact: If you can’t keep them engaged, they will find something that will. I believe this is where those multiple track programs, as well as career exploration opportunities, will prove beneficial. Traditional programs and teaching methods DO NOT work for all students, those with disabilities and otherwise. Not all students learn in the same way. Unless we start addressing those needs in the classroom, we will continue to see the drop-out rates raise. Wow. This sounds a lot like the common sense approach to closing the achievement gap.

Effective for the 2008-09 school year, Georgia implemented new graduation requirements for all students entering high school for the first time. The new graduation requirements:

Area  (Units Required)

  • English (4)
  • Math     (4)
  • Science   (4)
  • Social Studies  (3)
  • CTAE/Mod Lang/FA  (3)
  • Health & Physical Education (1)
  • Electives (4)

Georgia’s high school students need a total of 24 credits to graduate, in addition to passing all sections of the Georgia High School Graduation Tests (GHSGT). You may be thinking, “O.K. what’s the difference between the new and the old requirements?” Georgia removed the ‘track’ titles, e.g. College Prep (CP), College Prep with Distinction (CP+), and Technology/Career Prep (TC). Also, former tracks had a minimum of 22-24 credits; now all students are required to earn 24 credits to graduate. Although the state no longer makes distinctions between diploma types, the class titles are still the same. Students on the CP track do not take core courses with students working on the TC track. The names have all changed, but the programming is still the same.

If you would like to look at Georga’s actual (not average) graduation rates, check out the article I wrote last October. While I am impressed by the improved average graduation rate for Georgia, the AYP subgroups (Blacks, Hispanics, ELL, SWD, and FARL) still lag behind Whites and Asians. For the 2008-09 school year, Georgia’s average graduation rate was 78.9%, up from 75% last year. Here is the breakdown for each group:

  • Black 74.1%
  • Hispanic 71%
  • Students With Disabilities (SWD) 41.4%
  • English Language Learners (ELL) 55%
  • Free and Reduced Lunch-eligible (FARL) 72.9%
  • White 82.7%
  • Asian 91%
  • I will not deny my concern about the huge and noticeable failure of our public schools to graduate more English Language Learners and Students with Disabilities. Before you launch into a ‘People need to learn English’ or ‘How can students with an IEP not graduate’ tirade, let me make a few things clear:

    1. English is a very difficult language to learn. I didn’t realize how difficult until I started taking Spanish classes in high school. I will say, Spanish is the easier language. When you factor in the possibility that parents may not speak English in the home, it makes acquisition that much more difficult.
    2. My heart is, and always will be, in Special Education. Yes, even after days where a student was having a bad day and decided to cuss-out everyone (myself included), I wouldn’t trade any of those experiences. I have dialogued with some teachers on Twitter about how to ‘fix’ Special Education. We all have our own strategies and opinions, but we all agree that it is in horrible shape (trying to stop cussing on here). Special Education programs, understandably (to a small degree), differ from state-to-state; however, when you have noticeable disparities within a state and between district A and district B, there are serious consequences. Don’t believe me? Just look at the 41.1% graduation rate. That number does not include students with Severe and Profound Disabilities or other groups not required to earn a traditional high school diploma.

    New requirements are in place; however, we will not have any comparison data until the end of the 2011-12 school year. But I am certain that, at the end of this school year, our DOE will boast that graduation rates have improved, without emphasizing average or the fact that some student groups have yet to break the 50% threshold. Sometimes I wonder if I am over-simplifying the solutions, or if people are making things harder than they have to be…… Your thoughts?

    What's best for our kids?   3 comments

    Just as I was thinking about the topic for my next blog, inspiration came from a few places. I have been seriously considering applying to Harvard’s Doctorate in Educational Leadership program for a few reasons. First, the university covers tuition and provides a stipend. Secondly, if you take a close look at all of the people who are ‘allowed’ to shape and change educational policy, a large majority of them are Harvard graduates, whether they hold MBAs or PhDs. This sends a very clear  message. The fact that our president has a Harvard Law degree does not hurt either. Add to that the fact that I have a soon-to-be 15 year-old son. We have had the ‘What do you want to do after high school’ talk several times and I think we will have the extended version over the next few weeks. Here’s the dilemma: If he does decide to go to college, then Harvard is out of the question for me. At least for the next few years. If he decides that he wants to attend a community college instead, then game on!

    The other inspiration was Maureen Downey’s ‘discussion‘ on whether Georgia’s kids are better served by single or multiple track high school programs. One of my Twitter colleagues replied to the link and said he supports multiple tracks, as do I. But as we continued to discuss, I mentioned how some students were taking courses towards a Technical Diploma Track (now defunct) and did not realize that they could not apply to 4-year colleges and universities after graduating. This was more prevalent with students who had an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). My colleague and I disagreed on this. He stressed that student are more responsible for choosing what is best for them. While I agree with student responsibility, I also believe that many students are lured by the ‘graduating in 4 years’ carrot, without any real idea of plans after high school. Again, I have actually met and taught some students who were under the assumption that they would be eligible to apply to colleges and universities their senior year. Unfortunately, many of those students were working on a Technical Diploma track and, therefore, were only eligible for technical or community colleges. Why is this important? Because, although I had only taught the students for a semester or a year, I had to be the bearer of the bad news. Not a pleasant experience, to say the least. Despite the advent of email, IEP meetings, using the telephone, or pulling a student out of class, some of these kids did not know their options. This is troubling, especially considering that SWD have the lowest graduation rate among all AYP subgroups. But we must also consider the unspoken correlations: (1) A large percentage of SWD are not completing high school in 4 years. Yes they are guaranteed a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) until the age of 21, but realistically, many do not stay beyond the age of 18; and (2) Those who do not graduate in 4 years are very likely to be among the thousands of Georgia high school dropouts each year. If we are to seriously ‘entertain’ (that’s all we are doing right now) this ideal of decreasing the dropout rate, we need to start asking our district and state education officials some tough and uncomfortable questions: Namely, what is your district doing (that actually works) to decrease the drop-out rate? Perhaps this responsibility needs to rest with separate entities. After all, if the districts cannot keep tabs on their students while they are in school, can/should we really expect them to do so once the students leave? Furthermore, many students who drop-out usually report boredom as the motivating factor. Fact: If you can’t keep them engaged, they will find something that will. I believe this is where those multiple track programs, as well as career exploration opportunities, will prove beneficial. Traditional programs and teaching methods DO NOT work for all students, those with disabilities and otherwise. Not all students learn in the same way. Unless we start addressing those needs in the classroom, we will continue to see the drop-out rates raise. Wow. This sounds a lot like the common sense approach to closing the achievement gap.

    Effective for the 2008-09 school year, Georgia implemented new graduation requirements for all students entering high school for the first time. The new graduation requirements:

    Area  (Units Required)

    • English (4)
    • Math     (4)
    • Science   (4)
    • Social Studies  (3)
    • CTAE/Mod Lang/FA  (3)
    • Health & Physical Education (1)
    • Electives (4)

    Georgia’s high school students need a total of 24 credits to graduate, in addition to passing all sections of the Georgia High School Graduation Tests (GHSGT). You may be thinking, “O.K. what’s the difference between the new and the old requirements?” Georgia removed the ‘track’ titles, e.g. College Prep (CP), College Prep with Distinction (CP+), and Technology/Career Prep (TC). Also, former tracks had a minimum of 22-24 credits; now all students are required to earn 24 credits to graduate. Although the state no longer makes distinctions between diploma types, the class titles are still the same. Students on the CP track do not take core courses with students working on the TC track. The names have all changed, but the programming is still the same.

    If you would like to look at Georga’s actual (not average) graduation rates, check out the article I wrote last October. While I am impressed by the improved average graduation rate for Georgia, the AYP subgroups (Blacks, Hispanics, ELL, SWD, and FARL) still lag behind Whites and Asians. For the 2008-09 school year, Georgia’s average graduation rate was 78.9%, up from 75% last year. Here is the breakdown for each group:

  • Black 74.1%
  • Hispanic 71%
  • Students With Disabilities (SWD) 41.4%
  • English Language Learners (ELL) 55%
  • Free and Reduced Lunch-eligible (FARL) 72.9%
  • White 82.7%
  • Asian 91%
  • I will not deny my concern about the huge and noticeable failure of our public schools to graduate more English Language Learners and Students with Disabilities. Before you launch into a ‘People need to learn English’ or ‘How can students with an IEP not graduate’ tirade, let me make a few things clear:

    1. English is a very difficult language to learn. I didn’t realize how difficult until I started taking Spanish classes in high school. I will say, Spanish is the easier language. When you factor in the possibility that parents may not speak English in the home, it makes acquisition that much more difficult.
    2. My heart is, and always will be, in Special Education. Yes, even after days where a student was having a bad day and decided to cuss-out everyone (myself included), I wouldn’t trade any of those experiences. I have dialogued with some teachers on Twitter about how to ‘fix’ Special Education. We all have our own strategies and opinions, but we all agree that it is in horrible shape (trying to stop cussing on here). Special Education programs, understandably (to a small degree), differ from state-to-state; however, when you have noticeable disparities within a state and between district A and district B, there are serious consequences. Don’t believe me? Just look at the 41.1% graduation rate. That number does not include students with Severe and Profound Disabilities or other groups not required to earn a traditional high school diploma.

    New requirements are in place; however, we will not have any comparison data until the end of the 2011-12 school year. But I am certain that, at the end of this school year, our DOE will boast that graduation rates have improved, without emphasizing average or the fact that some student groups have yet to break the 50% threshold. Sometimes I wonder if I am over-simplifying the solutions, or if people are making things harder than they have to be…… Your thoughts?