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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.

Neither sticks, stones, nor insults will disrupt the dialogue   Leave a comment

Still synthesizing dialogue from last night’s #BlackEd chat on Twitter (9 PM EST every Thursday). The group continues to grow, but I feel as though I need to address the elephant in the cyber-room because we do not want this effort to become counterproductive to addressing the ’cause’ (identifying problems & solutions to the opportunity gap for Black students). Now I know there are tons of educators and parents using Twitter. If it’s true what they say about 6 degrees of separation, we should have more people actively participating in the dialogue. After I took the high road last night in a disagreement with another participant, I got to thinking: This is exactly why there are probably four times as many people watching as there are participating.

I was called to task on my criticism of Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Anyone who has ever read my blogs with a semblance of interest or paid any attention to my tweets knows how I feel about him. I have never minced words when it comes to discussing him or that woman in D.C. (Read my blog about not drinking the kool-aid) I was challenged to post a link to any article where Duncan stated that parents do not care about education. Well, I think Duncan has shown that he has been stricken with a case of foot-in-mouth disease on more than one occasion. First it was the witch-hunt for ‘ineffective’ teachers. Then, he had the unmitigated gall to say that Katrina was the ‘best thing’ that happened to the New Orleans education system because some of his homies have netted some hefty profits). Now he’s on a mission to ban schools from participating in the NCAA Tournament based on academic performance and graduation rates. Yeah, let’s see how that pans out… Anywho, this individual went on to tell me that Duncan has been in education for years (please Google Renaissance 2010 and read more than one story) and basically knows what he is doing. Again, please see Renaissance 2010 and what has really transpired in Chicago (not the suburbs) as a result. My counterpoint: Would you allow someone other than a cardiologist to give you medical advice/treatment for your heart? HTTN! Would you allow a tax driver to fly your airplane? HTTN! So why is it ok for a non-educator to make major decisions about education when he couldn’t get results in Chicago?  I can’t help but invoke the infamous words of Jay-Z: Men lie. Women lie. Numbers don’t lie. The data is available to the public. if numbers don’t move you, please Google Derrion Albert. He was attending a school that housed members of rival gangs because theirs had been closed under Renaissance 2010, brainchild of Arne Duncan. Education is the only profession where someone without any on-the-job training or experience can come in and implement changes that do not make sense! I wonder how the American Medical Association would receive me, a trained educator, if I drafted a 50 page report outlining how they should improve healthcare…but I digress.

He went on to tell me that my ‘logic’ was assinine (poster’s spelling, not mine). Ok. Whatever happened to respectfully disagreeing? I think I am a little (ok, a lot) too old to participate in name-calling with people who come together to discuss solutions to the education epidemic. I will agree to hear your point-of-view. If I do not understand, I will certainly ask you to expound. I may still disagree, but at least I will extend you the courtesy of respecting your opinion. I adamantly refuse to participate in such banter, as I know people are watching. That is what’s important to me. Someone who may be teaching in a predominantly minority school may be watching, because he or she does not know what to do, how to do it, or how to ask for help. The last thing I want that person (or hundreds of people) to see, is two African Americans bicker over Duncan’s suitability to serve as the Secretary of Education. Yep, counterproductivity at its best. I refuse to participate. End of story.

For those who have been watching, I challenge you to join the dialogue. We need to hear from you. We cannot arrive at solutions without hearing from you. We all have a voice and potential to contribute and exact change.

In the words of Mr. Vilson, who motivates me to write blogs more frequently: That is all!

Is your state’s Department of Education misleading parents and constituents?   Leave a comment

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) testing results for 2009 were released this week. The NAEP is the only nationally administered assessment that randomly tests America’s 4th and 8th grade students’ to measure whether students know what they should at those grade levels, with special attention on the Mathematics assessment. The exam is actually administered every 2 years by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), a component of the U.S. Department of Education. Now that we have that out of the way, let’s focus on the question at hand: Is your state’s Department of Education misleading parents and constituents?

The practice of reporting ‘half-truths’ or omitting important data is very disturbing to me, both as a parent and an educator. According to the Georgia Department of Education, Georgia’s students showed ‘significant improvement’ on the 2009 NAEP; the state was one of 15 to show such improvement. By Georgia standards, what constitutes ‘significant improvement?’ Apparently for 8th grade students, only three points. In 2007, the average score for Georgia’s students was 275 compared to 280 for the nation. This year, Georgia’s average increased by three points to 278, compared to 282 for the nation. Over a 2-year period, Georgia has managed to close the performance gap between the national average by only one point. Fourth-grade NAEP performance remained relatively the same, with only a one point gain over the same 2-year period. In 2007, Georgia’s 4th graders averaged 235 compared to 239 for the nation. Two years later, the score increased to 236 for the state but the national average remained the same.

Despite the small gains made by Georgia’s students overall, there still exists a significant achievement gap for Blacks, Hispanics, Free and Reduced Lunch-eligible (FARL), and Students with Disabilities (SWD) when compared to White and Asian students. Of the 8th grade students performing ‘Below Basic,’ 72% were reported as having a disability, 50% were Black, 47% FARL, and 41% Hispanic. When compared to White and Asian students, the disparities are magnified because 18% and 14%, respectively, scored ‘Below Basic.’ For more detailed information about the performance of AYP subgroups, click here.

As parents we must remain vigilant in finding and demanding the truth from our education officials. If parents do not have full disclosure they are essentially prevented from making informed decisions about where and how their children are educated.

Posted October 17, 2009 by moniseseward in Uncategorized

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