Sunday, April 8, 2012

Important Questions to Ask Yourself Before Your Next IEP Meeting

There are some things you need to keep in mind when you walk into an IEP meeting. You need to know what services they get and what you think they should get.  It is not uncommon for the District to make a change (usually to less) in services without specifically informing you that they are suggesting a change.  If you don't know what your child currently has they may recommend a reduction in services by simply saying we recommend that Child A receive group speech therapy one time per week for 20 minutes in a small group setting.  If you have forgotten that your child is currently receiving therapy twice per week in a small group setting for 30 minutes and one time per week in an individual setting for 30 minutes then you might give up two sessions and ten minutes thus resulting in a total loss of services of 80 minutes per week.  If we go in unprepared we have a lot to lose.  So we need to ask ourselves the following questions.

First:  What are the services my child currently has?
     What specific areas does my child get support in?  Speech/Ot/PT/APE/ABA/other
     How many hours per week/month does my child get support?
     Is that support in an individual/small group/group manner?
     Who is supposed to give this support?  Is it the therapist or an assistant to the therapist or a specific        credentialed teacher or the school psychologist or someone else?
     Do they receive push-in or pull-out services?

Second:  What are the services I believe my child should get that they are not currently receiving?
     Do they need an increase in current services or a switch from group to individual or from individual to group?
     Do they need a change to push-in or a change to pull-out services?

Third:  Has my child been making progress on each goal?
     Has that progress led to my child being ready to move on from the support service they have been receiving?
    If they have been making progress but are not ready to move on from the support service, does this goal lead to another goal or are they ready for a new direction with help?
    If they have not made progress what is the reason?  Was the goal too lofty?  Did the District attempt to work on the goal?  Was the goal just not right for my child?

Fourth:  What will I do if they District recommends reducing or eliminating a particular service?
     Do I agree that the service should be reduced or discontinued?  If I agree that a service should be reduced or discontinued, why do I believe that?  Is my belief based on what the District is telling me?  If so, have they been reasonable and trustworthy in the past?  If not, do I have information from a reliable independent expert that makes me believe that the service should be reduced or eliminated?  If not, I suggest asking for an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) so that you can get an unbiased opinion from an expert at the district's expense.

Going in to an IEP meeting with all of your information at your fingertips will make for less mistakes.  Less mistakes means a better program for our children, and despite the fact that we will likely make some mistakes along the way, reducing those mistakes will make for the best possible program for our kids.  Being prepared will make those mistakes we still make less important and have a minimal negative impact on our child's education.

Dealing With Liars and Avoiders - The Public Records Act

My son is in kindergarten in a charter school in our town.  At his first parent/teacher conference in November we were told he was below basic in many areas.  When his report card came he got 2 "C's" and 2 "D's" along with "A's" in all of the non-core subjects.  His teacher explained that his grades were based on his meeting kindergarten level standards, since he was not meeting end of year standards he had earned poor grades.  My husband and I questioned this to be sure we understood, and she explained that grades are based on what he is expected to do at the end of the year, and that since he did not know all of that material - despite the fact that it had not yet been taught - he was considered to be near failing.  An administrator who happened to be attending the meeting backed her up.  This seemed ridiculous to me but I was of a mind that kindergarten grades are not a big deal (most schools don't even give grades until years later anyway) I felt it was best to let it go.

Fast forward to two weeks ago.  My son is given his second report card.  It is much better.  I have pulled him out of the class and am home schooling him due to the fact that he was being bullied in the classroom and the teacher refused to even look into it.  Letters to the principal brought no response.  My son had responded to the bullying with aggression.  It wasn't a politically correct response, but he is in kindergarten, and when he told the teacher what was happening she refused to believe him - she shared that in an IEP meeting, explaining it away by assuring everyone in the room that "no one else saw that", even when I had reported seeing it take place.

Finally, this last week I had a couple of conversations with different people.  The Speech therapist who works with my son told me that she had to insist repeatedly that the teacher base my son's grades on the most recent information she had, she said the teacher was planning to grade him on earlier information despite the fact that he is currently completing first grade level writing.  He can write a full sentence properly, with a capital at the start, spaces between the letters, and a period at the end.  She intended to give him a "D".  her reasoning was that many of her other students were doing no better now than at mid-term so using mid-term grades was reasonable despite the fact that he had been tested the week before and had aced the writing portion of the test.

Then a couple of days later I spoke to some mom's of other kindergartners at the same charter school that I have known for a few years.  Their kids are not being graded on the principal of meeting end of year standards.  Their kids are being graded on what they have been taught, not on what they will be taught in the future.  Imagine that, being graded reasonably.   So the next question is what to do with this information.  I decided it was time to write a letter asking for the schools actual policies. This seemed pretty reasonable to me.  I asked what the policy is for grading kindergartners both in regards to academic standards and regarding the use of time sensitive testing.  I figured an honest and forthcoming administrator would be happy to share policy with me.

Apparently I was wrong to assume I would reach an honest (forget forthcoming) administrator.  I was told to "ask the teacher".  If I wasn't happy with that answer "ask the principal".  So ask the teacher who I already suspect has lied to me and ask the principal who completely ignored my concerns about my child being bullied.  Besides, I was just asking for a copy of a written policy, why the run around?  Not only was I told that he would not answer my questions, but he sent this letter at 9:18 on the Saturday night before Easter, and included a "have a happy holiday" as though he was being friendly and helpful.

Well, this is exactly why our legislators have made a policy that requires that public entities must make their records open to public scrutiny.  The thinking is that we, the public are their owners, since it is our taxes that pay for their programs, and so we have the right to view how they are using that money.  We have the right to keep them accountable.

So I sent a request for public records.  I asked that they supply me with copies of their written internal grading policies for kindergartners in regards to academic standards, copies of their written internal policies regarding current v. older testing.  I also asked for copies of my son's specific testing just prior to both grading periods, copies of the e-mail transaction between the teacher and the SLP who shared that they had gone back and forth several times over how the teacher was choosing to grade my son (using old information when she had new information).  Copies of e-mails between the teacher and the school administrator who had backed up what appears to be a flawed method of grading.  Finally I requested their e-mail destruction policy, because without a policy they may not legally destroy any e-mails legally.

They have now boxed themselves into corner.  If they don't give me the information I have requested, including the emails, they set themselves up for criminal charges.  Once we get the information it is likely it will be obvious that they are covering up a for a bad teacher.  Either way, it doesn't look good for them.  It would have been best if they had realized early on that this teacher is trouble.  I have been told that several other parents have written letters of complaint about her methods.  It should have been obvious to the administration that this was not the person that should be teaching kindergarten.  But this is the way it usually goes.  It is rare that administration want to face the fact that they have made a mistake in hiring.  They may meet with the teacher and try to ensure change, but as long as the masses quiet down, one child being harmed just isn't worth the effort.  It is nerve wracking and anxiety producing to take these battles on, but if we don't who will be the teacher's victim next year?  We can't fix it for my child, but maybe we can keep kids safe from this kind of treatment in the future.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The"Nice" IEP Meeting

The last IEP I attended was much "nicer" than previous meetings.  The "team" was very positive about my daughter with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.  She is doing "great" in all of her classes, she is a "superb" student, she is "well organized" and is "turning in her assignments on time".  Her IQ total has climbed a whopping 23 points since she was first tested at age 6.  She is incredibly pleasant to have in class, she is a leader, she is well liked by peers and staff alike!  They all seem to believe that she is very talented, creative, and going to have great opportunities to excel at a University.  All those quotations marks?  Yes, they are actual quotes from the IEP notes page!  So, maybe you, like me are wondering why she is in Special Education and why she needs an IEP.

Before I go any further.  My oldest daughter is one of the hardest working kids you will ever find.  Fortunately she doesn't have the aggressive tendencies of FASD that her brother who we also adopted has.  She doesn't do all of her work but she does a lot, she often times forgets to turn in completed or near completed work though.  She has a good strong work ethic and she has come so far, I am really proud of her.  At the same time I am not the type of parent that thinks my kid can't do anything wrong.  I know she needs extra help and I know that I have to keep on top of her or she will miss turning in (or maybe even doing) assignments, and she has never studied for a test without my bugging her to do it.  She thinks she is smarter than she is - she thinks she is smarter than her dad and me (what 15 year old doesn't) and because of that she doesn't think she needs to study for tests.  She can be a really pain around the house, but she behaves very well at school and at others' homes, typical for 15 years old I think.  She is more like her non-disabled peers than she is different, I take heart in that fact!

She has good grades, a "B" average, with one "D" due to her general ed teacher not being informed of the accommodations he was to have been giving, so the first half of the semester really brought her grade down.  Once she got the accommodations and I was on her to make sure she got every piece of work done and studied for all of her tests she squeaked through.   But, my concern is, is she going to get those accommodations at a University?  And, even though I would be paying for it, is anyone going to send me e-mails telling me that she is falling behind so I can light a fire under her?  I don't think so.

Fortunately, the meeting had to be continued because others had to leave and I had to go pick up a child from another school.  This was the best thing that could have happened!  I took home all of the paperwork that I hadn't received ahead of time, I read over all the comments in the notes section of the IEP, "superb" (really?), I hadn't heard that comment but it sure did make the my daughter look good didn't it?  And I got to think, something there is too little time to do in a meeting with many people talking at the same time.  I find I spend a lot of my time trying to figure out who is trustworthy (sort of) in the meeting and who I need to be very leery of this time around.  That is why I never sign an IEP at the meeting unless they offer to give every service I went in to ask for and even then, I usually want to read the fine print, and then I still often times look back the next year and wish I had objected to something I didn't object to!

Well, after checking my feelings about the meeting, looking over the paperwork, and spending a bit of time realizing that there was a reason for all of the insanity, I got to work.  First, the reason for trying to make it seem like my daughter is the first kid in the special ed system at  her school that should go to a University and major in a creative major is that they have everything to gain from making it seem she is super-girl!  It will cost them a lot less in services and special classes if they can make her seem like the "Incredible Super Smarter Kid".  So then I was able to get to the details.  They weren't actually suggesting that she leave special ed, of course not, they get Federal funds if they can keep her in Special Ed and yet give her nothing over and above the regular special ed classes.  So they want to keep her just disabled enough to need a few special ed classes but not disabled enough that she needs any services - even the ones they just started giving her last year!  Here are a few of the things I found were in that paperwork and were to have been suggested at the meeting - since they included recommendations in the notes - written before hand since they knew what the recommendations would be even before the meeting (called predetermination).

They say she is organized - probably a lead in to not needing any more OT services!  Just two weeks before  she had received a progress report and in one class she had not turned in 8 assignments out of about 20!  That does not signal organization to me!  She had missed 4 assignments in another class and in another she was behind by only one assignment,  but it was worth almost half of her grade so she was suddenly getting a "D" in that class too!  She is in an English 9 class, but since it isn't called "language arts" her teachers determined that she did not need to work on the goal that was related to her language arts class!  I think English 9 is a language arts class, and that isn't a big stretch.

For reading, the only goal is for increasing fluency.  Okay, fluency is nice, it is important, but what good does it do to increase her reading fluency if she isn't understanding what she is reading?  Her comprehension is at fifth grade level, but they want her to read faster at the ninth grade level, even her Language Arts (oops, English) teacher said that increasing fluency will come from reading things that are below her actual reading level so the whole thing seems to make no sense.

One goal was written that she will "complete ---- at 80% 4 out of 5 times".  So 4 out of 5 times is already 80% and then 80% of 80% is  actually 64%, is "D" level work an appropriate goal?  I don't think so.  My daughter may do her best and end up doing 64% but that should not be the GOAL!

Another suggested goal was for her to complete a resume that is 80% correct.  Is a resume that 80% correct okay?  I say keep having her do that task until it is 100% correct.

She has auditory processing disorder so she has been given a listening device that helps her to focus on what is said and screen out background noise.  She has been forgetting to use it but they have objected to a goal for that.  A simple "------ will wear her listening device 90% of the time" seems easy enough, but they don't want that.  Okay, why?

Everyone admitted that my daughter sounds very young for her age yet the SLP denies hearing her speak in anything other than a perfectly appropriate voice.  Funny how in a room full of people the only person who doesn't hear how young she sounds is the person who is supposed to help her with her speech.  And really, try getting anyone to take you seriously when you sound like you are in early elementary school.

Goals were written with a baseline that says "student had difficulty with --------- in her triannual evaluation".  So even if she regresses by next year we won't know that because we don't know what she can do now.

These are the kinds of things that we need to go over privately, away from the IEP team, when we can think.  The goals drive the services so goals need to be good.  We should to be able to recognize the kid they are talking about in their evaluations and in the notes.  If they say our kid can cut normally we should ask them to cut in front of us so we can see if they really can cut.  We can't test everything, but there are many things we can test.  I know my daughter behaves better away from home than at home - I probably did too, but she should not be unrecognizable.

"Nice" is just a way to act, and it probably fools a lot of us into believing that they really care, but the two are very different, and the best IEP teams are made up of people who will tell you the truth.  Talking about your child's strengths is "nice" but talking about their weaknesses and and how to help your child overcome them is what makes an IEP meeting helpful.