Draft?

March 31, 2014 § 1 Comment

The IEP meetings are supposed to be a team process but very commonly now parents walk in and are handed a draft. It is so influential to be handed that draft before the discussion has even taken place. I UNDERSTAND that the intent is not bad but as a parent it makes me feel like they have already “decided” it doesn’t feel like a team, instead it feels like I am there to decide if I agree or disagree with what they have already drafted. It’s sketchy.

It is a legal requirement that parents must leave an IEP meeting with summary notes. A draft is acceptable but it dances on inappropriate when you are handed it before a meeting begins. I have even received the “draft” days before the meeting as a “favor.” (Not a favor I wanted.)

I also find it personally distracting when the coordinator spends the entire meeting on her lap top editing the draft. All of this in the name of saving time – until you get a parent like me! Then it’s going to take twice as long because I am actually going to go through every detail on that draft in the meeting and argue for the changes I want. When there is a draft presented it automatically puts parents in a place to defend, argue and change. The IEP meeting is a place for everyone to share their ideas, discuss and develop the possibilities for a child, there needs to be dialogue.

I am not saying that teachers and therapist should come to meetings unprepared. As a special educator I have always jotted down what the goals I will propose look like so I can sound articulate when I present my ideas to a parent. Sometimes with parent and team input those ideas are totally scrapped or reworked. That is what is supposed to happen.

Districts using prewritten drafts are really taking advantages of parents who are not well versed in special education. When a draft is presented it doesn’t involve the parents in a dialogue that it should and they may not know how it is supposed to be..

Please let a team meeting be a place where an IEP can be developed the way it was supposed to be, with contributing voices from all members.

Assumption

March 30, 2014 § 3 Comments

Several years ago Ari became very ill and ended up at the emergency room at Children’s Hospital Boston.

We waited and waited for help. She laid there in the hospital bed without any energy at all. Pale, dehydrated and it hurt her to move. A nurse came marching in, looked at her diagnosis and said “this is her baseline right?” They had been making the assumption because she had a syndrome that this is how she always behaved and that there was no real emergency. Fortunately her geneticist was just upstairs and came down and straightened everything out. Ari was then re-evaluated and admitted for what ended up being a week.

I often wonder if I had taken her home that day because I never pushed anyone to look closer what would have happened that night.

This nurse made an assumption without asking questions. This happens way too much with kids with needs.

It happened again recently when we met with people at the middle school and heard about future program choices. They pushed toward a program for severely impacted children – again they assumed whatever they wanted based on her diagnosis.

We all need to stop, look and SEE the child not the diagnosis. We can’t assume that because we read something online about children with the same labels that it is true for every child with that label.

Every child is unique, they are a beautiful blend of their diagnosis, their family, their heritage, their genetics, their gender and their personally. There is no description that captures all children or their learning profiles. This is why when we develop IEPs they must be individualized. They can not be cookie cutter goals and objectives, they can not follow a track that other children are on. They must be tailor fit. Each IEP truly should be completely different than the next, just as each child is uniquely different from other children.
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Hoarders

March 29, 2014 § 1 Comment

I’m not sure exactly when I learned it, maybe as a young teacher, maybe shortly after diagnosis but somewhere along the line I heard the words “save everything.”

Saving “stuff” in general goes against the type of person that I am. I hate clutter. I get a thrill from getting rid of large amounts of stuff. My mom is the same way and taught me how to “throw stuff away” from the time I was little. I have done the same with my kids.

So the advice save everything goes against the grain for me.

Of course what I am talking about is paper work, documents, test results, doctors reports, report cards, progress note and IEPs.

I have a cabinet above my refrigerator designated just for this need. I hate opening it…it’s a mess! I have every piece of paper going back to diagnosis and early intervention days. I’ve been told to NEVER throw it away. It establishes need over time.

I am most organized during re-evaluation years and those documents are tucked perfectly organized in three ring binders, but over time I start shoving stuff in. I have had to make copies of the most recent binder several times for various doctors and for the school. Last fall it was referred to by the Sped Coordinators as a “binder of epic porportions.”

I am sure many of you have these binders. If you don’t you probably should or invest in a scanner, which with technology today would be far more functional.

What I haven’t done a good job at is saving is work samples. UGH…how could I mess up like that?!?! I didn’t really think about the weight that work samples over time could have when trying to develop an appropriate IEP. Having recently signed my daughter’s Alternative MCAS assessment and seeing the work presented in it, I was floored by the lack of progress the school has attempted to make with her. I was floored by the blatant ignoring of her IEP goals and the pages upon pages of grade/age INAPPROPRIATE papers. It is so infuriating that my daughter had more math skills before when she was included in a regular math class than she does now having been placed in a more “intensive” math program. I kept thinking “I want to show them what she used to be able to do! I want to show them the skills she has lost.”

So lesson learned – hoard…….be a hoarder save EVERYTHING. I mean EVERYTHING!

Gotta Love a Teacher

March 28, 2014 § 1 Comment

So I realize that maybe it seems like I give teachers a bad rap sometimes in my writing. It is certainly NOT my intention, after all I am a teacher.

There are many teachers out there that LOVE your children. We work countless hours to make sure everything is perfect for them. Last weekend I spent more time working than I did with my family. Most teachers spend most moments of quiet free time, commutes home and nights with insomnia thinking about our students, they flood our minds – the same way parents worry and think about their own children – we worry, we celebrate, we plan and we think about the future.

Many people think teachers have it easy because we work school hours and have the summers off. It makes me want to pull my hair out. TEACHING IS NOT EASY! The demands put on teachers these days are absurd. We are not afforded the time we need to be able to do our job at work so most of us do it over the weekend at home. We also spend a good portion of the summer planning for the school year ahead or working teaching summer school.

I love my job! I love it more than anything when I can show that a student has made progress. I love “holding the hand” of parents who are walking this journey and I love to be able to tell them that “I understand” because of my own life.

Unfortunately there are still many teachers out there that just “don’t get it”. Those are the people I hope to reach with my writing. If I ruffle a few feathers along the way or have someone take something personally – well then…. GOOD…I’ve done my job. I want people to continuously think about how to improve their teaching. I want parents to feel like they are not alone and I hope to God that in someway I can serve as a catalyst for change in a child’s life.

Tamed?

March 27, 2014 § 1 Comment

My child has been in public school special education since she was 3 years old. She is now 10. This means we have been dealing with public school special education for 7 years. We will continue dealing with it for at least another 7 years, possibly longer.

Certain days, as I’ve said before, I just want to quit. I just want to say “o.k. whatever – let me know when it’s over.” The passion for my daughter keeps me going. When I think about the amount of advocating I have done in 7 years (and this has probably been the easy part) it’s hard to imagine that I have to keep going.

It’s easy to see how the school can “break” parents. It’s probably similar to how a wild horse feels that has been forced into domestication. They fight back but eventually they “break.”

I think this happens to more families than not. They get “tamed”. They quit. It’s easier to just go
along trusting the decisions that the school makes for their child. I am so very afraid of that happening to me. I can’t picture it but I do think about what it would be like. It sounds a hell of a lot less stressful.

This is why it is so important to have a teacher who is on the “inside” to help advocate for your child, someone to go to bat for them who knows them, someone that doesn’t let you walk this walk alone, someone who is honest about the outcomes and the daily grind, someone who sees your child’s magnificence and magic and doesn’t want it stripped away.

Teachers – help parents, please! We are not the enemy – we have a long road ahead, you can be the teacher whose name we don’t remember in 5 years or the one we forever feel indebted to. Which one do you want to be?

MCAS alternative assessment

March 26, 2014 § Leave a comment

I was asked to head into school within the next 48 hours to sign my daughters math portfolio assessment for MCAS.

I have a problem with the fact that I am supposed to finagle my schedule to be rushed through a viewing of the portfolio. Why? There is truly nothing I can do about it if it’s a mess and honestly I am not sure I would recognize if it is. I teach K-2 – I do not have a lot of MCAS experience.

What a ridiculous process! The portfolio is a collection of student work samples that the teacher has gathered throughout the year and has been self- evaluated by the student along with the teacher.

The upsetting part is that if the teacher does a poor job collecting the work samples or presenting them within the portfolio then kids do poorly. What is really being graded here, the teacher’s ability to decipher the standards and collect work that aligns or does it really measure the students learning?

I don’t think an alternative assessment is a bad idea but I do think it could be more appropriately managed. I do think that the school should be required to communicate with parents before the final hour and discuss how it’s progressing along the way.

Students taking standard MCAS receive input along the way – MCAS practice sessions, MCAS homework and schools even offer tutoring to help improve MCAS scores if a student struggled on the practice exams. BUT if your taking the “alt” you best cross your fingers and hope the teacher assembling it did a good job.

Fair? Equal? – not really

SHOULD HAVE WENT TO LAW SCHOOL

March 26, 2014 § 1 Comment

I think most parents with special needs kids who are receiving special education services through the school often feel like they should have went to law school.

When we are advocating to get services for our children so much of it turns into “making a case” or “establishing need.”

I often think of IEP meetings or team
meetings as going to trial. There must be hard cold evidence and it has to
be stronger than the schools. Parents must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that their child needs support.

I learned how to do everything around the IEP process in grad school and on the fly while practicing – but I never truly understood it until I was a parent, until it became personal.

It is a process for all special needs parents to self-educate about special needs laws. The school gives you a little pamphlet every year about your rights are as a parent involved with special education but it barely scratches the surface. There are timelines for EVERYTHING in special education, along with laws – all of this exists to protect the child and parent. The problem is most parents just trust the school at face value and they don’t bother to learn more.

The same is true often for educators of all sorts – they just don’t know the rules. I urge teachers, therapists, and parents to read more, Google more and question everything. Check out http://www.wrightslaw.com if you never have and buy books about the IEP process. The more educated and knowledgeable you become the more you can support your child.

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