Special Education/follow up
Thanks for the long answer and you articulated my concerns precisely, thank you! The IEP is great. The problem is the WAY it's being implemented. I can have a good goal there but if all the people doing are drilling and my son is tuned out, how are they helping? I suggested very SPECIFIC approaches, accommodations and ideas, none of which are being done. So it's not the IEP goals, it's the materials and motivations. What happens if they claim he's made progress and I don't see it that way. When I went for 5 observations, my son was miserable in all of them. I could tell you something else but I feel I may be violating my son's privacy but essentially they tell me to not believe my own eyes.
It's a bit of a conspiracy with these groups, I've had other parents feel the same way, they are not going to go out on a limb or ever say they are failing. When should I ask for the evaluation? When would it be done to compare results to last year? Kids do get better as they age, what type of progress should one expect? Or are all tests adjusted for age? One last question- thanks for your time- do you think one stands a better chance with a judge than a hearing officer? It seems judges are more sympathetic than hearing officers but that's just me reading case histories. Thanks
Thank you for your positive feedback and for your follow up question. I see you have a few more questions so let me see if I can get them all answered and help you out, the best way I can in this forum and with limited information specific to your child.
Q: The IEP is great, it's the way it's being implemented--if my son is tuning out while they are just drilling him, how is that helping? The materials and motivations are not right, and I have made suggestions, but my suggestions were not incorporated into the IEP.
My answer: First, if the implementation is a problem, there are likely problems with your child's IEP. I know that the same IEP can be implemented differently by different staff and different schools, but some of that may have to do with the curriculum as well. It may be worth it to explore something like my IEP Audit service, where I analyze as an expert each section of the IEP to see what revisions need to be made to drive forward the correct special instruction, and to assure the interventions are meeting a child's needs.
For example, there is a way that can specify the materials your child needs in the IEP, but an intervention or accommodation with that level of specificity usually needs to be recommended as a result of an evaluation. If an evaluation shows that your child needs a specific method or motivation, then the IEP team will consider that information and usually do one of 3 things--it will accept the recommendation and provide the service or intervention, or it will reject the recommendation and provide you with notice about why and what information was used to reject your request, or it will possibly ask to do some more evaluation in that area.
If a mom just says what the child needs and does not have any report or evidence backing up that request, the IEP team may ignore it or just respond that the IEP team considered your request and did not feel it was appropriate. But if you have a report by a professional, and then the team meets to consider what materials your child needs, you have evidence in black and white in documentation that says what your child needs. Sometimes, a parent's request is not enough by itself. That is one reason I am so passionate about improving parent's ability to be equal partners; parents rarely have the skills and knowledge needed for all of this but don't get me started down that tangent!
Anyway, I feel you have some options, but as I said in my first answer, don't be upset with me that most of them will assume that we have current and complete evaluation information for a child, before saying what to do about the problems. There have been many research studies that show that parents and teachers can mistake one problem for another and if that is the case, the interventions we select can be wrong for a child, and not allow him to make progress and thrive in his education.
Your question: What happens if they claim he's made progress and I don't see it that way.
A parent of a child with a disability has a right to submit or request mediation, due process hearing, state complaint, or other dispute option available in the local school district. When a parent believes a child is being denied a FAPE, then it's my opinion that parent should bring into her team a skilled special education attorney, if it's only as a consultative role for the attorney. Progress or no progress is a facet of FAPE, but so are other things such as access to the curriculum, a child's ability to functionally perform under various conditions, and very often, a lack of data demonstrating progress. So I go through a process an ask these types of questions: Is there data that is being jointly used by both the school and the parent to signify an opinion about progress? Example: The teachers and parents agree that the student only gained 5 points on his reading test from last month to this month. Parent does not feel that is adequate but school thinks is OK. That is an example where other data is needed to confirm whether the child is gaining in this area, or an example of a time where it may be important to bring on an expert in the area of ability, or a psychological or neuropsychological professional.
You said: "When I went for 5 observations, my son was miserable in all of them"
If being happy and positive is an important learning factor for your child, as it is for most kids, and in the observations you saw him not being 'himself' and very unhappy, then can you take him to see someone who can have an expert opinion what is going on or how to fix it? Does that psychologist or psychiatrist believe that the child requires an environment where he is not showing signs of distress, such as the parent witnessed, etc. Or better yet, that professional would go observe your child and maybe not have to do direct testing, but could give you and the staff some rating scales for his level of distress or discomfort. Then we would have to ask why that is occurring. A functional behavior assessment can help the parent and team understand why a behavior is occurring or a child's level of alertness or engagement is low.
If you have not discussed your concerns about your observations with the staff, I recommend you do so. You can hire someone like me to help you craft your observations and concerns in a way that will get results. Since parents don't usually know the laws and understand fully their rights, many times a parent who consults with an expert first saves time and is more productive with the team in the process.
When should I ask for the evaluation? When would it be done to compare results to last year? Kids do get better as they age, what type of progress should one expect? Or are all tests adjusted for age?
My response: There are different types of assessments with different rules about whether they can be given within a year's time. Some tests have different forms which can be used within a year's time. Evaluation planning is really important so that all of a parent's concerns are addressed and she has provided "informed consent" for the school district to do the evaluations. I have found that the school districts that take the time with a parent to address all concerns related to assessment and involve the parent in a meaningful way in the process are more successful when developing the child's IEP. So if you are considering asking for evaluation, be prepared for which areas you would like assessed and why. Since the team is made up of multiple disciplines, the team considers whether it will evaluate by each team member's response to the parent. So if you believe your child needs a certain method or intervention, try to obtain evaluations in all areas of suspected or known weakness. My Special Needs Advocacy Resource Book has a full explanation of the different tests, who does them, what the scores mean, and much more.
Yes, in general the tests are adjusted for age. Comparing scores may not be that easy to do, however, as scores are said to be in a range, accounting for human variability, and it's important to assure the tests are able to be compared. Yes, a child would gain some skills developmentally, but not all. I think that it's important for a parent to understand the expectation given a child's age in different skills. Did you know there is a service available on the IEP called 'parent counseling and training' which is designed in part to help parents understand the developmental needs of a child. The IEP team including you will consider a child's psychological and ability or achievement scores, performance in the curriculum, evaluations, information from the classroom, and hopefully a variety of sources to determine the child's IEP goals, and assure he is engaged in the curriculum. The team should review how a child is progressing in order to update the progress in the IEP progress report. It is important to have high expectations for all children and to engage in every way with the team to understand how your child is being graded, how the teachers and providers collect data, and what data sources you can track through the year to understand progress. The curriculum is usually extremely complex and it usually takes a parent quite a while to read through all the curriculum standards and objectives, but it's usually worth it. Then you can more effectively engage with each team member about the topic of instruction and how your child is developing in the skills outlined in the curriculum and the IEP.
Many parents do feel the same way you do and experience the same problems, all over the country. You only have to look at the responses and questions by myself and other experts on this site to know that there are a lot of parents who need help understanding the law, their rights, how to navigate each stage of the process, and ultimately, many parents do need help. There is a wide range of help available, from copaa to your local parent center to hiring a consultant or attorney.
I can't remember if I told you about a great service we offer called an IEP Audit. It is a line by line look at your child's record, interviews with professionals and you about your child, and then an analysis of the IEP, which is all put into a report that many parents have found to be really great in helping them to be a more equal partner with the team.
On your last question, I am sorry I don't know enough about which states use hearing officers vs. administrative law judges and whether some states use both to answer. I know different states have different ways that the hearing and appeal process are structured, but that is a great question for an attorney.