"Ask the Advocate" is our forum to bring you answers to questions that are timely and important to families of students with disabilities. Each month I will ask Lorraine Hightower, Dyslexia Advocate and Consultant, your top questions and bring her answers to YOU!
Question: The end of this school year looks so different from years past. Should parents and teachers of students with disabilities be doing anything special to wrap up the school year?
I wouldn’t say that they should do anything differently, but that what they do this year is more important than ever. My advice for wrapping up each school year is always to “Reflect & Review.”
When reflecting on the past school year, you may ask yourself and your school team the following questions:
What did you see this year that worked well for my child?
What did you see my child struggle with academically or emotionally?
Are you seeing the same strengths and struggles at home and at school? If not, why?
Are there accommodations that helped? Are there any accommodations that didn’t work and should be removed from your child’s plan of support?
Does your child need access to assistive technology or different assistive technology tools for a distance learning environment?
If your child has an Individualized Education Program (IEP), do your child’s goals appropriately address all of their areas of need?
If parents cannot answer these questions, they should discuss them with the special education team. Parents should ask for data to show what is working and what isn’t, and present any information that they have as well. Parents are in an especially important position now that they are seeing their children work on their education every day during distance learning. Parent observations and input are critical to ensuring that your child will have the support and services they need moving forward in the 2020-21 school year.
This is also a good time to review all of your child’s school documents. Look for indications of areas of need in their report card. If a child is showing a consistent decline in their grades or shows a change in their reading level, it may be time to take action. A child showing declining grades and reading levels will need some type of intervention. It may be time to have the child evaluated to see if they are eligible for special education services or 504 Plan accommodations.
If your child already has an IEP, cross reference the language between the latest progress report and the IEP goals. I often see clients whose children's progress reports look like they making progress, but when compared with the goals in their child’s IEP, the progress reported does not align with their goal. The goals in an IEP should be what the team expects the child to be able to do (given the instruction, interventions and accommodations listed in the IEP) in one calendar year from implementation of the IEP. So let’s say a child’s Reading Fluency goal is to read an unfamiliar, grade level passage with 122 correct words per minute. If the progress report says they have met that goal because the child read an “average of” 122 words per minute, then the progress being reported, may not be accurate. If the progress is based on an ‘average’ of fluency scores then the child has not met the goal as it is written. The word average shows inconsistency. It also leads us to ask other questions such as, is this a cold reading of the passage, or was the child able to practice (memorize) before the assessment? Ensure that the language aligns in all of your child’s documents so that you are comparing apples to apples.
This is often one of the most difficult things for parents to do when advocating for their child. Most parents do not have the training to parse through these documents and find these inconsistencies. This is one of the favorite parts of my job! I help parents make sense of their child’s school documents and their child’s educational data. This step is key to ensuring that their child receives appropriate services and accommodations to fit their unique needs. Parents can set up a complimentary consultation at my website to discuss their child’s specific situation.
If we look forward to next year, we do not know exactly what school will look like. However, we do know that two of the three proposed plans for opening schools include some form of continued distance learning. As parents, we must Reflect & Review on how distance learning affected our children. Review the progress reports from teachers and the number of activities completed. Review the Temporary Distance Learning plan to see if it met your child’s needs. Reflect on what parts of distance learning worked for your child and which parts didn’t. Perhaps your child did well with a specific learning platform, but struggled with other components of distance learning. Or maybe your child required your help each day to organize all of their assignments from multiple teachers in this new virtual learning environment. Note all of these struggles and strengths and bring them to your special education team so that they can be addressed when planning for next year. Communicating this information now will help you set up a successful school year next fall!
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