Within every child we can find such unique beauty, characteristics and talents that comprise their individuality. The way they smile, what makes them laugh, whether they are left or right handed or even left or right-brain thinkers, all make them who they are – our precious little gifts. So it should make sense that each child would also have its individual means of learning. In an educational environment of structured, mainstream teaching, there are bound to be roadblocks for many students. We all learn differently. But for some students, the differences present challenges that a typically-structured classroom environment cannot fully support, thus intervention becomes imperative to a successful education.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 13 percent of all public school students were receiving special education services in 2013-2014. Among them, only 35 percent actually had specific, diagnosed learning disabilities. Therefore, the other 65 percent simply had learning differences that required accommodations or adjustments to help them achieve academic success. Unfortunately, it can require time, patience and diligence to acquire appropriate help, accommodations and services that your child may need. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), as developed by the U.S. Department of Education, requires that each public school child who receives special education and related services must have an Individualized Education Program (IEP). An IEP is drafted as a legal document detailing exactly what services and accommodations your child should be receiving in order to meet their individual needs. Although it can be a timely process, it is worth it.
Early intervention is the key to helping improve the quality of education for a struggling student to achieve greater academic success. Whether your child has been identified with a learning difference or you feel that your child may need an evaluation, here are four essential tips to help you advocate for your child’s education:
1. Communicate with the teacher(s) – From the beginning, your child’s teachers are your biggest ally and resource. They are with your child in the class every day observing their work habits, talents and struggles. Give them the opportunity to work and collaborate with you. They can be a voice for where your child is struggling, where they should be and where they fall in line with state standards. Together, you can establish a plan.
2. Schedule a special education assessment – If there is still no progress, after making adjustments and attempts, both in class and at home, schedule a meeting with your teacher and the school principals and/or academic counselors to discuss an assessment. By law, they must respond to your request within 10 days. Throughout the process, be sure to document everything in writing or email for confirmation of timelines. Be communicative about what assessments will be done and the plan of action.
A multidisciplinary assessment is primarily conducted by the school psychologist and includes a measure of the student’s full scale IQ, academic achievement, observations of the student, interviews with the student’s teachers, parents and the student him/herself, health history and intellectual, language/speech communication, motor skill, and social/emotional development. Often times the school’s speech and language pathologist and/or the occupational therapist will be involved in the assessment as well. These assessments are offered through the public school system, but there are clinical psychologists and neuropsychologists that you can seek out privately, should you choose. If you do not agree with the results of the school district’s assessment, you are able to request that the district fund an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE).
3. Schedule an IEP appointment – Upon completion of the assessment, which the school legally has 60 days to complete, they will contact you to schedule an appointment to go over all results and create a plan of action. Ask for a copy several days prior to the appointment so that you have time to review it, highlight questionable points or unfamiliar terminology and prepare. You do not need to sign anything at the meeting! You can take it home to process the information discussed, seek out other opinions and do research to make sure it is to your satisfaction. You are allowed to suggest changes based on what you feel your child will respond well to. When you feel its appropriate and a suitable plan and has been modified to the agreement of all parties involved, then you can sign it!
4. Follow up on the implementation of the IEP – It is so important that you always keep abreast of your child’s progress and that plans are being implemented and goals are being met. Make sure that your child is receiving the services that are outlined. One of the biggest issues with IEPs is with teachers overlooking certain accommodations. Not for a lack of caring, but because public schools teachers have so many students, it can be difficult for them to remember every detail of every student.
If something is overlooked in your child’s IEP, reach out to the teacher first to discuss it with them. You can revisit your child’s IEP and follow up on their progress at any time! As mentioned, be sure to document all correspondence via phone, meeting or email, as there are laws governing the schools that regulate the logistics of the IEP process. Therefore, if you are concerned with the follow through, you have the documentation of your requests and execution. For more information on logistics and timelines of the IEP process, you can go to Wrightslaw for information on Special Education Law. For more in depth direction on the IEP process and a chance to discuss it with experts, there may be workshops in your area. Always remember that you want the least restrictive environment for your student, with the least amount of accommodations that they need to be successful.
Devon Green M.S., Director of Enrollment, joined The Prentice School in the spring of 2014, and is sincerely invested in the social, emotional and physical well being of the students and families with whom she interacts. www.Prentice.org