Special Education Tips

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Tips for Special Education Meditation

These are a few tips from my latest book, "Do Not Tweet at an IEP Meeting."

Tips to prepare for Mediation – these are the tips I give my clients in Connecticut. Find out what the differences might be in your state.  

If you cannot resolve your differences at the IEP meeting, consider going to mediation. Here are some mediation tips…

1.   Bring the student’s file. But more importantly, make sure it is organized to the point where you pull out quickly whatever it is that you are looking for. When you fumble for papers, it's distracting and an inefficient use of time. Try to predict what you will need and have it handy.

2.   Court room appearance is not necessary, but don't be too casually dressed.

3.   Bring water, food, and snacks. In the worst case scenario, we will be trapped in a room until 6pm with no refreshments and there will not be a lunch break. Some districts will provide coffee, water, and a few snacks, but you cannot count on this. Most mediations end by 4 at the latest. The mediator may leave us for a few minutes and return, or 2 hours and return - as h/she goes back and forth between rooms. There is no way to predict when h/she returns so we need to always stay put.

4.   I always bring something to share with the mediator and often they are thrilled to accept. But they don't want to feel like they are taking "your stuff." So, if you have ice tea, then you must have 3 bottles so it's clear to see that there is extra. Or if you have snacks, there must be a large amount so it's clear you couldn't possibly eat that much.

5.   Bring copies of any invoices that you hope to get reimbursed for. If there are several expenses, write them all out on a spread sheet.

6.   Bring a real calculator; do not depend on the calculator feature of your iPhone. Bring pens and pads of paper.

7.   The mediator may begin by having the parties together and allowing each side to give an opening statement. If h/she doesn't want an opening statement, h/she might ask us to simply state the issues, and then ask the other side to restate what they heard. Then h/she will separate the Board and the family into different rooms. Or h/she may keep us separate from the very beginning. We need to be prepared for each scenario.

8.   Mediation depends not only on the law, but on relationships. While we do not have to compromise the student's rights, we need to keep positive, professional, and pleasant.

9.   The mediator will need help staying on top of facts, as will the Board and the student's team. The family has been living the case day and night, and all the facts and issues are ready to spill out. But everyone else in the room is a professional, with other clients. While I expect that the professionals will be fully prepared, it's helpful to have a list of key points at our fingertips. Each mediator comes to the table with different levels of skill and different levels of preparation. In the past, I have prepared outlines of the issues, timelines, or lists of facts for the mediator and offered to give it to him/her if h/she wants to accept it. Usually the mediators are appreciative.

10. Bring a laptop or iPad in case we want to quickly research something. My laptop and iPad have a Verizon card in it and it works wherever there is cell service.

11. Make sure that you don’t have appointments or childcare issues so you do not have to worry and stare at the clock. But do wear a watch in case there is no clock in the room and you are wondering about the time.

12. Bring Tylenol or Advil or whatever you need for headaches and stress. Stay hydrated.  

Monday, February 15, 2016

Tips to Advocate for Effective Reading Instruction for Students with Intellectual Disabilities

Tips to Advocate for Effective Reading Instruction for Students with Intellectual Disabilities

          Can students with the label of ID become proficient readers? In three words… Yes, Yes, Yes! Consider the following study from Southern Methodist University by researchers Jill H. Allor, Patricia G. Mathes, J. Kyle Roberts, Jennifer P. Cheatham, Stephanie Al Otaiba:
Is Scientifically Based Reading Instruction Effective for Students With Below-Average IQs?Abstract: This longitudinal randomized-control trial investigated the effectiveness of scientifically based reading instruction for students with IQs ranging from 40 to 80, including students with intellectual disability (ID). Students were randomly assigned into treatment (n = 76) and contrast (n = 65) groups. Students in the treatment group received intervention instruction daily in small groups of 1 to 4 for approximately 40 to 50 min for 1 to 4 academic years. On average, students in the treatment group made significantly greater progress than students in the contrast condition on nearly all language and literacy measures. Results demonstrate the ability of students with low IQs, including students with mild to moderate ID, to learn basic reading skills when provided appropriate, comprehensive reading instruction for an extended period of time.
Jill Allor, Professor, Department of Teaching and Learning, Simmons School of Education and Human Development, P.O. Box 750381, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, TX 75275-0381 (e-mail: jallor@smu.edu).

 Here are some of my favorite tips to advocate for effective reading programs:

 What Can Parents Do?

Students who get the best educational programs tend to be those who have the most empowered parents. How can parents help their child develop reading skills?

     Show your child through your actions that you value reading.

     Have a variety of reading materials in your home.

     Read to your child regularly.

     Set the bar high.

     Go to seminars, go online, and take classes on reading.

     Understand the laws that protect your child.

     Your participation on the IEP team is critical. But it must be meaningful. Get copies of reading evaluations and proposed reading goals prior to the IEP meeting.

     Make sure that the reading goals are measurable. Instead of “Zak will improve his reading, demonstrating one year’s growth,” consider “By May 15, Zak will be able to read a passage of text orally at the 8.2 grade equivalent level as measured by the GORT-5 (Gray Oral Reading Test).”

     Ask the following four questions about your child’s reading program:

1. Does my child’s reading program contain the five components of instruction recommended by the National Reading Panel?

2. Is the bar set high enough?

3. Is the person implementing the reading intervention qualified? What training has s/he received?

4. Is the child getting systematic, explicit instruction in reading? 

     If your child has the label of ID or ASD, do not accept a sight word program like Edmark or Reading Milestones. Such interventions do not teach critical phonetic concepts, necessary to “sound out” – and spell – unmemorized words.  Most likely your child will require a program that uses the Orton-Gillingham methodology.

     Work with local parent groups to arrange for seminars and conferences on reading in your area.

     Request a reading evaluation for your child. The reading subtests of the Woodcock Johnson IV or the WIAT do not, in themselves, constitute a reading evaluation – and frequently the information they provide are of little value for a student with an intellectual disability. Use the template below to ask for a reading evaluation (thanks in large part to Wrightslaw.com for this letter).   

What Can Attorneys and Advocates Do?

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, much of the research on teaching reading to children with significant disabilities focused on sight-word approaches that provided children with functional reading skills (the ability to read a recipe, bus schedule, weather report, etc.) rather than skills in decoding or "sounding out" unfamiliar words. However, since the mid-eighties, many studies have shown that students with intellectual disabilities are capable not only of learning words by sight, but of reading new, unknown words by sounding them out. Thanks in great part to the No Child Left Behind Act, IDEA 2004 requires school districts to hold children with disabilities to higher academic standards. Nevertheless, many schools exclude children with significant disabilities from high quality reading instruction. We need to battle this. Here are some things to do:

     LEARN THE TOOLS OF THE TRADE!!! Go to seminars, go online, and take classes on reading. Understanding reading will help you spot issues when advocating for your clients.  Two great publications are:

Put Reading First: Kindergarten through Grade 3, and Put Reading First: Helping Your Child Learn To Read: A Parent Guide: Preschool Through Grade 3. Get these free publications at www.edpubs.org. 

“I attended a 16 hour COPPA  Pre-Conference course in Orton-Gillingham methodology and it forever changed the way I practiced law. Let’s face it, if you were a medical malpractice attorney, you would need to understand a few things about the human body! Similarly, if you engage in special education law, you MUST understand the fundamentals of reading. Otherwise you’ll be bamboozled by the school district just like the parents are.”   Attorney Treimanis 

     Understand the qualifications and recommendations of the National Reading Panel. Learn more at www.nationalreadingpanel.org.  

     If your client is not a proficient reader, do NOT assume it’s due to his/her disability. Ask the parents to request a comprehensive reading evaluation, performed by a qualified reading specialist (see template below).

     Forge strong relationships with reading specialists in your state. The input of friends and colleagues who are reading experts can be invaluable to preparing for IEP meetings.

     Grow the local reading specialists. Most of them live in the “LD world.” Help them understand that students with intellectual disabilities can become proficient decoders.

     When a reading evaluation is completed, check the recommendations carefully. The evaluation may be accurate, but the school reading specialist may not envision students with intellectual disabilities as readers, hence recommending a sight word program. Do not hesitate to ask for an Independent Educational Evaluation for reading.

     Request an assistive technology (AT) evaluation to see if there are high, mid, or low level AT options that compliment the client’s reading program and increases access to content. 

     Remember that decoding is very distinct from comprehension. Comprehension is more closely tied to intellectual challenges; decoding ability is usually relatively independent of IQ measures.

     Do NOT assume that Special Education Teachers are qualified to do reading evaluations or teach reading. In many states, a highly qualified Master level special education teacher does NOT have to take any reading classes!

     Ask for the resume of anyone doing a reading evaluation on your student. Do not assume the “Literacy Coach” or special education teacher has credentials. If a teacher claims to be “trained” in Wilson, find out if s/he went to the 5 hour class – which essentially shows you how to use the materials – or completed the requirements to achieve certification.  Similarly, a teacher cannot claim to be “Orton-Gillingham trained” unless s/he has achieved certification at the Certified level – a multi-year commitment.  

     Embedded within the specific requirements provided by IDEA 2004 guaranteeing a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) for students with disabilities in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) is the provision that students, including those with significant disabilities such as ID or ASD, be given evidence-based reading programs. LRE does not require that reading be taught in the general education settings. Frequently, individual instruction or small group instruction with like peers is required in a separate setting. One of the best ways to become fully included in life is to know how to read!

     In later grades, it is NOT appropriate for older students to give up on reading and turn to “functional” skills, such as shopping and learning to do laundry.  Reading is the quintessential functional skill – necessary to obtain and retain a job, navigate transportation options, read recipes or the back of food containers, stay safe, read prescription bottles, go on Facebook, text friends, and have a chance to survive in our print-based community. As proclaimed in Connecticut’s Blueprint for Reading Achievement (2000), “Teaching children to read is a central—arguably the central—mission of formal schooling.”    

Favorite Websites on Reading

Template to Request a Reading Evaluation from the School District

Thanks to Attorney Pete Wright for this – I have been using it for years and I am fairly certain it came from his website…..

February 15, 2016

Nelly Koch, Special Education Teacher

Happy Elementary School

345 Main Street

Stamfire, CT  06906

Re:  Request for reading evaluation for Jimmy Smith

Faxed and also send via first class mail

Dear Ms. Koch,

     My son Jimmy Smith is a 10 year old boy in the 5th grade, yet he reads on a kindergarten level and has made minimal progress during his 7 years at Happy Elementary School. Despite his significant challenges, he has never had a formal reading evaluation nor has he had services from a reading specialist in Stamfire Public Schools.

     What is the plan to bring Jimmy’s reading ability to grade level?

     I am requesting a comprehensive reading evaluation by a qualified reading specialist to determine what peer-reviewed, evidence-based reading program Jimmy needs to become a proficient reader.  In order to avoid any misunderstanding as to what exactly I am asking for, I have provided below a list of reading definitions from No Child Left Behind. Given the enormous reading gap between Jimmy and his same-age peers, I am asking that this request be attended to without any delay. 

Thank you.

Amy R. Smith

Copy to: Molly Arbet, Principal of Happy Elementary School

Sally Simpson, 5th grade teacher, Happy Elementary School 


Four Definitions About Reading in No Child Left Behind

1. Legal definition of reading The term 'reading' means a complex system of deriving meaning from print that requires all of the following:

(A) The skills and knowledge to understand how phonemes, or speech sounds, are connected to print.

(B) The ability to decode unfamiliar words.

(C) The ability to read fluently.

(D) Sufficient background information and vocabulary to foster reading comprehension.

(E) The development of appropriate active strategies to construct meaning from print.

(F) The development and maintenance of a motivation to read.

2. Legal definition of the essential components of reading instruction

The term 'essential components of reading instruction' means explicit and systematic instruction in-

(A) phonemic awareness;

(B) phonics;

(C) vocabulary development;

(D) reading fluency, including oral reading skills; and

(E) reading comprehension strategies.

3. Legal definition of scientifically based reading research

The term 'scientifically based reading research' means research that-

(A) applies rigorous, systematic, and objective procedures to obtain valid knowledge relevant to reading development, reading instruction, and reading difficulties; and

(B) includes research that-

(i) employs systematic, empirical methods that draw on observation or experiment;

(ii) involves rigorous data analyses that are adequate to test the stated hypotheses and justify the general conclusions drawn;

(iii) relies on measurements or observational methods that provide valid data across evaluators and observers and across multiple measurements and

observations; and

(iv) has been accepted by a peer-reviewed journal or approved by a panel of independent experts through a comparably rigorous, objective, and scientific review.
4. Legal definition of a diagnostic reading assessment The term 'diagnostic reading assessment' means an assessment that is-

(i) valid, reliable, and based on scientifically based reading research; and

(ii) used for the purpose of-

(I) identifying a child's specific areas of strengths and weaknesses so that the child has learned to read by the end of grade 3;

(II) determining any difficulties that a child may have in learning to read and the potential cause of such difficulties; and

(III) helping to determine possible reading intervention strategies and related special needs.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

When will Hollywood understand that it's not acceptable to bash individuals with disabilities?

August 18, 2011

Re: Bigotry for laughs

Dear Hollywood,

     When will you understand that it’s not acceptable to bash individuals with intellectual disabilities? Negative attitudes and inaccurate public perceptions are the real barriers to individuals with cognitive challenges, not the disabilities themselves.

     In the movie “Change Up,” Mitch (played by Ryan Reynolds) and Dave (played by Jason Bateman) are best friends. One night they wish for each other’s life; then in the morning they find themselves in the other’s body. Mitch looks at “his” twins and says, “Why aren’t they talking – what are they retarded?” Then later he comments that one baby looks “Downsy.”

     “Some in Hollywood just don’t seem to get it. This kind of language is hurtful to so many who sit in the theaters thinking they are in store for entertainment, not insult,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc of the United States.

     The National Down Syndrome Society writes that, “There are more than 400,000 people living in the United States with Down syndrome. They attend school, make friends, find work, get involved in community activities, participate in decisions that affect them, and contribute to society. People with Down syndrome have the same emotions and needs as everyone else, and they deserve the same respect and opportunities that we all expect.”

     David Tolleson, Executive Director of the National Down Syndrome Congress writes that "Universal has engaged in bigotry for laughs.”

     Listen, Hollywood, you need to stop having fun at the expense of the individuals in our communities who happen to have different abilities than you. The movie is already on the big screen, larger than life, taunting individuals with disabilities. I ask that you stop showing this movie. I ask that you take the offensive words out of any upcoming DVDs. I ask that  you to please commit to the end of mocking the good people who are living with Down syndrome and other cognitive disabilities.

Very truly yours,

Anne Treimanis
Attorney at Law
Practice limited to fighting discrimination wherever it rears its ugly head


Saturday, August 21, 2010

IEP Tips: What to Do at an IEP Meeting

by Anne Treimanis (Eason), Esq. and Kathleen Whitbread, Ph.D.

Note: These tips are from Chapter 2, “Tips for What to do During the IEP Meeting,” from the book IEP and Inclusion Tips for Parents and Teachers by special education attorney Anne Treimanis (Eason) and Dr. Kathy Whitbread. Published by the Attainment Company. http://www.attainmentcompany.com/.

Having friends and being a friend are important for your child's development. These tips are also designed to insure that your child is successfully included in the neighborhood school and enjoys after-school community activities.

Send your agenda to the district a few days ahead of time.

Label your agenda as “Parent Concerns and Proposed Solutions.” Bring extra copies of your "Agenda" to the meeting and politely invite each team member to take a copy.

Bring food, or at least bottled water to the meeting.

If your water bottles are large, bring a stack of cups. At the end of the meeting, leave any leftover food for the staff to enjoy. Use plastic or paper plates and trays. Avoid plates that you would want to bring home.

“I used to bring in home baked muffins or cookies, but these days everyone seems to be on a diet. You never know if they are counting calories, trying to eat low fat food, or counting carbs. Now I just bring water, both flat and sparkling, with an assortment of flavors for the sparkling. It’s so appreciated and won’t make a mess of the meeting area. But, homemade goodies are always a good option. Dieters don’t have to indulge if they don’t want to.” - Anne

You are a full and equal member of the IEP team.

Don’t be afraid to take charge, and see your role as equally important as the educational professionals.

Also, be sure that when someone says, ”The team feels . . .” that you do agree with the statement. If you do not, say, “I don’t feel that way, and I am a full and equal member of this team.” Remember that you have a valuable and unique perspective as the parent of your child.

Do not allow yourself to get into a “them versus me” situation.

Be an active listener.

Make sure you make eye contact with people as they are speaking. Give each speaker your full attention. Allow people to finish their thoughts before speaking up. Don’t fidget.

If the school did not provide records, evaluations, or proposed IEP goals ahead of time and you feel your ability to participate in the meeting has been compromised, consider rescheduling the meeting (with the utmost of tact and class).

The law says that parents are fully participating members of the IEP Team. You cannot be a fully participating member if you lack critical information about your child.

Discuss issues your child has that may affect his ability to receive educational benefits in the general education environment.

Focus on the supports and services your child needs to learn and be successful in school. For example, “Due to Tim’s hearing impairment, he requires a sign language interpreter to benefit from the general education curriculum.” Your requests should be appropriate.

Write to the school and request that all reports, evaluations, and proposed goals and objectives to be given to you at least 5 days ahead of the meeting.

To contribute to the IEP Team discussions of your child’s educational program in a meaningful way, you need to prepare for the meeting. Ask that no reports or evaluations be read or produced for the first time at the meeting.

Exchanging information ahead of time gives all parties an opportunity to become better prepared. It also leads to more efficient use of time at meetings.

Make sure your child’s IEP goals are SMART.

In the corporate world, business goals are SMART, which means they are Specific, Measurable, use Action words, are Realistic, and Time specific.

Note: This excellent advice originates from the good people at wrightslaw.com. Download the chapter about SMART IEPs from Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy, 2nd Edition (revised to include IDEA 2004).

Be sure you understand the “prior written notice” provision in IDEA.

IDEA says the school must provide the parent with notice whenever the school proposes to initiate a change or refuses to make a change in connection with the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of the child, or the provision of FAPE (free appropriate public education) to the child.

This notice is required to include several components:
a description of the action proposed or refused by the agency;
an explanation of why the agency proposes or refuses to take the action,
a description of any other options that the agency considered and the reasons why those options were rejected;
a description of each evaluation procedure, test, record, or report the agency used as a basis for the proposed or refused action; a description of any other factors that are relevant to the agency's proposal or refusal;
a statement that the parents of a child with a disability have protection under the procedural safeguards of the law;
if this notice is not an initial referral for evaluation, the means by which a copy of a description of the procedural safeguards can be obtained; and
sources for parents to contact to obtain assistance in understanding the provisions of this part.

If you don’t understand what is being said or proposed, ask the Team to clarify.

Do not permit a discussion of your child’s placement until the present levels of academic achievement and functional performance, and the IEP goals and objectives have been discussed.

The law says that a child’s placement is discussed only after the IEP goals and objectives have been developed.

Bring your child to the IEP meeting.

If you feel it is inappropriate for the child to stay for the entire meeting, bring her for part of the meeting.

Consider bringing all your children to the IEP meeting so they can support their sibling.

“Why did I bring Eva’s brothers to her IEP meeting beginning in the second grade? Did they understand the meeting? Well…not entirely. However, they knew I was always attending meetings and I wanted to take away some of the mystery.

     I wanted my sons to see how I advocated for my daughter. I wanted them to witness how one individual could stand up for an idea, even if everyone in the room disagreed. I am preparing them to grow up to become co-advocates with their sister, who I am grooming to become a self-advocate. It’s okay with me if they attend the IEP meeting to escape going to science. It’s okay with me if they attend the IEP meeting just because I am feeding them chocolate milk and bagels.” - Anne

Consider inviting other students to the IEP meeting.
Kids often have great ideas on how to support other students. Of course, your child needs to be okay with this.

“If you are curious as to what happens to a boy who goes to his sister’s IEP meetings, this is how the story may unfold....

     In an effort to continue advocacy training, I brought my son to a disability related rally in Washington, DC. He knew the purpose of the rally, but admittedly I had to sell it as a day off of school with some sightseeing. He agreed to go, knowing that the rally was something he had to put up with. Look and see how transformations occur!" - Anne

Don’t go to an IEP meeting alone.

The person you bring does not have to be a trained advocate. The person can be someone who cares about your child and family. If you think this is necessary, ask them not to speak.

Just having someone there, taking notes, will let the district know that you take your rights seriously.

Tips on advocates

When you choose an advocate, make sure that he or she is prepared.

Make sure the person presents him or herself in a professional manner.

Make sure that the advocate shares your views on your child’s education.

Some advocates bring their personal anger to the table. Choose an advocate who is strong but diplomatic.

Do not forego preparation for the IEP meeting because you “trust” your advocate to do this.

Prepare for the meeting WITH your advocate. The advocate must represent your point of view but their job is not to take over. This is YOUR child and YOUR meeting.

When preparing with your advocate, identify what is not negotiable, and what you are willing to compromise on. Prioritize your issues.

Make sure your advocate has a copy of and has read all of your child’s records.

Do not hire an advocate one day before the meeting. This will not give the advocate enough time to read the records and prepare properly with you.

If your district allows it, record your IEP meetings.

When you tape a meeting, you have a completely accurate record of the meeting and you will be free to listen and participate in the meeting rather than writing notes. If you encounter resistance from the team, note that the district cannot refuse to allow you to tape if this is an accommodation for the parent (for example, if the parent is hearing impaired or has an auditory processing problem). Read IEP Tips: Taping Meetings by Anne Treimanis (Eason) and Kathy Whitbread at http://www.wrightslaw.com/info/iep.tips.taping.eason.htm.

Debrief with your advocate, spouse, and any other person who accompanied you immediately after the meeting.

Write down what you remember, and then add your own impressions and opinions.

Write a thank you note to the IEP Team for the time people spent meeting with you about your child. Use the thank you note to document key decisions made and to review issues that are still unresolved.

Remember - Students with the best educational programs (and outcomes) are usually those with the most empowered parents. Read this book to empower yourself with the information you need to advocate for your child.

For more tips, check out the book IEP and Inclusion Tips by special education attorney Anne Treimanis (Eason) and Kathy Whitbread, Ph.D., now available in the Wrightslaw store - http://www.wrightslaw.com/store/iep.eason.html.