Monday, January 31, 2011

Control the Stress of an IEP Meeting

I don't know about most parents, but for me, IEP meetings can be stressful.  In order to advocate my child, I had to learn how to control the anxiety and focus on my child's education.  I had to remove the emotion of the meeting.  This is easier said than done, but by following a structure, I was able to remove the anxiety and feel empowered.

1. Prepare for Meetings
According to a legal source, there should be preparation ahead of time for an IEP meeting.  IEP meetings, regardless of how many a parent has in a single year are not something to walk into without a solid plan.  Depending on the reason for the meeting will determine the amount of planning that may need to be done.  Leslie Seid Margolis, Esq. is a managing attorney with the Maryland Disability Law Center.  She encourages parents to treat the IEP meeting as if it is the first step towards a due process hearing by preparing for the meeting and building a record. If you do this, you make it less likely that you will end up at a due process hearing. If you do end up at a hearing, you will be in a stronger position.
2. Prioritize Your Child's Needs
Since all of what you may want for your child is not equal in importance for their education, make a list of what your child really needs, what you want for your child (but may be willing to compromise on), and what would be nice to have but that you would definitely be willing to give up. Don't show all of your cards, but by having this list, it will be easier for you to determine how much you time and energy you may want to spend on a topic.  Ms. Margolis encourages parents to think about the evidence they have to support each requested item (i.e., reports, assessments, experts, other documents). If you prioritize your issues and have facts and evidence that support what you want, it is more likely that you will be taken seriously. 
3. Build Good Relationships
Develop positive relationships with school personnel, to the greatest extent possible. Ask questions. Ask your child's team to explain things you do not understand. Don't assume you should know something just because it seems everyone else around the table does. 
If a meeting is not productive, ask for it to be rescheduled or take a ten minute break.  If you feel a meeting may be adversarial, you can take an advocate with you to be another set of ears for you.  The main thing is to control your emotions.  In more cases than not, everyone in the meeting wants what is best for the special needs student.  The paths that are taken may be the sticking point. 
4. Document Issues & Concerns
This is an area, in my experience as a principal and parent, people usually neglect.  Documentation is critical for parents.  If you have a concern, don't let it go just because the meeting is over or you feel "outnumbered."  Remember, you are a part of a TEAM of people serving your child.  Ask that items and issues you feel strongly about be documented in the meeting summary or notes. Review the summary before you leave the meeting. Then be sure you see it in the meeting minutes or the IEP final document.  Know your rights about amending your child’s records.

The bottom line is that your child's education and well being are the focus of any IEP meeting.  A parent is a critical member of the IEP team.  As a parent, you may feel you need someone with you to help support you as you advocate for your child.  This is okay.  Seek someone who can be an extra set of ears and eyes for you.  Seek someone you can count on to help you maintain emotional control and help you document the meeting minutes.

Leslie Seid Margolis, Esq. is a managing attorney with the Maryland Disability Law Center (MDLC), a private, non-profit organization staffed by attorneys and paralegals. MDLC is the Protection and Advocacy organization for Maryland. Much of this article was taken from an article of hers found in a Wright's Law bulletin. 

Studying for an Essay Test

Test day is here. You’ve packed your brain full of definitions, dates, and details, preparing for the traditional multiple choice and true & false questions, and now you’re staring at a fairly unexpected essay question.  How did this happen?  You've got a lot to lose if you cannot answer this question...a grade is a pretty steep sacrifice for lack of preparation for an essay test.  As you stare at the blank white paper you pick up your pencil and begin to muddle through a question which you do not know how to answer.  What can you do? Next time, prepare for the test as if you know it will be an essay test.
Essay questions are not meant to be easy.  They are meant to find out a deeper level of knowledge than a traditional "objective" test question.  Essay questions are based on broader ideas from the unit you studied.  Often, these questions are formulated around themes or "big ideas." Teachers like to use essay questions because they give students the opportunity to express everything they’ve learned over the weeks or months, using their own words. Essay test answers are not meant to be a regurgitation of simple facts (or even complicated facts).  They are to be more analytical and need to be organized in a sensible manner.
Review chapter titles. Textbook chapters often refer to themes. Look at each relevant title and think of smaller ideas, chains of events, and relevant terms that fit within that theme. Use the titles to help you.  They are there for a purpose.
As you take notes, look for code words. If you hear your teacher use words like “once again we see” or “another similar event occurred,” make note of it. Anything that indicates a pattern or chain of events is key. LISTEN for such clues.
Use your notes to outline some possible essay questions.  Try to formulate your own essay questions or have a study partner ask you broader questions using the chapter section headings to guide him/her.  If your teacher is kind enough to give you the essay questions ahead of time, make yourself an outline of what you want to cover in the essay.  Going into an essay unprepared is sure to lead to efforts to persuade your teacher you know about what you clearly don't (in other words, "bs your way through") or an effort that stops after about 2 sentences.
Practice your essay questions. Don't try to answer an essay question exactly like you think the teacher wants.  Part of the challenge of an essay question is putting the concepts and knowledge gained into your own words. Your overall evaluation should be based on how you express your knowledge in your own ideas that show your teacher he/she did the job of helping you learn.
**Ask your teacher for a copy of the rubric that he/she will use to evaluate your essay response.  While objective tests are much easier to evaluate (usually a right or wrong answer) essay tests are much more subjective in nature.  Teachers who use a rubric make the challenge of evaluating work much more objective.  Lack of a rubric means the teacher is left open for more inconsistencies between papers. 

Friday, January 14, 2011

Successful Schools and Students with ADD

The schools that are most successful in helping students with ADD make certain that individual student differences are reflected in the design of their education plans. The teachers and administrators demonstrate a common commitment to working with students with ADD, understand the complexity of the disorder, and believe strongly in the services they are providing to all children. Such schools work as a team to deal effectively with students with ADD by matching techniques and modifications to students' individual potential and methods of learning. Since students with ADD often are rejected by their fellow students, successful schools train students with ADD in social skills and pair them with non-ADD peers. These schools serve as partners for parents and develop a common understanding of goals and objectives, as well as a common plan to carry out those objectives and communicate any progress or problems.
Responsive schools organize their programs and instruction to meet the special needs of all students, including those with ADD. In redesigned programs, the entire class participates in a management system that does not separate the child with ADD from the rest of the group. Programs range from a simple "target behavior of the day" with an immediate reward system to an elaborate system of "levels," in which each level has specific rules and privileges. Schools vary their activities, use cooperative learning and games as part of their strategy, and provide additional training for teachers who need it.
Many schools use a checklist to help classroom teachers, special education teachers, and parents communicate. One school developed a system in which parents reward at home their child's behavior in school. Parents in that school meet with teachers and come to a mutual agreement about targeting certain specific behaviors. During class, the teacher monitors and evaluates students' behavior. The children are given feedback and notes on their behavior, and they gain or lose privileges at home based on their behavior at school.
Successful schools realize that students with ADD are not "problem children," but children with a problem. They encourage the school, parents, and teachers to work together with the child with ADD in order to help that child develop skills and work habits that he or she will need to be successful in school and in life.
Primary Reference Source= Wright's Law website

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Being an Effective Advocate

As a parent, your role in advocating for your child is second to none.  You are the only person who knows your child as intimately as is needed to retain the educational services that will most benefit your child.  As the parent of a special needs child, I know how challenging advocating for your child can be.  There are legal challenges, emotional challenges, and mental challenges that usually manifest themselves in understanding the disability itself.  You need a foundation of knowledge from which your advocacy can extend.

Your primary goal in the advocacy process is to obtain quality special education services for your child.  In striving to reach this goal, negotiating skills and maintaining a healthy relationship with your child's school are required (Wright's Law, All About IEPs, 2009).

Obstacles that often preclude progress toward the goal are common mistakes that must be recognized and avoided.  The first mistake I have observed is the lack of control a parent can experience regarding their emotions when it comes to the IEP process, a disagreement of services, a lack of understanding of legal issues, or a multitude of other things.  This is a mistake because it can cause issues with trust or out-of-control emotions can lead to a disrespect between service providers and parents which can then be transferred to the student.  Out of control emotions simply do not help you help your child. 

Another mistake that parents can make is not having a solid grasp on the child's disability.  You must be educated about the special need of your child.  A lack of understanding means you must give the school authority to make decisions regarding your child's education.  While I do not believe schools purposefully keep parents out of the loop when it comes to serving special needs children, I also do not believe total authority for making decisions for your child should be left to the school.  Assuming the school's decisions are always best or right is very shortsighted and naive.

A third mistake parents can make is often regarding the organization of paperwork that is a part of having a child with special needs.  There is just so much to document.  The key is having one place where all information is kept.  Keep it organized by school year or a method which allows quick retrieval of information.  Keep communications, written or notes regarding verbals, in this record.  Always take notes at meetings.  It is best to write down things when they happen.  The basic premise I've read and been told over and over is that if it is not written down it didn't happen.

Finally, remember to focus on your child's needs in the present time but don't neglect to have a long term plan.  As painful as it may be to consider the options, looking ahead to young adult or adult life is critical.  It is the long term plan that can help guide services in the PK-12 setting. 

Wright's a legal corporation specializing in information regarding special needs children.  They have numerous publications that are helpful in guiding parents through the advocacy process.  While this article is a reflection of my own experience and education over the past 12 years, the content focus of this article was obtained after reading the first chapter of their book All About IEPs.  If you have a special needs child, I strongly encourage you to become familiar with this organization.  You can visit them at

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Tips for Fill in the Blank Tests

Tips for Fill in the Blank Tests
Of all the test questions types, fill-in questions may cause the most anxiety in students. This is because they require more detailed recall or application answers than standard multiple choice or true/false tests.
In most cases, the best tool for test preparation is great class notes. When you take good notes from your teacher's lecture, you usually have the vast majority of the material you'll need to prepare at your fingertips.  Most teachers create tests straight from their lecture notes.
When preparing for a fill-in test, your class notes are even more important than ever. If you have been able to record your teacher's notes word for word, you may have some fill-in phrases for the test right in front of you already.
So what do you do with this knowledge? Follow these steps:
1.    Read over your class notes and highlight new terms, important dates, noteworthy phrases, and the names of key people.  Use different colors to help you remember.
2.    Highlight the sentence that contains your key word or phrase.
3.    Copy each sentence onto a separate sheet of paper, omitting the key word or phrase. The act of writing the information again reinforces learning and you create another study help by leaving out the key word or phrase.
4.    Read over your sentences and attempt to fill in the blanks with correct answers. Look at your notes when needed.
5.    Repeat this process until you can fill in the blanks without consulting your notes.
6.  Read through the relevant chapters in your text to locate information that your teacher may have discussed but that you don't have in your notes.  This also reinforces learning as you review the material one more time, even if you simply peruse it.
This method is also a good way to prepare for short answer essay questions as well.