Friday, September 16, 2011

Should I Take the PSAT Test? YES!

The fall is normally the time for students to take the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test.  The PSAT/NMSQT is most often taken by sophomores as a precursor to the SAT.  This test is not mandatory  most school districts.  It measures critical reading, math problem solving, and writing skills.  The test is inexpensive and is a good opportunity for students to obtain an initial gauge on how they may perform on the SAT.  While the test is not directly related to the ACT, the PSAT can also help students prepare for this exam as well.  The test formats are similar as are the areas of skill measured. The primary reason to take the PSAT test is to get feedback about these critical academic areas. Students most often report the score from the SAT and/or ACT on college applications so this is a practice opportunity for students to find out what their strengths and weaknesses may be in the designated skill areas.

The critical reading test is comprised of vocabulary, sentence comprehension, and sentence completion and passage-based questions. The purpose of the vocabulary and sentence comprehension and completion sections is to measure a student's ability to create meaning from the words and clauses in published material.  This is a sign of an active reader.  The passage-based questions measures one's ability to read, evaluate, and interpret reading passages. 

The math concepts tested are number and operations, algebra and functions, geometry and measurement, and probability and statistics.  A scientific or graphing calculator is recommended but not required.  There is a 10 question section within this test that requires a student to solve problems outside of the test booklet and record answers in a special grid in the test booklet.  These 10 problems do not offer any answer selection options like the traditional multiple choice questions.

The writing skills section focuses on one's ability to identify appropriate expressions in standard written English, detect errors in usage and structure, select appropriate revisions to sentences and paragraphs, and recognize appropriate writing strategies.

There is a practice test for the PSAT that accompanies the study guide for the test.  There is also an answer key to help support the scoring of the test.  The best way to get ready for the PSAT/NMSQT test is to take the practice test.  The entire practice test takes about 2 hours.

Call your school's guidance counselor for information, e-mail, or call 609-771-7070.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Is My Child Eligible for Special Education Services?

It is usually a very intuitive parent who first notices something is disconcerting about a child's performance in school.  A parent may know something is not right, but yet, she may not be able to articulate what "it" is that is wrong.  To find out if a child is eligible for special education services, there are a number of steps to take, but the first step is to make the concern known to the person who is most likely able to confirm or refute a parent's suspicions.

The best person to do this is the child's classroom teacher. Schedule a meeting with the classroom teacher at a time when the teacher can give you his undivided attention.  Be sure to take another person with you when you attend this meeting.  An additional person can act as an additional set of ears for you, take notes as documentation is an important part of the process, and help you process the discussion and any questions you may have after the meeting is over.  Do NOT let anyone tell you that a support person is not necessary.  There is no law to support such a statement.  At this meeting, talk openly with the teacher and listen to his observations.  Draw on any similarities.  If the teacher confirms your suspicions, the teacher is the most likely to move the process forward and act as your child's advocate.  If the teacher does not confirm your suspicions and does not alleviate your concerns, you need to take it to the principal.  Regardless of the outcome of this meeting, be sure to let the teacher know your plans of either taking your concern to the principal or following up with the teacher to ensure he has taken it to the principal.

Scheduling a meeting with the principal should involve the same protocol as scheduling a meeting with the classroom teacher.  You need to take a support person with you to this meeting as well for the same reasons.  In larger districts, there may also be a special education director or coordinator who may be a person in the chain of command to whom you must speak.  The same protocol is followed when speaking to this person as well.  Regardless of who your conversations involve, document your concerns at each level and press for help for your child.  Summarize at the end of each meeting your understanding of the next step to be taken either by the school or by you.  It is at this level that some interventions will be tried with your child.

This step is called Response To Intervention (RTI).  The classroom teacher will try a number of interventions with your child during a 6-8 week period of time.  The purpose of the interventions is to determine the learning rate of your child regarding the concern you noted in the various meetings.  Interventions can be formulated to address academic, behavior, or social concerns.  During the time of the intervention, your child is being observed for progress.  Is your child making progress during the intervention?  The data collected should show if the learning problem is related to instruction or curriculum or is a true learning disability.  If your child does NOT make progress during the intervention, additional testing is no doubt needed.  If you child DOES make progress it is highly likely he will not be referred for further testing.  If this is the case, your job is to make sure you follow your child's progress closely to ensure the intervention continues to be done and your child continues to make progress.

If progress is not noted, and further testing is needed, the parent must request it and give consent for it to be done.  Usually a school psychologist tests a child, but schools may be different in this regard.  Ask your school for its Special Education Delivery Plan or Service Plan.  This plan should outline specifics regarding formal testing of your child.  Before any tests are completed, the federal law directs schools to gain your consent and give you information on the tests they plan to administer to your child.  Once the testing process has started, the district has 60 days to evaluate your child and share the results with you that determine eligibility of services.

As you can see, this process is lengthy and requires a parent to be on his/her toes during this process.  It is challenging and I can attest to the stress a family often endures during the testing time.  Hopefully, during the testing time, interventions will continue in the classroom as this will help your child maintain some progress.  If you suspicion a problem with your child's learning in school it is in the child's best interest if you get on top of it immediately and stay on top of it until your child gets the services and/or the help he needs.

Source:  The IEP Guidebook for Parents