Thursday, October 27, 2011

What is an appropriate IEP goal?

Once a child is deemed eligible for special education services, an Individualized Education Plan must be written.  This plan contains much information, and it can be very overwhelming for a person unfamiliar with educational terminology to understand.  The IEP is the heart of the Individuals with Disabilities Educational Act (IDEA).  Measurable goals are the heart of the IEP.  Goals in the IEP are simply the annual measurement of a child's progress.  The short term "dip stick" measurements are usually called benchmarks or objectives  and are observed throughout the school year.  At the end of the annual term of the IEP (commonly known as the review date), comprehensive progress on goals must be done to determine if more work is needed on a specific goal or if a new goal needs to be developed.

All goals and objectives/benchmarks  must be measurable, according to the IDEA law.  Without  measurability, progress cannot be monitored.  A goal can only be measured by performing an action.  If you measure a cup of sugar for a recipe, you take out a cup and measure out the amount of the ingredient you need for the recipe.  If you measure the tire pressure in your car's tires, you put a gauge on the valve stem.    In addition, a measurable goal or objective/benchmark would allow multiple people to review the student's performance and arrive at the same conclusion about that student's progress.  Furthermore, when measuring a student's progress, the evaluator must be able to determine how much progress has been made since the baseline information was obtained.  Finally, a strong goal can be measured without additional information.

When a goal is written, it usually follows a specific format.  A "given" is usually stated first.  The learner's performance is stated next, and the desire level of performance is stated last.  It is important that the "given" is a part of the goal as it acts as a springboard for the progress.  The "given" is somewhat like a starting point for a child.  For example, "given second grade materials, Matt will read orally at 60 wpm with no more than 2 errors."  A "given" is not always necessary; it may be implied in the goal.  For example, "the student will swim 200 yards in X time without stopping, using two strokes of her choice."  The "given" in this example is the water in which the action will take place.

The problematic element of measurable goals is the concept of observable or countable behavior.  If the person evaluating progress on a child's goals cannot observe behaviors then improvement in the goal cannot be measured.  Observable words might include:  pointing, drawing, constructing, reading orally, dressing, researching, speaking, and making.  Non-observable words include:  appreciating, understanding, respecting, knowing, and improving.  It is pretty clear there is no way to truly measure to what extent a person appreciates something, but it is clear a person can observe the act of reading orally.

Parents and educators are cautioned when the belief is that in order for a goal to be measurable and appropriate it must contain a result stated in terms of a percentage ("Tyler will increase the number of times he hands in his homework).  When determining how to state a measurement outcome, thought should be given to EXACTLY how you would measure it.  A good example of a goal would be: Given 5 simple, two-step oral directions, such as, "fold your paper and hand it in, Tyler will correctly complete 4 of the 5 two-step directions."

Goals and objectives/benchmarks are not rocket science.  Writing appropriate goals takes time and practice.  The best way to write an appropriate goal is to use one's experience, good sense, professional judgment, and team input.  Most of all, consider the needs of the child at the time the goal is being written.

Source:  Bateman, Barbara and Herr, Cynthia. Writing Measurable IEP Goals.  2006. Verona, WI.

Friday, October 21, 2011

When/How to Start the College Application Search

The following timeline is a general overview of key college application deadlines.  It is also a suggested list of "things to do" during each academic year of high school.  This timeline is not an exhaustive list of deadlines but a framework for a student to follow in preparing for post secondary education.

9th Grade
*Create a college application folder:  data to be included includes general personal information, family military background, professional associations of parents, job experiences, volunteer experiences, and such.
*Take challenging academic classes and study!  Meet with a guidance counselor and establish a four year academic plan, at least, and beyond if possible.  It should be very directive so to keep you on a post secondary track but flexible so to allow for changes in situations for which you have no control (i.e. a family move)
*If you are not involved in your community, start now.  Take leadership roles in school and community activities. 

10th Grade
*Start to request college brochures and making comparisons.  Research the colleges in which you have a strong interest.
*Take the PSAT and the PLAN.  These tests can give you a gauge on how you will perform on the ACT or SAT in your junior year.

11th Grade
*Take Advanced Placement courses if at all possible.  If your school district does not offer AP courses, check into the possibility of taking such a course with a neighboring district.
*Visit schools and attend college fairs.
*Begin to conduct free scholarship searches and collect scholarship applications.
*Start looking for and speaking with people you plan to use as references.
*Register for and take ACT/SAT in the first semester of this year; this allows for a retake if necessary
*Get a social security card if you don't have one.

12th Grade
*Retake the ACT/SAT if necessary
*Take advanced coursework when possible.
*Secure letters of recommendation for scholarship applications.
*Apply to colleges; be aware of application fee guidelines as some applications cost a nice chunk of change.
*Apply for scholarships.
*Send in your FAFSA (parents responsibility).
*Mail thank you notes to references.
*Commit to a college as early as possible so as to focus on financial support for that school; review that school's scholarships

Source:  Rosen, David & Mladen, Caryn.  Free $ For College For Dummies. Wiley Publishing. 2003.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Getting to Know your Textbook

Did it ever occur to you that at some point in your education, you made a shift from learning to read (grades k-4) and reading to learn (grades 5-12)?  While you may not have realized it, this shift did happen.  It happens for all learners.  In the upper grades, reading materials becomes less about the letters and sounds and more about the meaning of the content.  In about 4th/5th grade, it becomes important to know this because it will help you know how to approach your assigned reading in a respective subject.  After all, you use a much different approach to reading 20 pages of a novel than when you have to answer 10 questions on weather at the end of a chapter in your science book.
I know it sounds silly, but in order to truly gain as much as you can from your textbook, you have to spend some time dissecting it.  The table of contents tells you how the book is organized.  If you take your history book, for example, it is no doubt organized chronologically.  A science book may be organized categorically, and math books are usually organized sequentially as skills build on one another.  After you are finished looking at the table of contents, a good move is to locate the review the index.  This can be found at the back of the textbook and is arranged in alphabetical order.  This is most often used like a reference guide.  Say, for example, you wanted to look up information on a cylinder for math class.  You might find the following information in the index: 
          area of 435
          base of 434
          comparison to other geometric solids 437
          definition 433
          volume of 435
You can use this information to expedite your search for information.
Another important part of a textbook is the glossary.  I've seen this used most in science and social studies.  The glossary is a mini-dictionary and can be located at the back of the book, in front of the index.  Not every textbook has a glossary. Usually, a foreign language textbook has an extensive glossary and, often, will have two:  one glossary in the English language that translates to the foreign language and one that provides the foreign language equivalent of English words.
Sometimes, a textbook will also contain an appendix.  An appendix usually displays templates of  materials referenced in the book that the reader can use in a variety of circumstances.  A common template in a science book may be for lab work.  These materials are usually supplemental in nature and are not always required for students.
Textbooks can be pretty overwhelming as they are often thick and heavy.  It is important for teachers to help facilitate learning by helping students become familiar with the format of their textbook.  It is through this familiarization process that students develop a comfort level with the textbook.

Greenberg, Michael, M.A., Painless Study Techniques, Barron Publishing. 2009.