Monday, April 30, 2012

Retaking a Class? Make Changes!

It is an assumption, but I believe most students really don't like to retake a class. Taking a class and failing can have a very negative impact on a student's self-esteem and attitude toward school. I will also step out on a limb and say that nearly all students who fail a class do so because of bad habits, such as disorganization, apathy toward school or the class specifically, and simply not turning in work. Whatever the reason a class was failed and is on your schedule again, you have to make some changes if the same outcome is not to be repeated. Learn from the mistakes you made the first time.  If you are in this unfortunate circumstance, begin to plan now for a successful completion when you return to school.

1.      Commit to a new start. There is no use berating yourself or blaming anyone else for failing a class. Use this experience to learn some better habits and improve yourself.
2.     Be better organized. Use a specific folder and a planner to keep track of the assignments for this class. When you complete and hand in an assignment, put a check mark or some symbol next to it so you can see your progress and know you handed in the required work.
3.      Chances are you still have some materials from the class. Use old tests and quizzes as review material. Be sure to do the required reading again, but you will no doubt find you can move through the material faster as it will be familiar to you. While you may not remember all the detail of the important concepts from the first time, you will remember reading about them. Use your prior knowledge to help you through the material.
4.     Talk to your teacher frequently. You need to let him/her know you are concerned about your progress. Whether the teacher is the same, you are repeating the class and the teacher will, most likely, know. A positive attitude and genuine concern for your academic progress will make quite a difference in your experience.

5.     Try to use other sources to help bring the materials to a level of understanding for you, if you are struggling with concepts. I recently had to help tutor a biology student in genetics, and I was having trouble understanding the concepts by reading the textbook. I google searched "genetics for dummies" and "simple genetics" and was greeted by a large amount of material. I was much better prepared to help tutor the student after I spent some time doing a little research.

 6.     Complete all assignments. Each one is worth points, and all assignments are important. Many students who do poorly in class do so because they failed to hand in the assignments that were worth 5-10 points. These assignments add up in a hurry, and it is difficult to dig out of this hole once in it.
Failing a class is not the worst thing that will ever happen to you. Getting stuck in the negativity and allowing the experienceto leave a permanent scar is not acceptable. Learn and grow from your experience. Know this, however...if you don't change some habits that you know caused problems for you the first time, failing again is probable.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Post Secondary Enrollment Act...What are the basics?

The public school districts in Iowa are required to have information available to students and parents on the Post Secondary Enrollment Options Act.  This is an opportunity that is taken advantage of each school year by over 6,000 students in our state.  Information can be located at the Iowa Department website  Using the A-Z Index link, click on the letter “S” and then find the subject heading “Senior Year Plus.”  That link will take you to information on PSEO.  The school district guidance office will also have information.  Basic foundational information is provided in this article.

What is the purpose of the PSEO Act?  Promote rigorous academic pursuits and to provide a wider variety of options to high school students.

When was the PSEO Act first established? 1987

Who is eligible for taking PSEO classes?  The program allows all 11th and 12th grade students as well as 9th and 10th grade students, identified as gifted and talented by the local district, to enroll in college courses.

Who pays for PSEO classes?  The school district pays the eligible postsecondary institution for the cost of the course (tuition and books) OR $250, whichever amount is lower.  The only cost to the student may be a possible equipment purchase (such as a calculator for a math class).

When would the student be responsible for paying for the PSEO course?  Only if the student fails to complete the course and is not eligible for a waiver OR if the student chooses to take a class during the summer term would the student or the parent be required to pay for a PSEO course.

What courses are eligible PSEO courses?  If a comparable course is NOT offered at the respective school district a student may enroll in it.  Courses offered at a PSEO institution or via ICN or distance learning are eligible courses.  Courses in all disciplines and vocational/technical courses are eligible.

How does a PSEO course impact the high school grade/credit? Successful completion of the course generates high school credit and applies toward district subject area and graduation requirements. Usually PSEO courses do not impact high school GPA but are recorded as Pass/Fail on a student’s report card to reflect a credit earned or not earned.

Are home-school students eligible?  Yes, providing the student is dual enrolled and the resident district does not offer a comparable course.

Can post secondary institutions place restrictions on courses high school students take under the PSEO Act?  Yes, in short, there may be standards required, such as prerequisite courses or evaluation procedures to determine competency.

What paperwork is required to participate in PSEO?  The school district has a process in place for a respective semester that a student wishes to take a PSEO class.  Usually a form of “intent” is required as is an application to the post secondary institution. There is typically a “window” of time to notify the district of the intent to participate in PSEO in a respective semester.

Is the high school district required to provide transportation to a PSEO class?  No.  

What are some major benefits experienced by taking a PSEO class in high school?  A few of the major benefits include earning college credits, exploring possible courses of career interest, getting a “leg up” on general education college credits, beginning the transition to college and getting used to different expectations, saving several hundred dollars on college credits because the school pays the bill, earning additional high school credits, a wider variety of course options while in high school, and the risk factor to your high school transcript is low (typically only impacts GPA if the course of failed).

16 Iowa Department of Education

Senior Year Plus uid Page 17

Myth vs. Reality

A recent teleconference titled Special Education: 30 Myths in 30 Minutes, facilitated by Thomas Mayes, legal consultant at the Iowa Department of Education, was designed to lay foundational information for serving children with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or a 504 plan.  Both an IEP and a 504 plan are written legal documents that serve to “level the playing field” so to speak for children in the public school system so they have the same opportunities to succeed as students without special needs. Rather than go into detail of all 30 myths, I have highlighted a few of the most common. 

Myth 1: In an IEP meeting, the goal of the IEP team is to reach consensus regarding decisions made for the special needs child.  Reality: The goal of the IEP team is to WRITE an IEP.  The IEP must be drafted in accordance with IDEA’s procedural requirements.  Decisions are made in accordance with what is best for the educational needs of the child.  Decisions that are not in agreement can be challenged through mediation or due process.

Myth 2: Para educators can be used to provide instruction.  Reality: Teachers teach.  Para educators help teachers or other licensed professionals.  Para educators do NOT teach.  This includes the use of a Para educator in a collaborative teaching situation.

Myth 3: A free and appropriate public education (FAPE) stops at 3:30 PM.  Reality: A free and appropriate public education may include extra and co- curricular activities.  The law is clear that the child with special needs must have an equal opportunity for participation in such activities.  This includes field trips, end of the year trips, and any sports.  The law does not guarantee playing time or a starting position; just an equal opportunity to participate.

Myth 4: Special education is really for ALL children who need a little extra help with their learning.  Reality: Special education is for children who need help with learning because they have a disability, not solely for other reasons.  If Sarah does not have an identified disability but she wants to take her test in the resource room where it is quiet, this is not acceptable.  Sarah can be given other options of testing places.  

Myth 5: Response to Intervention (RTI) is special education.  Reality: RTI is effective education that is NOT limited to special education and should not be used as a replacement or delay of services or testing.

Myth 6: No student with an IEP can earn any grade higher than a C+ because that would not be fair to the other students.  Reality: The law stipulates that accommodations be made for a child with a disability.  Such accommodations are likely to help provide support for that student so that he/she can show their knowledge/learning of the subject area content in a different way.  A blanket rule on grading kids with IEPs or 504 plans is intentional disability discrimination.  If modified grading is suggested, support by the AEA or other advocacy organization should be given to help ensure such discrimination does not occur.

Myth 7: The school can refuse to pay for something that will help level the playing field for my child because it is too expensive.  Reality: Regardless of the expense, if the purchase would be necessary to meet the requirements of FAPE, the district must provide the tool.  If the item is NOT necessary for FAPE, the district is not bound to purchase the tool.  The district can consider cost options and select the less expensive option as long as FAPE is met.

Myth 8:  My child has a weighting of Level 3.  Therefore, my child must go to Level 3 math, Level 3 Reading, and Level 3 science classes in the Level 3 classroom.  Reality:  The Level system is strictly a finance mechanism.  The levels are determined by a child’s needs, but the levels do NOT determine a child’s programming or placement.  Basing a child’s programming or placement on a “Level” or “Weighting” is illegal.

Thomas Mayes cited authorities for each myth he discussed.  The various authorities he referenced included the Iowa Administrative Code sections, the US Constitution, and the United States Code.  Mr. Mayes is always inviting of questions and can be reached at the Iowa Department of Education at 515-242-5614 or by e-mail at

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

What to Expect at an IEP Meeting

Once special education eligibility has been determined, an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meeting is scheduled.  The IEP meeting is developed, reviewed, and revised annually by the IEP team.

Who is on the IEP team?  The players include the parents and student (required by law at age 14), a general education teacher, a special education teacher, a school administrator/designee, an AEA person (if needed) to review or explain assessment data, and any other person the parent would consider helpful in planning the education of a child.  The parent can invite anyone he/she wishes.  The school must have the approval of the parent to invite anyone not required to be on the team.  Other IEP team members may include a school nurse, social worker, or guidance counselor, depending on the needs of the IEP child.

There are five phases of development of an IEP.  The first phase focuses on a student's present level of academic achievement and functional performance (PLAAFP).  This, basically, summarizes the student's current achievement and identifies areas of need.  At this phase, the parent is invited to and encouraged to help develop the profile of the student including insights to the student's strengths, interests, and preferences.  Strengths are not simply academic.  Strengths are often identified that are social in nature (i.e. a child may have a great sense of humor).  Interests and preferences are not the same.  Preferences focus more on the way a child prefers to learn or play.  An example of this would be perhaps a child prefers to learn by listening to head phones or a child prefers learning in small groups rather than on one's own.  Interests align more with activities or hobbies.  A child may be interested in riding horses or reading fiction books or drawing.

The second phase is geared toward the development of goals that are focused on the child's needs (as a result of the assessments done to determine eligibility).  While there not a magic number of goals required, experience substantiates at least two to adequately address an identified area.  For example, if a child is eligible in math, an IEP may contain a goal on computation and correctly reading story problems.  In addition, a social skills goal may be appropriate to support growth in an academic goal area.  Many times, IEPs have academic goals and then a goal on organization or work completion.  Goals, whatever they are, must be measurable.  IEP goals are worthless if they are not able to be measured to show a child is strengthening an identified weak area.

The third phase in the IEP meeting is focused on special services that may be needed to support the child's progress toward meeting the IEP goals.  Accommodations (such as extended time on assignments or preferential seating) and modifications are identified.  Modifications are different in that they are really focused on changes in the curriculum or the programming in some way.  Accommodations are simply supports in place to help the child accomplish the same curriculum or programming.  For a visually impaired child, an accommodation in PE may include a soccer bell with a ball in side of it. Parties responsible for implementing the special services are identified in this section as well.

The fourth phase focuses on how the student will participate in the least restrictive environment (LRE), which is the general education setting, and for how much of a respective school day.  The goal, of course, is to have the IEP student in the regular education setting as much as possible.

The final phase states how often parents will receive written progress of the student toward IEP goals over the course of that IEP year.  It is common to report out quarterly to parents.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Strategies for Differentiation

Reaching proficiency in a content area for one student does not look the same as it would for another student.  Each student has a different learning style, and while this makes the teacher's responsibility for reaching each and every student in the classroom extremely challenging, the alternative of not reaching each and every student in the classroom carries life long consequences that go far beyond a single classroom setting.  Education has focused on "differentiated instruction" for the past several years, and, while in days gone by when a teacher in a one-room school most likely did not even consider what it meant to teach to the middle, our teachers today have a much more significant challenge to reach each and every student.  The challenge to reach each and every student means just that...each and every student, regardless of the gamet of special needs that may present itself in a single classroom.  So how does a teacher begin to reach each and every student?  Numerous professional sources cite a 5x5 approach:  5 strategies that set the stage for learning and 5 strategies that teachers can employ in the classroom daily.

Setting the stage requires teachers to assess, build relationships, keep students moving forward, teach life skill lessons, and create a community of learners.  Assessment of student skills should be ongoing.  A teacher should always know where her students are in their learning and skill development. This requires that teachers journey alongside their students and make modifications in teaching when needed. Building relationships is what Robert Marzano calls the "key stone of effective teaching."  The knowledge teachers develop about their students and the trust they develop with their students can "make or break" differentiation efforts (Sypnieski, Education Week, January 17, 2012).  Keeping students moving forward means celebrating the small steps they take in their learning.  It is really that simple. Intrinsic motivation can be nurtured through  the small successes students have in the classroom.  Teaching life skill lessons involves showing students the connection between what they do in the classroom and their own lives.  Such lessons throughout the year reinforce the justification for students' continued engagement in their own learning. Creating a community of learners means an environment in which support for each other is paramount and differences are respected.  These five stage-setting practices pave the way for five daily practices that better assure that individual student needs are met.

Differentiating assignments is what allows for students to show similar proficiency in ways that often are not uniform.  This idea further supports the notion that students can complete a different quantity of assignments at various levels of complexity and still gain proficiency in the same standards and benchmarks.  The use of computers, as a supplement rather than a replacement of curriculum, allows students to progress at their own pace and adapt their own learning.  Encouraging students by praising them and helping them learn from their mistakes is a venue all teachers should practice every time they have a chance.  Flexible grouping is a wonderful practice that can encourage students to step outside their own comfort zones.  Groups not based on ability alone but interests and choices are also a way for teachers to determine how to maximize the learning of their students.

Helping students succeed in the classroom is challenging.  Teachers who strive to meet those individual student needs are truly exceptional and are helping their students move forward.

Sypnieski, Education Week, January 17, 2012

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Educational Records Release

As a parent, it is critical to know what the public school's responsibility is for maintenance of a child's student record.  In addition, the school has strict legal parameters for who can access the record and the protocol that must be followed in order to do so.  The document to be used for some guidance on this protocol is the Federal Educational Right to Privacy Act (FERPA).  This law is somewhat challenging to read/understand, but the basic premises are as follows for students UNDER the age of 18; once this age is reached, rights afforded to parents, transfer to students:

1.  FERPA deals with protecting the privacy of a student's educational records.
2.  A school may not generally disclose personally identifiable information from an
eligible student's education records to a third party unless the eligible student has provided
written consent, UNLESS an exception is established.  These exceptions are clearly spelled out in the complete document.

3.  A school MUST have established protocol in place for internal personnel to access a student's records.  Such assess must be reflected through a sign in/documentation process.  This is typically an area of challenge for public schools and should be spelled out to parents upon request, as per the law.
4.  Generally, a person who wishes to access a student's educational record must have a legitimate educational interest in the information.  A person who access student records and cannot prove said legitimate interest is considered "inappropriate person/agency."  Just because a school employee wishes to access a student's educational record does NOT mean that employee  automatically has a legitimate educational interest.  Such a legitimate interest must be substantiated.

Complaints to be filed must occur within a time period of 180 days.  If the complaint is investigated and the district is found to be in violation of a student's rights, a detailed protocol for remediation is issued to the district.

For specific details about the FERPA law, visit the website: