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