Wrapping it Up

The Boy has nine and a half more days of school, and where we live, that equates to end-of-grade testing. He has three tests this week, and one next week that attempt to assess everything he learned in the entire school year in all four of his core subjects. I’m pretty sure the educational community determined decades ago that these tests are a poor way to assess any kid’s knowledge, and I can tell you right now, they are a huge waste of time for my kid.

I don’t think he’s passed one since we moved here. Does that mean he hasn’t learned anything in any of his classes? Nope. But they still require them to take them (although, thanks to his IEP, he doesn’t have to pass them to move on to the next grade!).

Testing is hard for my kiddo, anyway. He needs extended time and breaks. All of that means that these tests take him ALL DAY LONG. And he hates them. Wouldn’t you?

This year, for the first time, I’ve heard him self-advocating, complaining about the length of these tests. And unfortunately, there’s nothing I can do about them. But I have offered him a treat after school every day that he has one, as an incentive to “do your best, that’s all you can do!”

Here’s to the teachers and kiddos struggling to slog through the crap at the end of the year so some bureaucrat somewhere can check his box that it was completed. It’s not one of life’s prettier lessons, but it is a life lesson – sometimes you just have to do it, even though it’s stupid. And it’s one we all have to learn, sooner or later.

Good luck!

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Presumption of Competence

Hands down, the biggest lesson I have learned since moving my son to another school, another school district, another state has been that one should never presume competence with anyone who deals with your child.

 Unfortunately, classroom teachers know very little about IEPs and special education law.  It just isn’t required of them in teacher prep programming, and if it is, there’s very little of substance that is taught. Many times, when a teacher is in your child’s IEP meeting, they are following the lead of the special education teacher and the administrators. If they do any modifying of assignments, or make any accommodations for your child, it’s usually under the direction of a special education teacher (and many don’t do it at all, and leave this entirely to the special education teachers and even the TAs). This is not the case with all general education classroom teachers by any means, but if you presume competence about special education matters, you will most likely be unhappily surprised.

The same can be said of administrators. Those that know about special education law are in a shocking minority. I worked for and received a degree in school administration, and only a portion of our one law class covered special education law. Administrators rely heavily on their special education teachers to know the law, as well.

Why is this important? When you head into that IEP room, you are relying on the expertise of one person, your child’s special education teacher, to ensure that what is happening that day is legal, and that you’re child’s rights are being met. And if that person isn’t quite up to snuff? Then what?

It is imperative that you learn about what should be happening in that IEP meeting, in your child’s classrooms, in that whole district. Get your hands on anything from Wrightslaw and read it until you know it. Otherwise, your IEP meeting could be “run” by and administrator who wants to reduce your child’s social skills time, and have the TA take him out into the school to practice unlearned skills because that’s what she thinks should happen. (true story…)

With the proper knowledge behind you, you can respond, “But that’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works.”

Preparing for High School: Update

high schoolI had heard a lot of things about special ed in our high school, the different tracks, what they can take, where they can go with the different diplomas… I wanted to meet with people who could tell me definitively. And I got some answers.

In essence, we will have to choose a track by this spring, which will determine whether or not The Boy ever goes to a four-year college. That’s a tough decision for any parent of a fourteen year old, I think. And I think if they made general ed parents do this, there might be a bit of “education reform” down here.

There is an “occupational” track, designed for kids who are cognitively impaired, and have IQs in the 50s-70s. They are taught in special ed classrooms (segregated from the rest of the gen ed population), and the coursework focuses on work experience, heavily. If we choose this path, he cannot use his diploma to ever go to a four-year college. He may also not be able to take band, depending on when the core classes are scheduled.

Then there is the “future ready” track which is the general ed curriculum. They have a special ed teacher available to be in some of the 9th and 10th grade core classrooms. There is an elective study hall that special ed kids can take to get homework help. And that’s it.

We could start him in the “future ready” and move him to the “occupational,” but we couldn’t do the opposite. It almost feels like they set them up for failure in the gen ed track with little support, and then when they fail, funnel all of the special ed kids into the “occupational” track.

Everyday, special ed kids are denied taking electives in schools across this country, simply because of their disability. But because most parents don’t care about electives, and don’t fight for their kid’s right to equal access to the curriculum, nothing is done. But this is a smaller issue.

This setup, this all-or-nothing choice we have to make… this is something else entirely. I have a friend whose son is more academically age-appropriate than mine, and he is in the “future ready” track at this high school. His teachers don’t know how to modify his assignments, and he has to stay after everyday to get help from his teachers, on top of the “study hall” he gives up an elective for, so that he can have a special ed teacher help him do his homework. Is this really all they can do? Is this really all there is?

Yep, this southern state sure has opened my eyes to the reasons people homeschool.

UPDATE: I just shared an email exchange with The Boy’s former program teacher who said that the part about never, ever being able to go to a four-year college was absolutely untrue. Good news. But makes me wonder what other information the “transition coordinator” screwed up…

The Spirit or the Letter

This post is almost an addendum to yesterday’s. I got a progress report from The Boy’s science class. He has a B-. Great! Except it’s not.  Here’s why: he received 100 percent on every assignment, and a 95 on the one project they have done this quarter. Why a B-? Because he got a 67 on a test last week.

Again, as a teacher, I would look at this student’s grades and say to myself, “Something doesn’t add up here. If my assessment (test) was a true assessment of whether or not this student knows the material, it is not reflecting that accurately. Why not?” In this scenario, either the grading of the homework is not a true reflection, or the assessment is not a true reflection.  And when you add in that the project (which more often shows what a student really understands than a multiple choice test) received a 95, you begin to think the fault lies with the test.

quizAfter investigating, I found out the test had been modified. Great! Except it’s not.  It was only 15 questions. This is a major flaw in test design.  If the teacher made it fewer questions to modify it, she has effectively made it harder to earn an A. That’s a problem.

There’s no easy answer here, and I know in this case, at least everyone is trying to help. But. If my son knows the material, a 67 shouldn’t stand in the gradebook. According to the “letter” of grading, he earned it, but according to the “spirit” of grading, it’s not accurate, and something should be done about it.  I wouldn’t have let it stand as a teacher (you do have the ability to throw out a test and re-do it…), and I’m not sure what to do about it as a parent, except talk to the teacher, and see what we can come up with.  I don’t want to come off as I-know-more-than-you-about-assessment, but at the same time, I’m a stickler for fairness.

What do you think?

Modifications and Accommodations

A friend contacted me after dinner last night in a panic. Her son has just started 9th grade and has been failing math, in large part because he doesn’t understand the homework. He is on the spectrum, and is more than capable of handling academic work, given proper supports. But his homework hasn’t been modified, and I doubt the tests and quizzes have been either.

I don’t understand why teachers don’t do this.  Do they not realize that they have to? If a teacher saw a child in a wheelchair at the top of a staircase, unable to go downstairs, would they turn the other way and say, “That’s not my job, that’s the special ed teacher’s job”? Probably not, but because some of our kiddos on the spectrum “seem” capable, that instinct that all teachers are supposed to have to help children succeed just isn’t there? I just don’t understand.

simple modificationI still consider myself a teacher (especially with all of the modifications and accommodations I’ve been providing for my own son for the past two years), and helped my friend’s son via text. They would send me a picture of the problem, and I would set up a chart of the information to help him process it into an equation and send it back.  And guess what? They went from full-on meltdown mode to feeling much better about the math homework.

Now why in the world should this mom have to go on facebook, beg friends for help, and even offer to pay someone to help her boy with his work? No, I’m sorry. This falls in the realm of the duties of that math teacher.  She is failing at least one of her students.  That grade is not his, it is hers.  And if she can’t see that, someone needs to show her.

If you are a teacher, I strongly urge you to learn how to provide some basic modifications and accommodations (and while you’re at it, look into this thing called “Universal Design for Learning“). We’re supposed to help our students succeed, and if you are too tired or busy to only concentrate on the “normal” ones, you have a problem.

Teachers: Please Educate Yourselves about IEPs and the Law

School LawLet me preface this by saying that I know the struggles faced by teachers everyday.  I understand the Sisyphean nature of the job, and that it is almost impossible to stay on top of all of the various responsibilities. When I taught, I quickly learned to prioritize those responsibilities, putting the ones that directly impacted kids at the very top.

Knowing your responsibilities to your special education students, and the legal ramifications if those responsibilities aren’t met should be one of your top priorities.

If you’ve followed Simple. I Just Do for awhile, you know that we encountered teachers at the beginning of The Boy’s 6th grade year who acted as if they had never had an autistic students in their classrooms before.  I had to become “that mom” just to ensure that The Boy was receiving the very basic modifications and accommodations.  Truthfully, his IEP was being violated on a daily basis.  Comments from teachers during that time included:

  • “He refused to take the test, so I gave him a zero”
  • “He doesn’t do any work in my room, so he needs to be in the special ed room during my class”
  • “He should take the test the same day as the rest of the class because we have other lessons that he would miss out on”
  • “If he doesn’t understand something, I don’t know how to help him because he won’t tell me what he doesn’t understand”

I have also found that classroom teachers in this state do not modify assignments themselves, most likely because they do not know how.  Somehow, providing these modifications is the responsibility of the special education teacher.  This was not the case in my training and experience up north.

Here’s the thing.  You, as a teacher, can be sued (and possibly have to pay damages out of your own pocket) for not following the IEP, and claiming ignorance will not be a sufficient defense.  Claiming that the special ed teacher didn’t make the modifications for you will not be a sufficient defense. You are responsible for knowing the law (IDEA and ADA, for starters), and for following it, by providing each student’s appropriate modifications.

This past week, I had to be “that mom” again, and send several emails to remind three different teachers about the modifications The Boy is supposed to be receiving.  In one response, from the band director, he mentioned that he was “willing to let (The Boy) play for” the band festival performance that same week, but that he did “not want him to participate in the sight reading portion.”

The Boy has a right to access the same curriculum as his peers, therefore he has a right to participate in both the band festival and the sight reading portion.  And it is the band director’s responsibility to know that.

Meet The Boy

In light of recent comments, I thought it might be time to do a post that re-introduces The Boy and his issues to this audience.  The Boy was diagnosed with classic autism at the age of five.  Although he has a fairly high IQ, and is a generally bright boy, he was not diagnosed with Asperger’s because he did have developmental delays, and was in speech and occupational therapy starting at the age of two.  He has since “graduated” from OT, and now has speech therapy in the form of working on pragmatic social skills once a week with the speech therapist at school.

In his new school, the pilot program for which we switched schools has organizational periods for the kids on the spectrum at the beginning and end of the day.  They meet with the autism teacher and aides who help them get organized for the day in the morning, and help them get organized before they head home.  He also has a social skills class with his autism teacher.  Ideally, he would be interacting with other 6th graders on the spectrum, but he is the only 6th grader in the program, currently, so they spend some time on social skills, and some time on homework and organizational skills during this period.  He is also allowed to eat his lunch in his autism teacher’s room.  This is his safe haven.

The Boy has issues with executive functioning, verbalizing his needs (as well as verbalizing anything having to do with school, like assignments and tests), and gets overwhelmed by his senses at times.  He has issues with processing speed, and can get overwhelmed with assignments that require a lot of writing.  He has the requisite deficits in social and organizational skills, as well.

Per his IEP, he is to receive extended time on assignments and tests, sensory breaks as needed, modified assignments and tests, use of graphic organizers, testing in small groups in a separate setting, use of a word processor, and use of visual work systems (visual cards that will cue him as to what to do next, and when the next break is) in all classes.

His teachers do not send home much homework, which helps us, because like most kids with autism, he has a very great antipathy for it.  Logically, schoolwork should be done at school, rather than at home, and it just doesn’t make sense to him to have to do work at home.  When we do have homework, we break it into chunks that we can do from 15-30 minutes at a time, and then we take a break, sometimes with an incentive (m&ms work wonders), before we get back to work again.

Most of the teachers at his new school get it.  They are willing to teach him according to how he learns.  They are patient and understanding, and willing to listen to suggestions.  We are very lucky, and I am so glad I was able to work so hard to get him placed in this school.  It has meant a world of difference to The Boy.  He is happier, I think, because he is more understood.

I communicate with his teachers as needed, and never too much.  I do not get in their faces when there is an issue.  I offer suggestions when they are asked for.  I work with my son on his schoolwork and practicing whenever he has it.

My son has special needs.  My son has rights.  My son has patient and understanding teachers (mostly).  My son has me.

Winter at the Beach

Band Woes Again

tuba practiceThings are going very well at The Boy’s school.  Last week we got a note home that he had placed 2nd in his class in a pyramid game (whatever that was), and had earned a 100% on a social studies test.  I reflected that even though he doesn’t have hours of homework a night like he did at his previous school, he still seems to be learning the material – they must be doing things right.

I also got a note from The Boy’s band teacher wondering why he hadn’t been able to play his test for his teacher.  I hadn’t known there was a test, and hadn’t even known they had moved on from some small ensemble material they had been playing before and after break.  At the time, I explained to his teacher that I was very ill, but could The Boy play it next week, so I could have some time to work on it with him.

And then the poop hit the fan.

We practiced it once on Sunday, the first day I really felt human again.  And we took Monday night off (we generally practice every other night or so).  Yesterday, I start to get some emails from the band teacher which seemed to suggest The Boy is incapable of playing the test.  He got upset with me when I told him we had only practiced the test once.  He suggested maybe The Boy should play trumpet, because he’s had other kids with autism have some luck with that instrument…

Here we go again.

I’m disheartened that teachers doing what I used to do seem incapable of thinking outside the box to include students with special needs.  They seem not to have a clue that IEPs apply to them, as well.  And to have a parent like me as a resource in educating their student, and to almost disregard it…

I’m the one who’s at a loss.

Big Meeting, the Second Time Around

Our rescheduled IEP meeting is today, and let me tell you, I feel so much more prepared this time around.  I am so glad that I was able to call them out on a technicality and give myself some more time to gather my wits and my resources.  Today, I’m bringing our regional rep from the Autism Society in our state.  I’ve talked with her a bunch over the last couple of weeks, and she will be there to advise me, and be an extra pair of ears.

They will still have a passel of personnel in attendance, but they don’t scare me anymore.  I have data from his previous school that supports everything that I say he needs and isn’t getting.  I have documentation in the form of emails from his current teachers that supports everything I say he needs and isn’t getting.  And I have a better understanding of their intentions, as well as the process, and my rights.

And my focus now is on the IEP, even though we will be discussing placement, as well.  He needs and aide, he needs autism-savvy teachers, and he needs help with organization.  Period.  I would like to see him go to a school that is better equipped for his needs, but I’m not as steadfast in that as I was, because I’m not sure I want him in a school where they so obviously are against him being there.  When it comes down to it, no matter where he is placed, we will continue to have a fight on our hands, and now that I know that, I am better prepared to roll with the punches (Inner Biker Chick is present and accounted for, thankyouverymuch).

What a difference a couple of weeks makes.  Let’s ride!

Laura & Margie - biker chicks

Laura & Margie – biker chicks, mslaura

Is This the Moment Where the Importance of Public Education Dies?

I was raised to believe in the power of a good education, that education is something, once earned, no one can take from you.  And I still believe in those things.  But I am getting a sudden, rude awakening in dealing with less-than-stellar schooling for my son.  And I’m gaining a new perspective on education in general.

I’ve followed the reports about college degrees not being as necessary as they once were (or at least not getting much return on investment).  I’ve seen alternatives to public schooling that work.  And I have now witnessed public education that has lost its focus on children, and gone in such a wrong direction.

So what is the value of an education for my son?

What is the endgame here?

Will he attend college? Maybe — I’m not ruling it out, but most likely, no college program is going to be able to provide him with the supports he needs to learn, at least no college program that we are going to be able to afford.  He is a bright boy, but it takes a lot of work on his part and the part of those educating him to see results.  It takes a lot of understanding, a lot of compassion, and having the right people in the right place at the right time to make it happen, and realistically, I don’t see anything like that happening at the college level.

WordsearchSo the value of an education for my son is not about subject matter content.  The value of a public education is in the social skills he learns.  I can supplement subject matter content until the cows come home, but what I really want him to walk away with is the ability to understand neuro-typical behavior to some extent, and to be able to cope in this neuro-typical world.  I want him to be as independent as possible, and I don’t think “learning” about the Pharaohs of Egypt by doing a wordsearch is going to contribute much to that goal.

Therefore, stressing about getting that stupid wordsearch done doesn’t give us much return on investment.  And I’m OK with a C in a class where the teacher probably privately thinks that modifications and accommodations are unfair.  I have always been much more interested in IEP goal reports than report cards, because learning to live in the world around us is our endgame.  And learning to live in the world around us is so much more important than a stupid wordsearch.