What do I do if I notice that my child is having difficulty in school?
Answer: The first thing that you should do is contact your child’s teacher and find out if the teacher is noticing the same things that you are. If so, you might want to ask about some strategies that the teacher would recommend that you do at home.
OK, I’ve tried the things at home for over a month now, and my child still is not catching on. The teacher says the same thing.
Answer: Talk to your child’s teacher about bringing your child’s difficulties up to the Intervention Assistance Team (IAT). This is a group of individuals who either know your child well, or have expertise in certain areas and may be able to help design interventions for the specific problems that your child is experiencing. You will be
invited to this meeting and have the opportunity to express your ideas and concerns. After all, you are the parent and you know your child best!
The IAT (which may have different names in different schools, but the function is the same) will design interventions to use with your child for a specific length of time. At the end of the trial period, the team will reconvene to evaluate the effectiveness of the interventions, based upon data gathered during this trial period. If your child is improving, this is a good sign that the interventions are appropriate, and should then
continue. If your child is not showing progress despite the interventions, the team may wish to (a) change the intervention(s), and/or (b) refer your child for a multi-factored evaluation to determine if there is a disability.
What is a multi-factored evaluation?
Answer: The evaluation is called multi-factored because there are several individuals who will be assessing different aspects of the child's functioning. Together with the team, you will have input into the types of assessments, observations, and reviews which will take place during this process in order to determine if your child has a disability affecting his/her learning. Once the components of the evaluation are determined, you will sign for permission for the testing to be done. You will receive a copy of the planning form for the evaluation, a copy of your consent form, and another document called “Prior Written Notice”, in which the district outlines the need for the evaluation. You will also receive a copy of Whose IDEA Is This?, a document provided by the Ohio Department of Education that describes procedural safeguards for students and parents in the area of special education.
What happens next?
Answer: The individuals involved in the assessment go to work! They gather background information, current academic information, and complete assessments, checklists, and/or observations. Persons who may be involved in this process as needed include the school psychologist, speech/language pathologist, occupational therapist, physical therapist, school nurse, classroom teacher(s), specialist teachers,
Once all the pieces of the evaluation have been completed, they are gathered and compiled in a report, called the MFE report, or ETR (Evaluation Team Report). A meeting is scheduled to share the information. This meeting will include the parent, and all parties involved in the evaluation, as well as the student, if applicable. The team members review their findings. The team then determines if the student meets the criteria for having a disability.
. . . and then . . . ?
If your child is eligible for services as a student with a disability, an IEP (Individualized Education Program) will be designed.
Answer: If the student is found to not have a disability, he/she will continue in the current class placement. If there are still some concerns, the student may be brought
before the IAT again, where the team may design further interventions to be used in the classroom.
Tell me more about this IEP thing…
Answer: An IEP is developed for every student who is eligible for services as a student with a disability. At the beginning is basic demographic information about the child. The next section is called “future planning”. You as the parent/family/student will be asked about your plans and goals for your child. You can give short term or longer term goals that you would like to see your child accomplish in any realm of education – academic, socially, emotionally, etc. The purpose of this section is so that the team of persons at the school is aware of your goals for your child, and can work toward the same vision.
The next section of the IEP is “present levels”. In this section the team indicates where the child is currently functioning in terms of progress in school, including both strengths and weaknesses. This information may come from the MFE team report, school records, classroom data, parent information, etc.
Following the present levels are one or more pages on which goal(s) for your child are specified. The first part states the specific need, followed by a goal which addresses the need. There are also short term objectives or benchmarks, which indicate the steps needed to meet the goal. Next, the services are determined on where that goal will be worked on. This could be in the regular classroom, a tutoring room, or a resource room, for examples. The amount of time will also be indicated, along with the frequency of service. If the child needs specific modifications (changes in what is taught), adaptations (changes in how curriculum is taught), equipment, etc., in order to be successful, those items will also be listed.
What about state tests for my child?
Answer: There are a few other pages in the IEP… These include a page that addresses the services that have been mentioned in the IEP (Special Factors page), and a “testing” page. On the testing page the team determines how the student will take statewide or district-wide tests. There are 3 options: the first is that the student will take the test like everyone else with no modifications; the second is that the student will take the test with modifications that have been specified in the IEP; and the third option is taking an alternate assessment. The last option is intended for a very small percentage of students whose disabilities are so severe that they cannot participate in the regular testing, even with modifications.
The last page of the IEP is known as the “signature page”. Everyone, including the parent, in attendance signs the IEP as a participant. The parent also signs in two other places – one to give permission for the services specified in the IEP to begin, and the other indicating whether the district may send special education information to the parent via regular mail rather than certified mail, and that the parent received a copy of the procedural safeguards booklet, Whose IDEA Is This?
Sometimes, the intervention specialist will come to the meeting with a draft copy of part of the IEP for all to study. Other times the team may start from scratch and actual begin the writing of the IEP at the meeting. In any event, the IEP is not completed until all participants have the opportunity for input.
OK, if I sign this MFE and IEP, is this a “life sentence” for my child? Will he/she always be “labeled” and in “special classes?”
Answer: A lot of parents have this same concern. First of all, there is a system in place that requires that the MFE be re-done every three years at the most to determine if the student continues to remain eligible for services, and the IEP is reviewed annually. Changes can be made at any time by calling together a meeting of the IEP team. As long as your child remains in special education, there will be a “label” in the child’s file that verifies that he/she is eligible for services. This is a state and federal requirement for school districts to do this. However, on a practical basis, this “label” is not discussed with the child’s classmates or in the community.
The last part of the question is about “special classes”. Special education has changed dramatically in the last 10-15 years. Special education is no longer considered a “place”, but rather a set of “services” that the child needs in order to be successful in school. The services may be in the form of modifications and supports within the regular classroom, a period of tutoring daily, inclusion (special education and regular education teachers teach together in a classroom), resource room for specific skill work, etc. The IEP team determines what the services will look like. These services may remain the same from year to year, or they may change, depending upon the needs of the child. Special education services are available for students in preschool through high school as long as the students are eligible.
How will I know how my child is doing with these services?
Answer: You will receive a progress report from the service provider(s) (teachers, therapists) every grading period. In addition, you are welcome to call or visit your child’s school and talk to those who are working with your child.
What if I move, or if I change my mind?
Answer: If you move anywhere in the United States, your child's MFE and IEP information will follow him/her. The new school district will then have the information to begin services immediately. The new school district may wish to review and revise the IEP, depending upon the structure of the school and the needs of your child within that structure.
If you change your mind about any of the services on the IEP, or feel the goals need to be revised, you (or any member of the IEP team) have the right to request a new IEP meeting. Any concerns, changes, etc., may be made at that meeting.
This is a lot of information! If I have more questions, whom can I contact?
Answer: Call the Tri-County Educational Service Center (330-345-6771) and ask to speak to the special education consultant or school psychologist who serves your child’s school district.