Special Education Advocacy

1. What does inclusion mean?

Inclusion is different for every child (and every school). The question that needs to be focused on is, “How can we make inclusion meaningful?” When a child with a disability is put into a class with her/his peers, any individual should be able to walk into that classroom and (minus gross physical disabilities) should not be able to tell which child has an IEP. Meaning, every child is engaged in the lesson at her/his ability level. Inclusion is not a child with a disability sitting in the back of the classroom working on his/her IEP goals with a paraeducator.

2. Doesn’t my child need a paraprofessional to be in the general education classroom?

No. IEP goals can be met through the general education teacher as he/she is part of the IEP team. The goal towards inclusion should be to allow natural relationships to develop with peers and teachers. If a paraeducator is always hovering, this limits the bonding opportunities.

3. When is it best to use a paraprofessional for the general education classroom?

When there is more than one student in the classroom with a disability is an appropriate time for a paraeducator. If the student is medically fragile and needs to have her/his physical needs attended to during class. If a student has been shown to be overly aggressive (although the entire situation needs to be considered before moving to the maximum support). Every situation is different and this intensive support should be carefully considered.

4. What is differentiation?

Differentiation should be used for all students in every classroom. It is the process that teachers go through when they plan their lessons. When teachers monitor their student’s progress of different subjects, they tailor their next lesson to meet the needs of the student’s current skills to eventually match the Common Core Standards. Teachers differentiate in a whole variety of ways (this is NOT an exhaustive list): changing the number of math problems a student needs to finish, giving extra time to a student to finish a project, picking out only a handful of key vocabulary words for the student to comprehend, using different worksheets (multiple choice, fill in the blank, word bank, larger print), allowing the student to test out of the current unit, giving the student higher order thinking questions, having only a handful of students work in a small group, etc…

5. How do I know if my child has a well written IEP report?

A well written IEP should read like a self help book. The author should say what he/she is going to say, say it and then restate what has been said. A total stranger should be able to pick up the IEP, read the reports and know the following about your child: medical history, academic history, current academic functions in reading, writing and math siting their data (with dates and tests that were used), behavior functioning (siting dates of incidents and/or observations), Occupational concerns and current functioning, speech concerns and current functioning and lastly, the families report of anything relevant to the child’s current behaviors or academics. Your child may not have all of these issues, but somewhere in the report should state, “____ has no occupational therapy concerns at this time”.

6. What is a well written IEP goal?

An IEP goal is SMART!

S-Specific. A parent, a substitute, a grandparent should be able to pick up the IEP goal and know EXACTLY what behavior the student will be performing. “Bobby will be able to pick out 5 vocabulary words given a field of 3 choices when pointing”.

M-Measurable. “4 out of 5 trials” or “80% of the time” are a few examples of what may be written

A-Attainable. If your child is reading at a the 1st grade level and is in 5th grade, it would not be attainable to write, “Bobby will be reading at the 5th grade level by the end of the year”

R-Relevant. Goals need to be tied to your child’s disability. Goals also need to be reflected in the NEEDS/NEXT STEPS part of the IEP. Goals need to be about supporting the student academic progress to allow him/her to gain access to the general education curriculum.

T-Time. There needs to be an ending date given for the IEP goal. “By May of 20__” or “By December of 20__” are good time markers.

7. When should I get an advocate?

Any of the following situations would help if an advocate was present (this is not an exhaustive list):

  • IEP goals are not being met or taught
  • The IEP team seems to be meeting more than 3x/year (for behavior, academics, etc…)
  • There is a disagreement that cannot be settled between family and school staff
  • A special education director/assistant director (staff outside the building) from the Education Center will be present
  • When numerous ideas have been tried and nothing is still effective
  • When parents are new to the process (an advocate will help walk you through the IEP process as well as help you understand your rights as a parents and your child’s right to an education)

8. I don’t want to put the IEP team on the defensive. Should I really bring an advocate to the meeting?

As a special educator, I LOVED when advocates would come to our table! It’s one more person with year of experience talking and brainstorming the best options for a student’s education. Also, advocates had more time and really made sure that parents and staff were on the same page.

9. How are you any different than any other advocate out there?

Observations! I want to meet your child! I want to see him/her at school and get the big picture of what is going on. I want to be able to bring an unbiased point of view to the IEP table and generate new ideas to help facilitate the best education for your child!