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Independent Educational Evaluations (“IEEs”)


UPDATE (03/11/2011): Subsequent to posting this article, we became aware of a memorandum from the U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs (“OSEP”) of February 20, 2004, in which it states that parents determine which outsider assessor will conduct an IEE. Click here to download the OSEP letter. Please use this update to inform your decisions as you read through the content below.


I want to talk about Independent Educational Evaluations, or IEEs, in today’s posting and podcast because there seems to be a fair amount of confusion about what they are and when parents can ask for them to be provided at public expense – or even what it means for parents to ask for IEEs at public expense.  And the confusion is not just on the part of parents, which should be somewhat expected; it’s also on the part of special education professionals of varying ranks within public education agencies.

First, let’s define what an IEE is – it is an assessment that can inform the special education process that is conducted by a professional not employed by or acting on behalf of the public education agency responsible for educating a specific child.  An IEE can be obtained at private expense or at public expense.

An IEE is not, however, the same thing as a school district using an outside assessor to conduct an assessment on its behalf.  For example, many school districts do not have staff audiologists and will contract with third-party audiologists to conduct assessments for Auditory Processing Disorders (“APDs”) on their behalf, but this is still considered a district assessment since it is being done on the district’s behalf as a normal part of the assessment process when an APD is an area of suspected disability.

Many times, parents who do not understand the special education process will privately fund IEEs not realizing that assessment in all areas of suspected disability is the financial burden of the public education system.  I’ve had parents come to me after having paid for a private assessment such as this only to be surprised when I’ve informed them that the public schools have a mandated obligation to assess students who may be in need of special education.

These are often the parents who suspected their child had a learning problem and went out to the private practice community first to get answers to inform themselves.  Once they had information about their child’s unique learning needs, they subsequently found out that they could have gone straight to their child’s school for help.

Then there are parents who tried to get assessment from their child’s public school but were given misleading information regarding the school’s obligations with respect to assessment and were sent away empty-handed.  These parents then went out and paid for private assessment because they thought the school system couldn’t do anything to help identify why their child was failing to learn, only to find out afterward that they had been lied to and jerked around by the public schools or that whomever they had spoken to at the school had no idea what he/she was talking about and had provided them with poor guidance.

The thing to bear in mind is that if parents obtain an independent assessment at private expense and present it to the school district, and that outside assessment is used to find the child eligible for special education, the school district must reimburse the parents for the cost of the assessment.  This is because the financial burden of assessing for special education eligibility is that of the school district to bear.  This is why many districts will insist on doing their own assessments after receiving an outside assessment from a parent indicating that a student has special needs.  Outside assessments are often more costly than those done in-house by the district, so it’s less expensive to do its own assessment than reimburse the parent for the independent assessment that he/she had done at private expense.

The same rules for reimbursement can apply to an assessment that identifies needs that were not identified by the district that drive the content of a child’s IEP, even if the district found the child eligible as a result of its own assessments on the basis of some other need.  So, for example, let’s say we have a child with an APD in addition to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (“ADHD”).  But, in this example, the district’s assessments only identified the ADHD and found the child eligible on the basis of that condition but failed to include assessment by an audiologist for an APD.  If the parents subsequently paid for an APD assessment by an audiologist and those finding were used to amend the child’s IEP to include auditory processing therapy, accommodations for auditory processing needs, adaptive technology for auditory processing issues, etc., then the district would owe reimbursement to the parents for the APD assessment.

Unfortunately, what often happens is that school districts do not want to admit that they failed to attend to their duties and will thus argue against the information brought in from the outside by parents.  They’ll argue all kinds of crazy things, not necessarily because they’re against the types of services that the independent assessments recommend, but more often because they don’t want to admit that they screwed up in the first place.  A lot of due process cases arise out of situations like these.  And, the child is the one caught in the middle failing to receive appropriate interventions while the adults involved argue over what is really going on and what should be done about it.

IEEs become particularly important when parents disagree with the assessments conducted by the public schools, and this is where things can become particularly tricky.  Some parents, completely unaware of their rights, will go out and pay for a private assessment after receiving an assessment from the public schools with which they disagree.  They will then submit the findings of the independent assessor to the school district to refute the district’s findings from its own assessment.

What these parents often don’t realize is that if they disagree with the school district’s assessment, they have a right under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”) to an IEE at public expense – that is, a second opinion by someone not employed by the public schools but at the expense of the public education system.  What these parents also often don’t realize is that just because they provide the school district with an independent assessment, the school district is not procedurally bound by what the independent assessment recommends.

School districts must consider outside assessments provided by the parents.  Considering something and being bound by something are two different things.  When the findings of an independent assessor, particularly one paid for by the parents, conflicts significantly with the findings of the school district’s assessment, the school district will often “consider” the IEE to be without merit.  What can then ensue is a “war of the experts” in due process.

The cleaner, much preferred way to go about IEEs in my experience is to let the school district perform its own assessments (presuming they don’t refuse to assess) and see what they say.  If the district’s assessment results are inadequate and/or inaccurate, then the parents should disagree in writing with the district’s assessment and ask for an IEE at public expense.  The only way a school district can lawfully deny funding an IEE under such circumstances is to file for due process to assert the appropriateness of its own assessments, and this is a critical procedural consideration that parents and educators alike often fail to understand.  (See 34 CFR Sec. 300.502(b).)

I have a number of refusal letters on file from school districts where they declined to honor parents’ requests for IEEs after the parents disagreed with the districts’ assessments but the districts never filed for due process to assert the appropriateness of their own assessments.  In some of the cases, all I had to do was file a compliance complaint over the procedural violation and the state education agency ordered the offending districts to fund the IEEs.  In other cases, there were other issues that made due process necessary and the failures to fund the IEEs were just more fuel for the fire, so they were dealt with as due process issues.  In those cases, the parents had usually gone out and funded the IEEs themselves after their requests for IEEs had been unlawfully declined and the districts owed them reimbursement at that point.

And, that brings up another critical consideration.  If a parent asks for an IEE at public expense and the district refuses to fund it but fails to file for due process to assert the appropriateness of its own assessments, and the parent goes out and pays for the IEE at private expense, then files for due process over the denial of a Free and Appropriate Public Education (“FAPE”), the school district is then given the opportunity to demonstrate in hearing that its own assessment was adequate.? Parents need to take this into account.

Just because the district failed to abide by the procedural requirements to file for due process upon declining to fund the IEE does not mean the parents will automatically prevail in due process.  It is possible that a hearing officer could determine that, procedural violation aside, the district’s assessment was nonetheless adequate and reimbursement is not due.

However, some school districts will attempt to argue that the parents should be procedurally barred from seeking reimbursement from the district for IEEs if the parents didn’t first give the district notice that they intended to fund the IEEs themselves and later seek reimbursement from the district.  This is a misrepresentation of the regulations by the school district.  Parents are not required to give notice of their intent to seek reimbursement for a private assessment from the public schools upon disagreeing with the public school’s assessment.

When school districts try to assert this argument, they are confusing the notice requirements for unilateral placement by parents of their children in private schools or private special education programs with the intent to seek reimbursement for IEEs.  These are two completely unrelated types of reimbursement requests that are bound by completely different regulations.

Under the IDEA, if a parent believes that the district’s offer of services and/or placement are not appropriate, and the parent decides to put his/her child in a private program and seek reimbursement from the district for the costs of that program, the parent must give notice to the district at the last IEP meeting held before the unilateral placement by the parent is made or give written notice at least 10 business days prior to making the unilateral placement.  This is to afford the school district one last chance of pulling its butt out of the sling before it’s on the hook for the costs of a private placement, presuming the parent is right and the placement offered by the district was inappropriate.

However, the same rule does not apply for IEEs.  Parents can go out and get IEEs at private expense then turn around and hit their school districts up for reimbursement without having given prior notice of their intent to do so.  I’m not saying I recommend taking this route, though there are situations that sometimes make it necessary.

Again, the only way the school district can refuse to pay for the IEE is to prove in due process that its own assessments were adequate.  If the district commits the procedural violation of failing to file for due process after declining to reimburse the family, then the family can file a compliance complaint or, if the failure to provide the IEE results in substantive harm to the student, the family can file for due process asserting a denial of FAPE and ask for reimbursement as one of the remedies being sought.

In any of these scenarios, the two most important things for parents and educators alike to understand is that 1) an IEE can only be provided at public expense when the parents disagree with the district’s assessment and 2) the parents’ request for an IEE or reimbursement for an IEE can only be declined by the district if the district proves in hearing that its own assessment was adequate.  This generally means that parents have to give districts the opportunity to do their own assessments first, or there’s nothing with which they can disagree.

The exception is if the district fails to assess when it should have, only for outside private assessment to reveal the presence of needs for which the child requires special education and/or related services.  In essence, the district’s findings are that the child has no special education need in that area and the independent assessment indicates otherwise.  A hearing officer can find that the district’s assessment was not adequate because it consisted of nothing at all and, therefore, the district owes the parents reimbursement for going out and doing the district’s job at their own expense.  As stated previously, the burden to assess in all areas of suspected disability is the district’s to bear, so if it fails to meet that burden by refusing to assess at all, it’s essentially the same outcome as assessing poorly.

This causes confusion for many because, generally speaking, an IEE at public expense is only warranted if a referral for assessment was made in the first place.  In such an event, either an assessment was conducted with which the parents disagreed or the referral to assess was declined by the school district and the parents then went out and got their own assessment by an outside assessor at private expense for which they subsequently sought reimbursement.

However, there is also the issue of “child find,” which is the federal mandate that all school districts actively seek out and identify those children within their attendance areas who are eligible for special education.  It can be successfully argued that if a school district fails to conduct child find, then when parents go out and get assessments done on their own dime only to later seek reimbursement for those assessments that reveal the child is in need of special education, and the record is clear that the child has not been successful at school for some time, then the school district can be found to owe reimbursement.

In essence, due to the district’s failure to conduct child find, the parents had reason to “disagree” with the school district’s “determination” that the student failed to qualify for special education and the district obliged itself to reimburse the parents for their costs to essentially conduct child find on the district’s behalf.  A failure to assess in an area of suspected disability is essentially the same thing as assessing poorly in an area of suspected disability, thereby preventing the district from successfully asserting the adequacy of its own assessments.  You can’t assert the adequacy of something that doesn’t exist.

All of this said, parents need to understand that they only get one IEE for every assessment by the district with which they disagree.  If they don’t agree with the findings of the IEE, they can still go out and get additional outside assessments and provide the reports to the district for its consideration, but they aren’t entitled to additional reimbursements.

I was at a training the other day for a surrogate parent program for incarcerated youth and the trainer was unclear on this issue.  She was under the mistaken impression that parents had the right to IEEs, but they had to pay for the IEEs themselves regardless of the circumstance.  And, this was a dedicated educator who regularly goes out on a limb for children who are, without a doubt, some of the most difficult-to-serve special education students in the world.  The rules about IEEs are confusing to a lot of people and our public schools have not done a particularly good job of training their people on how those rules work, which makes it that much harder on parents who understand special education procedure even less.

Click here to download the podcast version of this article.

Parents in Crisis Can Be Vulnerable to Predators

There has been a tremendous movement among a group of special education lay advocates across the United States and beyond to get to the bottom of a very troubling situation involving an individual who claims to be a highly successful and renowned special education advocate but whose claims cannot be substantiated and, in fact, appears to have defrauded a number of parents of children with special needs, particularly targeting high-profile autism-related seclusion and restraint cases. This individual, who goes by the name of Michael E. Robinson, Sr., is suspected of being located in Redding, California, based on the physical location where the phone numbers he gives out are installed.

Robinson was previously located in Hawaii, so it seems. He claims to be located in Washington, DC, Arizona, Hawaii, and California. He has claimed to be a lobbyist (not registered); a special education lay advocate and/or attorney (he’s claimed both) with years of experience with due process cases and litigation going all the way to federal court (no record of him involved in any special education due process or court cases could be found); a medical doctor (there is an autism specialist also named Michael Robinson whose work Michael E. Robinson, Sr. has attempted to claim as his own); and, of all things, a NASCAR racer.

He’s also claimed that he has epilepsy and was given a wolf as a service animal because wolves can allegedly detect the onset of a seizure before it happens, thereby making them superior service animals – forget the fact that it’s not legal to have a wolf as a service animal. And on and on. His behavior seems indicative of a narcissistic personality disorder and an absolute disregard for the consequences of what he is doing.

It’s easy now that so many people have come out of the woodwork to share their Michael E. Robinson, Sr. stories and much of his story has now been pieced together to look at the big picture and reach the conclusion that Robinson is up to no good. He’s solicited money from several parents, apparently. He’s also requested copies of legal documents in individual student’s cases from parents to allegedly use for his “lobbying” efforts, only to turn around and copy and paste from these documents to attempt to misrepresent the work of other advocates and attorneys as his own to his next set of victims.

His M.O. is apparently to collect enough information from past cases to be able to initially convince parents in newly developing cases – usually horrific situations in which the parents are in dire need of technical assistance – that he is experienced and can help them. He commiserates with them over the injustices they have suffered and tells them not to worry because he’s going to take care of things for them. Then he takes whatever money they’ve given him and copies of their records and is never heard from by them again. He seems to particularly seek out single mothers who are emotionally vulnerable as they fight to protect their children with disabilities from harm and have little to no support from their children’s fathers.

As a special education lay advocate for over 18 years and a paralegal in special education-related litigation for the last 5 years, I have to say that the prospect of someone using special education lay advocacy as a vehicle for running a con is particularly disturbing. While it’s expected that different advocates have different styles and ways of going about things, this is well beyond anything like that.

What is so damaging is that the child who was in such dire need that his/her case caught Robinson’s eye continues to go unserved. Robinson’s advocacy, such as it is, fails to achieve appropriate outcomes, based on the reports coming in from families who claim to have been taken advantage of by him.

This hurts children with special needs overall by undermining the credibility of lay advocates everywhere. Every time I go into a school district in which I’ve never advocated before, I find myself having to prove that I’m not some crazy person or someone with an axe to grind. The expectation maintained by many school districts is that all advocates are adversarial jerks and a righteous pain in the keister. It usually takes months of working with an IEP team in a district to which I am new before people finally figure out that I’m just trying to solve problems and facilitate a rebuilding of trust between the school district and the student’s family and that I’m only going to pursue accountability if the school district personnel keep failing to perform their mandated duties.

But, when I have to follow behind someone calling him- or herself an advocate who has behaved disreputably, demonstrated a clear lack of knowledge regarding what constitutes an appropriate IEP, and antagonized the situation to such an extent that a power struggle has ensued between him/her and the school district, I am put at a tremendous disadvantage. The time I have to invest in proving that I’m not going to do the same thing is time that could have otherwise been invested in properly educating my client.

I want to make clear, though, that very few advocates are so lacking in knowledge and so adversarial that they do more harm than good. Mr. Robinson is the exception, not the rule. Nonetheless, parents need to be diligent about making sure that whoever represents them is on the up and up. When I meet with parents for the first time, they will often tell me that they Googled me beforehand. I’m totally okay with that; there’s a pretty good chance that I Googled them, too. Advocates have to protect themselves from shiesters, as well.

To read more about the evidence compiled against Michael E. Robinson, Sr., see:

Article Published for Employee Assistance Report

The Employee Assistance Report is a publication of Impact Publications, Inc. It is a monthly newsletter provided to Employment Assistance professionals to help them provide appropriate guidance to the employers and employees they support.

I had the distinct honor of authoring a portion of the March 2010 issue of the Employee Assistance Report: the “Brown Bagger” insert that comes with each issue.  The “Brown Bagger” is a pull-out piece that trainers can use for lunch-time learning session.

The title of the piece I wrote for the “Brown Bagger” is “Special Education and the Workplace: What Employers and Employees Need to Know.”?  Please share this material with your employer and co-workers, or with your staff if you are an employer yourself.  Also visit the Business and Industry page of our website at http://www.kps4parents.org/BIE.html.

Podcast: Emotions Part 5 – Extended Family

On November 17, 2008, we originally published  Emotions Part 5  Extended Family  as the fifth in a series of text-only blog articles. As we begin to move into the new school year, KPS4Parents will be recording many of our past text-only articles as podcasts so that busy parents, educators, and interested taxpayers can download them and listen to them at their convenience.

As always, feel free to comment on our content. We appreciate the input of our readers and listeners to bring you the information you seek. You can either comment below or email us at info@kps4parents.org.

Click here to download the podcast “Emotions Part 5 – Extended Family.”

Services that Address IEP Behavior Goals

Once a special education student with behavioral issues receives an appropriate assessment of his/her behavior, and appropriate IEP goals are written to address the student’s behavioral needs, the IEP team has to determine what services and supports are necessary to see those goals achieved.  The types of services and supports a child requires in order to achieve his/her IEP goals can influence placement decisions, which is why placement is the last decision that should be made by the IEP team.

It is necessary to first know what services and supports will be required in order to determine what the Least Restrictive Environment (“LRE”) is for each particular special education student and, as we’ve stated before, the LRE is relative to the unique needs of each individual child.  What is the LRE for one student is not necessarily the LRE for another.  Placement must be in the least restrictive environment necessary in order for the services and supports to be provided such that the goals can be achieved, which varies from student to student.  That means that the selection of services, including the frequency, duration, and times of day they are provided, is a very critical step in the IEP process and it comes into play fairly late in the game.

To recap the process (as described in our prior postings in the “Techically Speaking” category), the IEP process begins with assessment.  The data yielded by the assessment is supposed to inform the IEP team of the student’s Present Levels of Performance (sometimes referred to as “PLOPs”).  Based on what is understood about the student’s Present Levels, the IEP team then must write measurable annual goals that describe in objective, empirical terms what outcomes the IEP is attempting to achieve – what specifically it is trying to teach the student to do.  Once that is known, the next step is the selection of services and supports.

There are a number of tools to address behavioral goals that can be used.  One of the most powerful tools is a Behavior Support Plan (“BSP”) or Positive Behavior Support Plan (“PBSP”).  Once a functional analysis of a student’s behavior has been conducted, the next step is supposed to be the creation of a BSP/PBSP unless?the analysis reveals that the behaviors do not significantly impact the child’s participation in his/her education.

A properly written BSP/PBSP is a thing of gold, but it’s no good to anyone if not everyone implements it the way it is written.  Behavior is a touchy thing.  When you have a child who realizes that the same behavior is met with different outcomes depending on who that child is with, what you often produce is a manipulative child who learns how to push peoples’ buttons.  When behavior is met with the same outcome regardless of who the child is with, the child gets a consistent message about certain behaviors.  For that reason, it is imperative that anyone working with a special education student who exhibits problematic behaviors follow the BSP/PBSP to the letter as best as he/she possibly can.

A BSP/PBSP starts out by describing the problem behavior so people know what they’re looking for. Identifying the function that the behavior serves (i.e. to avoid math problems, to avoid writing, to gain access to more preferred items or activities, etc.) allows people know what need the child is trying to meet and, therefore, the types of responses they should have to the behaviors.  The BSP/PBSP should then describe what responses to give to each type of problematic situation if the behavior manifests, but, more importantly, it should describe what replacement behavior will be taught to the child so that he/she has a more appropriate way of seeing his/her needs met without engaging in the problematic behavior.

It’s not enough to tell a kid to stop doing something.  You have to tell them what is appropriate for them to do instead.  If you’re trying to drive a nail with a banana peel, you’re just going to make a mess.  But, if all somebody does is tell you to stop slinging that useless banana peel at the nail and fails to give you a hammer and show you how to use it, you’re still going to be stuck with a nail that hasn’t been driven.  What you were attempting to accomplish remains unachieved.

Children need to be taught things.  They can’t be expected to somehow magically know things or figure things out as well as more experienced adults.  Children with certain types of disabilities have a harder time picking up what seems obvious to most people, requiring explicit instruction on more basic concepts.  A BSP/PBSP describes what fundamental concepts are being taught, or refers to the behavioral goals which describe what concepts are being targeted, so that the child acquires the reasoning skills necessary to handle situations more successfully.

I’m a fan of Diana Browning Wright’s work. She’s done trainings in California and I have students whom I represent whose PBSPs are written up on Diana’s forms.  They’re very well organized and make total sense.

Another tool that some schools try to use is a “Behavior Contract.”  I’m not a huge fan of these at all.  A “Behavior Contract” is something usually used in general education in which a student makes a written commitment to follow school rules.  It utterly fails to identify what need the student was attempting to meet by engaging in the inappropriate behavior and only speaks to what the child will do; there is nothing that describes what the adult school site personnel will do to assist the student in dealing with whatever is provoking his/her inappropriate behaviors so that they don’t present problems for the student anymore.

Instead, the child is stripped of whatever coping strategies he/she had, even if they were poor ones, and left with nothing he/she can do at all.  This creates a great sense of powerlessness, which can turn on its heel in an instant and lead to more escalated behaviors meant to regain whatever power the child feels he/she has lost.

I’ve seen it happen too many times.  What was meant to stop a problem behavior only served to reinforce it and is particularly horrible to deal with among children with issues involving anxiety, paranoia, and/or Oppositional Defiant Disorder.  Their handicapping conditions magnify, sometimes exponentially, their reactions to having their actual needs ignored and left with no way to see them met, while everyone else is focusing on what they inappropriately did in an effort to see those needs met.

A good BSP/PBSP should also include a description of what consequences and reinforcers should be used to encourage the use of the appropriate replacement behavior and discourage the use of the inappropriate behavior.  By consequences, I do not mean punishment. A consequence is anything that results from an occurrence or event.

In the realm of positive behavioral intervention, a consequence is any outcome that discourages a behavior from reoccurring.  This is often the intent of punishment, but punishment is an artificial consequence that the child may associate with something other than his/her own inappropriate behavior, such as the person who is punishing him/her.

Consequences should fit the behavior and they work best if they are natural, inadvertent outcomes of doing the wrong thing.? In my example above, the natural consequence of trying to drive a nail with a banana skin is a gooey mess and a nail that still hasn’t been driven.  That by itself is enough to discourage me from ever trying to drive a nail with a banana skin again.  It clearly didn’t work.

But, associating consequences with one’s own behavior is actually more subtle and difficult than it sounds.  For children with relatively inexperienced, growing (and, thus, continually changing) minds, it’s even harder.  For children with certain types of special needs, it can often be agonizingly difficult.  The connections have to be taught.  So, the consequences to inappropriate behaviors and reinforcers of appropriate behaviors should be delivered as soon after the behaviors have manifested as possible, particularly when first starting out with a new behavior program.  Over time, the reinforcers can be faded.  The idea is that the use of the appropriate behavior will become intrinsically rewarding because it yields success without drama and the need to artificially reinforce will disappear.

The use of appropriate data collection tools is critical. Data collection should be naturally built into the behavior goals and BSP/PBSP. It’s the only way to track progress and measure the degree to which the replacement behavior is taking over for the problematic behavior. Therefore, data sheets have to be created right away at the beginning so that data collection can begin as soon as the school site personnel start implementing the goals.

Parent training is also a really valuable piece to a successful behavioral intervention program.  Just as it is imperative that the child be met with the same response to his/her behavior by all of the staff working with the child, it is equally important that he/she is met with the same response at home.

I’ve seen some of the best school-based behavior strategies in the world completely unravel because no one thought to explain to the parents how the behaviors were being responded to at school.  The child would go home to a completely different set of expectations and responses to problematic behaviors and an entire school day’s worth of intervention might as well have never happened.  The next day, the school site staff would be starting all over again.

By training the parents on the behavioral strategies being used at school, particularly if they can collect at least some data on what they are doing, makes them more involved, gives them greater understanding of what the school site team is trying to do, makes them partners in the process rather than outside observers, makes them more comfortable about how their child’s behavior is being handled by the school site staff, and creates much needed consistency that will help make the intervention successful.

Do you have any other suggestions regarding behavioral supports and services that can be made part of a student’s IEP? Post your comment with your suggestions below.

Writing Measurable Annual Goals – Part 1

In our last posting, we talked about present levels of performance. If you haven’t read that yet, read it first before reading today’s posting because you have to understand present levels before you can understand goals. More to the point, you have to understand what a child’s present levels of performance are before you can start even thinking about writing goals.

As stated before, your present levels of performance are your stepping-off points. If an IEP were a race, your present levels would be the starting line and the annual goals would tell you where the finish line is. The annual goals of an IEP describe your desired outcomes- what it is the IEP team believes a child is capable of learning over the course of a year.

Goals are written every year but assessment is only required once every three years. This means that unless additional assessment is done in between triennial assessments, you’re only going to have fresh baseline data from standardized assessments once every three years. The other two years, you’re going to have to pull your present levels from informal assessments and the child’s progress towards the prior year’s IEP’s goals. I’m going to start out with the very beginning of the process, when a child gets an IEP for the first time and move forward from there.

Beginning with the initial assessment data, the IEP team has a fresh body of data to work with that, if the assessment was done properly, tells you pretty much everything that’s going on with a particular child. It will identify the child’s relative strengths and weaknesses, including the areas of deficit that need to be tackled by the IEP. The goals should tackle the areas of deficit for sure.

Some challenges a student faces may not warrant specialized instruction so much as they may simply require accommodation. For example, a child with a circadian rhythm disorder may receive as an accommodation an alternative schedule to the regular school day. That by itself has no bearing on the content of the child’s instruction. The curriculum doesn’t change on the basis of the child’s disrupted sleep/wake cycle. But,when instruction is provided is changed on that basis.

If the same child also happens to be severely autistic, then you’re looking at the content of the instructional component and not just when it’s being offered. Goals address what it is that you’re trying to teach the child. Accommodations help you get around obstacles that would otherwise interfere with pursuit of the goals.

For example, let’s say you have a 5th grade student with average to above-average intelligence who has an auditory processing disorder, a visual processing disorder, ADHD, and a physical anomaly of his hands – he’s missing the distal interphalangeal joints (top knuckles) of his index and middle fingers on both hands. Let’s say that this child also has a history of behavioral challenges in the classroom.

Comprehensive assessment reveals that the student has problems with visual tracking and saccadic eye movements This means that as he reads, his eyes do not smoothly jump from word to word. He has to visually re-orient every time he leaves one word and tries to fixate on the next. This also impacts his writing as he tracks what he’s trying to put down on paper.

However, his writing is further compounded by the physical anomaly of his hands. So, as he’s trying to watch his words go down on paper, his whole arm starts to hurt because he can’t do the fine finger manipulations necessary to achieve letter formation. He’s got to move his whole arm and upper body.

However, yet again, these combined processes are even further compounded by the fact that the child has an auditory processing disorder. Reading is an auditory process until the reader has memorized enough words on sight, thereby building a huge sight-word vocabulary. Children still learning to read or with relatively low reading skills will still have to think about how a relatively complex word sounds when they write it.

All of us do that to a point. We all can throw down “the” and “is” without any thought, but “sphygmomanometer” is another issue. Even after all these years following my 11th grade vocabulary class, I have to sound that one out.

So, imagine this child trying to receptively read the questions on a worksheet while his eyes are jumping everywhere but where he needs to look and process what the visual symbols sound like (which is an unnatural act in the first place) when he has a hard time processing sounds. It’s a gamble as to how much of what he read he’ll comprehend accurately.

Then have him write something about what he just read while trying to formulate his output based on the sounds of language in his head, which he has to translate into visual symbols that he writes backwards and upside-down because that’s how he saw them, while also trying to move his fingers, hand, wrist, and arm in a way that will produce legible handwriting.

Add in the distractibility, impulsivity, and inattentiveness inherent in ADHD, and then ask yourself why this child engages in behavioral outbursts every time he’s given a paper-pencil task. He’s attempting to avoid a tortuous experience. He’d rather get in trouble and get sent to the office than be put through that hell.

The goals you write for a child with needs like this are multifaceted. The problem a parent can face with a child with these kinds of needs is that you run up against a bias on the basis that he’s actually a pretty smart kid and?it may be?easier for the adults at school conclude that he’s just a poorly behaved little monster and nothing more. None of his multiple disabilities by themselves are all that severe. But, when you put them all together,?they create a recipe for disaster.

A child with these kinds of issues needs therapeutic intervention to address the underlying foundational skills that support academics. His goals need to include visual tracking, cross-Corpus Callosum communication of data presented through the auditory array, and exercises to build strength in his arm to withstand the additional work the arm has to do to support handwriting (taking into account that accommodations will also be provided to eliminate handwriting where it’s not necessary to the mastery of the curriculum). He also needs goals in reading, written expression, math (particularly for lining up problems properly so that calculations are accurate), keyboarding, organizational skills, self-advocacy, and behavior.

Because services are only provided to support IEP goals, it is imperative that all areas where services may be needed are discussed in terms of whether or not a student needs goals in those areas. If you’re thinking the student might need speech-language services, then you have to ask “What deficits does the child have in speech-language? What skills need to be taught in order to eliminate or reduce those deficits?” The answer to the second question gives you your material for your goals. If you can’t think of a skill in a particular domain that needs to be taught, then there isn’t a goal to propose. If there’s no goal to propose, there’s no service in that domain to provide.

Better yet, don’t go in thinking about what services a child needs. Figure out the goals first and then figure out what services are going to be necessary to see the goals met. That’s the proper format, anyway.

My point here is that not all goals are going to be rooted in academia and it’s not esoteric to write goals that tackle things like cross-Corpus Callosum communications. The brain is divided into two hemispheres?- the left and right. The two hemispheres are joined together by a neurological bridge of sorts called the Corpus Callosum. When both sides of the brain are involved in processing, the data between the two sides travels back and forth across the Corpus Callosum. This is also referred to as interhemispheric communications or interhemispheric processing.

If a child struggles with tasks that require cross-Corpus Callosum communications between the two hemispheres of the brain, as is often the case with auditory processing, then exercises that cause the brain to practice that kind of neurological activity are therapeutically warranted. This can include having the child bounce on a personal exercise-style trampoline while alternating between hands throwing balls up in the air and catching them. The child could also use a program such as Earobics, Fast Forword?, or Interactive Metronome.

But, if any programs are used, such as those mentioned above, goals need to be written describing what the desired outcome is for the use of each program. The goals will need to target the deficit areas for which the program is being provided based on the baselines that were measured during assessment.

Once you get a solid IEP written with sound, measurable goals, then it’s just a matter of providing the services that will see the goals met and collecting sufficient data along the way to measure how much progress the child is making. Once the year is up and it’s time to write a new IEP, the child’s present levels should be known in terms of the progress made towards the goals worked on for the last year. If you had a sufficient body of goals in all areas of unique educational need that were well-written and generated empirical data that tells you exactly where the child stands versus where he was a year ago, you’re in pretty good shape for writing the IEP for the year coming up.

If the child has made so much progress that it’s time to tackle a whole new skill set that’s the next level up from the goals he just finished, you may need to collect new baseline data in the area of the next skill set. When you’re scaffolding up from foundational skills such as letter-sound recognition, for example, to putting series of letters together to form sounds that are parts of words, you’re really jumping from one type of mental processing to another.

It is one thing to figure out the respective sounds made by “T” and “P” but it’s another thing to stick a vowel in there, string them all together, and come up with top, tip, and tap. Heaven help you when someone throws in an “S” or an “R” and you’ve got to do consonant blends like stop and trap. Because these next-level steps call upon the brain to do something more complex than what it did before, you’ve got to figure out exactly how well the brain can handle that kind of processing before embarking upon a goal so you know how much complexity is reasonable to expect at the end of a year’s worth of work.

Our next posting will actually focus on measurability, specifically. We already talked about this quite a bit when we covered Present Levels of Performance. In our next posting, though, we’ll focus on the formatting of properly written goals and share some resources with you for goal writing.


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Emotions Part 6 – Parents’ Employers & Co-Workers

I think it’s really, really important to look at the impact that special education non-compliance has on parents’ employers and co-workers. There doesn’t seem to be any research being conducted on this (at least none that I could find – if you know of any, please post a comment with more information). But, I know from talking to the hundreds of parents we’ve represented and provided with consultation that employers are hit very hard by special education issues – employees having to take off all kinds of time from work to contend with problems at school, employees making careless mistakes at work because they’re so pre-occupied with the problems their children are having in school that they aren’t thinking about what they’re doing, and employees who are so emotionally overwrought by what they’re going through that they become a morale problem for their whole department or even the whole company and other people are starting to complain.

 

Nobody ever talks about this and I don’t know why. It happens all the time and it’s not okay. Parents end up having to quit their jobs or get fired because their job performance is affected by the problems they are dealing with at their kids’ schools. There are things these parents probably don’t know that are hurting them and their children. Employers should be aware of these things, too, and be sympathetic to the fact that these things aren’t being advertised by the public schools and most parents have no idea of their protections. Here are some important things for employers and parent-employees to know.

 

IEP meetings must be held at mutually agreeable times and locations. Federal law mandates that local education agencies do everything they can to facilitate a parent’s meaningful participation in the IEP process.They can’t have the meeting without the parent unless they can show that they tried every way they could to get the parent to attend and the parent either simply refused to go or could not be located.

 

 
If the school is arbitrarily assigning IEP meeting times without first finding out if the date and time are mutually agreeable to the parents, and it isn’t mutually agreeable?, the parent has the right to reschedule to a time that will work for everyone. [34 CFR ? 300.322] When it comes to scheduling IEP meetings, it’s within reason to hold the IEP meeting during the parent’s noon lunch break, but it’s not within reason for a parent who works graveyard to expect the IEP team to convene at 2am right after he/she has gotten off of work. 

 

It is not okay for the school to call parents to pick up their kids and take them home because they are “having a bad day”. This often happens with children who have social skills deficits and problem behaviors. If a special education student has behaviors that interfere with learning that arise from?or are influenced by his/her disabilties, the local education agency is obligated to address them as part of the child’s IEP.

 

A functional analysis of the child’s behavior may need to be done to collect the data necessary to write appropriate behavioral goals, develop a positive behavior intervention plan, and determine the services necessary to support the goals and the behavior plan. [34 CFR 300.530]? The school can’t just call once the child has been at school long enough for the local education agency to get paid for the child’s attendance for the day and tell the parents to come pick the child up because he/she is “having a bad day.”  The child is difficult to serve and the local education agency just doesn’t want to?have to work that hard.   This happens all the time, but it’s unlawful.

I’ve worked with parents who lost their jobs because they had to keep going to pick up their kids from school for “having bad days” and take them home for the rest of the day. These kids weren’t suspended.They weren’t expelled. Their schools got paid for a full day’s attendance for each day they were in school long enough. In my experience, these kids usually end up getting sent home around 10:30am.

 

Unless a child is being suspended or is ill, the school can’t send him/her home. (I’ve seen children sent home for “fevers” they really didn’t have because staff just didn’t want to deal with them that day, though, so parents may need to verify the presence of any mystery illnesses for which they’re being called away from work to respond before actually taking the child home.) The point is that the behaviors are part of the problem the school is supposed to be addressing and parents shouldn’t be losing their jobs because public servants aren’t doing theirs.

 

I don’t say it that way to be crass. II’m using this language very literally. Public education employees are public servants, just like police officers, firefighters, city clerks, and librarians in public libraries. The taxpaying public has hired them to attend to the educational needs of the community’s children. They work for the local constituency. So, it always baffles me that some education agency administrators take a superior tone with parents and act like they’re doing the parents a favor when they do things they were already supposed to do. Sadly, a lot of parents submit to that kind of bullying behavior. Which brings me to the next important thing to know:

 

Parents can get really upset by difficulties they are having with their children’s schools. They can’t necessarily check those emotions at the door when they go to work and employers may need to consider bringing in an industrial psychologist if the situation in the workplace becomes too emotionally toxic. Productivity on the whole can be impacted when a critical employee is so overwrought that his/her job performance becomes poor.

 

Other people relying on a distressed parent to do his/her share of a project are put in very difficult positions when they are left correcting the distressed parent’s mistakes, listening to the distressed parent complain or cry (or both) instead of work, and covering for the parent while he/she is at school instead of at work. This is usually when a decision gets made about whether such a parent will remain an employee.
 

It is situations like these that compelled KPS4Parents to put together a service offering to employers where we can come in and consult with an HR department or business owner about a specific situation and then consult with the parent regarding his/her rights and what the parent can do to solve the problems they’re having (we’ve done this mostly with smaller businesses) and conduct employee trainings on special education-related issues (which we’ve done with large employers).

 

As the rate of autism continues to increase, now currently at the rate of 1 out of 144 children according to some sources, employers can no longer afford to think these issues don’t impact them. Any company that employs 10 people who are parents is all but guaranteed to have at least one parent among the 10 who has a child with some type of handicapping condition, and quite possibly more.  Autism is just one of a countless number of disorders that children can have. Employers need to educate themselves on this issue now because it’s going to become a righteous HR problem before they know it, if it hasn’t started to become one already. Resources need to be developed to help employers contend with the increasing number of parents amongst their employees who have children with special needs.  As much as KPS4Parents does to try to tackle this issue, this is one of those things that everyone needs to be doing something about. There’s only so much we can do by ourselves and we need your help to tackle these problem.

 

Our country is already in enough financial hot water. Businesses cannot afford to suffer otherwise preventable losses in productivity and declines in employee morale, right now. The business community is suffering horrendously already as it is with the financial sector practically falling apart at the seams. More and more businesses are leaving the country for places where the barriers to entry are not as great and the costs of operation are much lower. More and more good jobs have been outsourced to overseas workers and businesses are finding that they can’t afford to hire local talent. For many businesses, the only reason they are able to exist is because they have outsourced work overseas at a fraction of what it would have cost them to hire local talent. To suffer additional losses at a time like this could be the difference between being in business tomorrow or not. To suffer additional losses at a time like this when those losses could have been avoided calls an organization’s stewardship into question.

 

The business community has a vested interest in making sure that the public schools are able to deliver what is required to all of their students. That means that the business community should be doing what it can to make sure public schools have what they need while holding the public schools accountable for utilizing its resources, particularly those donated by the business community, to properly deliver special education services to the community’s children with disabilities.

 

I’d love to see Chambers of Commerce and industry-specific associations hosting parent education nights for their members’ employees who are parents of children with special needs. The more the parents know, the more they can get resolved without impacting their job performances. Once their issues with the schools have been resolved, these more emotionally grounded, focused workers can become even more productive. Never underestimate the power of parents finally overcoming what seemed insurmountable and finally feeling like their child is going to be okay. The concurrent senses of relief and accomplishment are esteem-boosting and can actually lead to improvements in employee performance. I’ve seen parents go on to do amazing things professionally after finally resolving their kids’ special education issues.