Testing for Special Education Students Part 2: Aligning to Common Core State Standards

ABC learningby Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed., MLIS

Last time, I talked about testing accommodations for special needs students and new technologies that can assist at test time. Once IEP accommodations are devised, teachers are wondering how to align lessons and classroom tests to CCSS (Common Core State Standards)? Now that most states have adopted common standards, and we’ve gotten over the shock of needing to line up and adopt them at the micro level, how do we do that? Check out the CCSSI site itself for a look at alignment for students with disabilities.

Despite initial emotional resistance to moving to the new standards, I’ve been able to see that CCSS can actually be a useful tool as we create new lessons for special needs kids. Blended learning environments are available if we plan for them, and they offer additional technology assists for our lesson planning processes. One obstacle seems to be the availability of teacher training to bring technology to life.

This acceptance did not happen overnight, but I didn’t need a twelve-step program to come to acceptance level after all. We all want high standards for all children, they need something to aim for, and the stars are a good target. One could argue that the CCSSI is not the stars, but that’s a subject for another day.

I’ve found the best place to start in the alignment process is to consult my state department of education website for guidance. I use this resource all the time, but it’s fair to note that some state sites are better than others. Here is a link to the California site’s section on special education and CCSSI just to show an example.

They link to symposiums and other helpful events, but there is a tab for “assessment”. There is an organization, Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) and a California site to show how it all works. SBAC is national but not all states have joined the consortium. Your state department of education will provide similar links to SBAC if they are members. On their site, we can learn about achievement level setting. It seems others have walked this path before, so let’s let our colleagues help us. There is an organized way to migrate to CCSS in special ed classrooms. There are also technology assists for moving to an online testing environment.

In SBAC’s own words,

Achievement level setting, also known as standard setting, is the process used for establishing one or more cut scores on an assessment, making it possible to create categories of performance. Smarter Balanced Governing States are using a three-phase design for achievement level setting, which involves an online panel, an in-person panel, and a vertical articulation committee.” Through these ongoing panels, schools are learning how to adjust their existing classrooms to CCSS and testing for special needs students.

This is where I jump in and decry the level of commercial enterprise at work throughout the CCSSI environment. Or, do I? I no longer have a big problem with companies popping up to make a living with software, products, consortia, symposia or other packages of services to help schools navigate these enormous new challenges. Have I gone to the dark side?

I’m not entirely ready to question whether the public sector (corporations) should be handed the reins for all education related issues, but it’s worth looking at the options. State and federal departments of education are struggling to keep up with new regulations and protocols. I know, they should have thought of this before, but let’s back off a little and let some commercial enterprises in to help them out.

More resources to help sort it all out:

I’m hoping this blog stirs a response from you, makes you mad, or indignant, thrilled, or something. Even if you completely agree with my line of thinking, can you let me know what you think? We’re all trying to answer the question, “How do I align my curriculum to CCSSI”? Moreover, is it worth it?


Grant Name: USGA Alliance Grants

Funded By: National Alliance for Accessible Golf

Description: Grants support organizations which provide opportunities for individuals with disabilities to learn and enjoy the game of golf and its inherent values. The Alliance and the USGA share the belief that the game of golf is exceptionally well-suited to allow individuals with disabilities to participate in a recreational or competitive activity with participants who have various types of disabilities as well as those who do not have disabilities. We encourage inclusive programming – opportunities that allow participants with disabilities and participants without disabilities to learn and play the game side by side.

Program Areas:   Disabilities, Health/PE

Eligibility: Public School, Other

Proposal Deadline: Ongoing

Average Amount: $1,000.00 – $20,000.00

Address: 1733 King Street, Alexandria, VA 22314

Telephone: 812-320-1126

E-mail: accessolutions@gmail.com

Website: National Alliance for Accessible Golf

Availability: All States

Are You Out of Compliance in Your SPED Classroom?

by Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed., MLIS

teacher time

At some time or another, it seems inevitable that you will be out of compliance in your classroom. This happens in especially bad economic times. Cities and towns become incapable of raising tax revenues to cover all costs and everything suffers. The number one reason you might have compliance issues is in maintaining a certain number of students in your care at any given time.

As referrals and approvals come in, administrators must find a suitable placement for a child. Sometimes there’s just no room at the inn, so they assign the child to your classroom until another solution becomes available.

There are some things you can do to try to start solving these problems, at least in your own domain, but first you need to understand the law.

I have a special fondness for Wrightslaw online. It’s a site that has every possible SPED law spelled out and explained in plain English. It also points people to other resources that may help solve problems with staying in compliance of IDEA, Public Law 94-142 laws. It links to advocacy groups, attorneys who specialize in this complex corner of the law, and provides access to advocacy and Special Education Law libraries (to-die-for resources).

I could spend weeks reading all the articles and papers on this site and never truly have a complete understanding of the laws for our special education students. I recommend surveying this site; it has a good search engine if you have specific questions about how to stay in compliance in your classroom.

girl classroomThe numbers of students in your care is pretty basic. All the regulations adhere to a basic premise that we are providing the LRE (Least Restrictive Environment) for special ed. students. There is a legal definition of this concept, but we all know what it means. We need to include SPED students as much as possible in classrooms for all children. Students are no longer shuttled into a separate self-contained room or school and forgotten. There are still self-contained classes, but the rules around placement are very strict and must be followed to the letter.

When I am out of compliance in student count, the first thing I do is look at the class list in its totality. Can I prioritize my class list? This sounds barbaric, but there are always students who may have been in SPED classrooms too long and it is in their best interests to have their IEPs changed with parent input. Graduating (phasing) a student out of SPED services is hard to do, so be prepared for a fight. People (parents) become happy with extra care situations for their children. I always work with district SPED officials and my school principal. I can be a squeaky wheel, and if I keep at it, students can be phased out of my classrooms. Call IEP meetings and review each situation thoroughly to try to keep your room in compliance.

In a resource room, you cannot exceed five students per instructor. There are also rules for paraprofessionals; can a child be assigned a personal aide (through the IEP and team meeting process)? We are all aware of situations when keeping it to five students is just not feasible and the student count in resource rooms swells to try to absorb the overflow. There can be acceptable temporary arrangements. Self-contained classrooms are generally eight students with a full time teacher and one paraprofessional.

You are probably questioning my numbers. Actually, so am I. As I tried to research this issue, I came across different guidelines in different states. The best description of these rules can be found on Wrightslaw:

Is There a Legal Definition of Self Contained Classroom?

There is no legal definition of “self-contained classroom” in the federal statute.

It is suggested that you defer to your state special education offices for guidance.

We all know a classroom that is out of compliance. We know what it looks like, how it’s not functioning and that we should do something about it when we can.

Some resources to help us all stay up to date:

NCLB No Child Left Behind

IDEA 2004 (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act)

NASET – National Association of Special Ed Teachers

Teachervision – practical everyday things to use in your classroom.

Special Education Guide

Let us know if you have a class out of compliance and the plans you are developing to fix it.


Grant Name: Family Service Community Grants

Funded By: Autism Speaks

Description: Autism Speaks seeks to directly support the innovative work of autism service providers in local communities across the United States. The focus of our Family Services Community Grants is three-fold: to promote autism services that enhance the lives of those affected by autism; to expand the capacity to effectively serve this growing community; and to enhance the field of service providers.

Program Areas: After-School, Arts, Community Involvement/Volunteerism, Disabilities, Early Childhood, Family Services, General Education, Health/PE, Library, Math, Reading, Safe/Drug Free Schools, Science/Environmental, Social Studies, Special Education, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math), Technology, Vocational

Eligibility: Public School, Private School, Other

Proposal Deadline: 3/25/2015

Annual Total Amount: $5,000.00 – $25,000.00

Telephone: 917-475-5059

E-mail: sselkin@autismspeaks.org

Website: Autism Speaks

Availability: All States

Blended Learning in Special Education

by Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed., MLIS

child teacher computer

Blended Learning Environments – Using technology and traditional SPED classroom instruction to facilitate learning.

There’s a buzzword that’s been gaining momentum in all education spheres these days: blended learning. Basically, (don’t wince—this is very basic) it is adding technology to existing classroom lessons to increase motivation and engagement in learning. It can include video, podcasts, streaming content from providers, interactive exercises, asynchronous and, increasingly, synchronous lessons. Grab one of those iPad labs the district is handing out; don’t be left out in the techie cold.

With blended learning, the student is the star with the teacher on hand for support. Some part of the lesson delivery is online using a learning management system (LMS) that includes a database to keep track of student assessment, attendance and achievement gains (the LMS does the heavy lifting). Assessment is just one way technology will facilitate student learning.

The shift to blended learning from a traditional special ed. classroom or resource room model should not be difficult. Traditional lesson planning strategies will overlap blended learning with a new way of looking at things. The best way to describe blended learning for a teacher who would like to understand the model might be to look at a blended learning lesson plan template. Can you select the lesson plan steps that will stay the same as your current plans?

ABC learningLesson Plan Template for Blended Learning Environments

  1. Alignment with Common Core State Standards (CCSS):
    Standards-based instruction for special ed. students remains number one; objectives must be aligned to the standards you have selected in your timeline and skills rollout.
  2. Objectives:
    In a special ed. model, you will be prepared to plan formultiple  Each student works toward his own goals. Students move continually forward, the pace is driven by assessment results that are part of the learning management system.
  3. Data Analysis:
    The guiding light in instruction is the careful analysis of the data provided by the LMS and your own formative assessments.
  4. Scheduling (blocking):

This is one of the challenges teachers face; the schedule and rollout of instruction for any standard will look very different at the elementary level from instruction in high school. In a SPED environment there are no heterogeneous groups, but lessons remain flexible so individuals can step out and move quickly through skills they grasp, while others will stay and repeat certain skills until mastery is achieved. You can arrange the class into somewhat flexible groups.

  1. Setting:
    Blended learning provides multiple environments to reassure students and accommodate for different learning styles. One environment for learning will be online and technology based. You may have a small group with several learning environments: computer labs, tablet labs, teacher led lessons, special tutoring and study carrel assignments. All of these can be modified for a resource room.
  2. Activities:
    You can use existing successful lesson plans, they can still access their thumb drives with the best lessons from past years. You will become expert in finding the lessons and activities that reach into the depths of your special students’ learning. Hands-on project-based learning can continue.
  3. Timing:
    Within blocks and scheduling schemas, you may have different groups working through different skill sets at the same time. You can make learning one-on-one by adjusting students’ time in the various microenvironments according to different needs.
  4. Assessment and Testing:
    Assessments are determined in the planning stage as markers to guide further learning. The goal for the teacher is to measure when students have met their objectives within a given standard.
  5. Organization:
    There are many lesson plan templates that show how existing teaching styles can be honed and fine-tuned for the new special ed. blended learning model. Some resources include:

Your classroom may need to be rearranged to suit the needs of the learners. The school network specialist will need to keep the internet connection open. Your district may install its own learning management system through which students can access your classroom assignments; it will be useful for SPED classrooms too. This developing trend shows promise for security conscious administrators.

teacher little girl

A new model for learning always suffers growing pains. There will be new ideas coming online all the time, but the promise of raising special ed. student achievement through blended learning is exciting. It pulls together all the effective strategies that educators have developed to manage standards-based instruction on a large scale, right down to the individual and his learning needs.

Other resources:


Grant Name: Foundation Grants

Funded By: Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation

Description: Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation supports innovative projects that help youth with disabilities develop the leadership and employment skills they need to succeed, particularly for careers in science, technology and the environment. MEAF will also consider projects to create tools that help break down barriers to employment and increase job opportunities for young people with disabilities entering the workforce, including returning veterans with disabilities.

Program Areas: Disabilities, General Education, Professional Development, Science/Environmental, Special Education, Technology, Vocational

Eligibility: Public School, Private School, Higher Education, Other

Proposal Deadline: 6/1/2015

Annual Total Amount: $400,000.00

Average Amount: $1,000.00 – $10,000.00

Address: 1560 Wilson Blvd., Ste. 1150, Arlington, VA 22209-2463

Telephone: 703-276-8240

Website: Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation

Availability: All States

 

 

Myths and Stereotypes in Special Education

by Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed., MLIS

Social Emotional Teaching Strategies

I’m about to stick my toe into murky waters, but it seems fitting just after Halloween.

Any discussion of special education must begin with a true understanding of the enormity of the subject. I could write blog posts about it every day for the rest of my life and never run out of subjects to explore, so bear with me while I explore a non-scientific corner.

I’m a big fan of Stephen King, especially his early books like The Stand, Carrie, Christine, etc. He is a master storyteller and reading one of his books is most often a rewarding experience.

In 2002, he wrote a television miniseries called Rose Red. It’s about a psychology professor who takes a group of psychically talented people to a haunted house in Seattle. If you picture House on Haunted Hill, that’s a good place to start, but Rose Red is in a category all its own.

In the story, Annie, a 15-year-old autistic and psychic girl, is brought along to ignite the house’s dormant ghosts into action. She is reported to have telekinetic and telepathic abilities that will be sure to help the professor establish her assertions that haunting does happen and the unseen world is rich with research possibilities. Early in the story, it’s clear that Annie does have amazing abilities to make connections with the unseen world. Strange things begin to happen, too numerous to mention here.

There has long been a school of thought in the study of autism that people on the spectrum have a connection with the paranormal that others lack. The Internet is loaded with sites that try to establish this connection. Whether you believe in ghosts or not, you can see the dangers that lie in the path of this kind of thinking. Has anyone ever really proven that ghosts exist? Why haven’t searchers been able to document their existence (on film, etc.) other than seeing shadows and hearing doors close on their own? Those are just a couple of the dangers.

The other greater problem is the need to put people in groups so we can describe them. Like all autistic children, Annie is an individual; her social interaction and communication challenges lie on a spectrum. In deference to Mr. King, he is merely trying to move a fiction forward in an entertaining and hopefully believable way. He respects Annie’s theoretical abilities and does little damage to the field of education or psychology, but it’s with a wink and a nod.

For teachers, it’s in our best interest to be sure that people don’t grab on to theories like these and try to use them to bolster personal beliefs. We can all agree that these beliefs are a private matter and deserve respect. However, discussions about autism must stay on a track that is proven and scientifically determined. How else can we provide kids with a great education?

Likewise, are children with developmental disabilities really more affectionate and loving than other children? (This is a stereotype I’ve encountered.)

Annie ends up saving the day, of course, releasing the trapped paranormal investigators from a house that has taken on a malevolent life of its own. We are entertained, and reminded of the literary skills of Stephen King; he has done it again, brought us through a complex story to a satisfying conclusion. We can turn off the TV and return to our scientific reality.

I’ve made a list of some websites that explore the idea that autistic children may have psychic talents. I tried to stay with credible source material, but that’s becoming more difficult too.

Autism and the God Connection

Time Magazine Interview

“Are Autistic and Psychic People Similar?” – Psychology Today

Research? (Question mark mine)

Indigo Children – ABC News Report

Once again, I could write much more on this topic. I hope you will forgive my flight into fuzzy territory, as it relates to special education. Tell me your stories of stereotype busting.


Grant Name: Educational Grants

Funded By: The Ambrose Monell Foundation

Description: Giving on a national basis to improve the physical, mental, and moral condition of humanity throughout the world. Giving largely for hospitals and health services, scientific research, museums, performing arts, and other cultural activities, and higher and secondary education; support also for social services, research in political science, mental health, and aid to the handicapped. No grants to individuals.

Program Areas: Adult Literacy, Disabilities, General Education, Health/PE, Math, Reading, Science/Environmental, Social Studies, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math)

Eligibility: Public School, Private School, Higher Education, Other

Proposal Deadline: 4/30/2015

Annual Total Amount: $9,000,000.00

Average Amount: $5,000.00 – $100,000.00

Address: c/o Fulton, Rowe, & Hart, 1 Rockefeller Plz., Ste. 301, New York, NY 10020-2002

Telephone: 212-245-1863

E-mail: info@monellvetlesen.org

Website: The Ambrose Monell Foundation

Availability: All States

IEP Team and Materials Inspection

by Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed. MLIS

teacher timeLast time, I talked about treading the fine line between cutting costs and providing the best possible services to our kids within the constraints we see. If balanced properly, we can support our SPED kids to make sure their capabilities are maximized. That is our goal. The Individualized Education Program (IEP) teams we employ to study each child’s school environment are keys to finding these solutions.

To review: IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) describes the IEP team as including:

  • The parents of the child
  • Not less than one regular education teacher of the child (if the child is, or may be, participating in the regular education environment)
  • Not less than one special education teacher of the child or, when appropriate, not less than one special education provider of the child
  • representative of the public agency who is qualified to provide or supervise the provision of specially designed instruction to meet the unique needs of children with disabilities, knowledgeable about the general education curriculum and knowledgeable about the availability of resources of the public agency
  • An individual who can interpret the instructional implications of evaluation results
  • Other individuals who have knowledge or special expertise regarding the child, including related services personnel as appropriate (invited at the discretion of the parent or the agency)
  • The child with a disability (when appropriate)

I’d like to focus on the individual in the fourth slot who is “qualified to provide or supervise the provision of specially designed instruction to meet the unique needs of children with disabilities.” Because this individual is key member of the team, we usually invite our curriculum director and, when practical, our library media specialists to supply this service. At first, the director was reluctant; they said they had many other jobs to do and attending IEP meetings was very time consuming. After attending a few meetings though, they understood how important it was to be sure our recommendations for SPED services were aligned with the core standards we are all embracing. The way to supervise specially designed instruction is to stay tightly linked to the standards and in turn improve the curriculum and instruction for all students. SPED curriculum offerings have become very sophisticated over time; they can help us fine-tune our instruction for best results.

I have cautioned about bringing in sales reps to sample new wares for teaching all kids. The truth is that there really is no other way to make ourselves aware of the best of what’s out there. Once a month or so, you might have a meeting with key people where companies can come in and show their products. Wearing lenses with nonsense filters helps, and we’ve all developed these as we have seen the best and worst come across our desks. The instructional analyst on your SPED IEP team might be a key person to coordinate the meetings.

The way to approach it is to isolate areas in the curriculum that are weak for all students based on your data (I keep going back to data, but it has become essential), prioritizing the areas and then inviting company representatives who can explain what their products can provide in these areas.

How do you know the best companies? Networking with other districts that have similar demographics and needs helps. A few phone calls to your counterparts in other cities can inform you of new curriculum offerings. Read reviews online. Department heads can help too. It may not be necessary to have them attend IEP meetings, but you can interview them to see what’s on their wish lists for books and software. A key person for evaluating books and programs is your library media specialist. Everything passes across their desk and he/she will be very helpful.

So, damn the budgets (at least for now). Let’s look at all that’s out there so our instructional team can find the best for our kids. Going in to an IEP meeting with a plan and decisions made about best practices in advance can save time for busy people. It’s always best to be proactive instead of reactive.

There are some good resources to help you evaluate curriculum products here:

Tell us if your district has a plan in place for reviewing SPED programs and materials and maintaining great educational services.


Grant Name: Foundation Grants

Funded By: Standard Charitable Foundation

Description: At The Standard, caring about people is a core value reflected in our commitment to the communities across the United States where our employees live and work. We provide corporate philanthropic support to nonprofit organizations working in the following four areas: Healthy Communities, Disability and Empowerment, Cultural Development and Education and Advancement.

Program Areas: Adult Literacy, After-School, Arts, At-Risk/Character, Community Involvement/Volunteerism, Disabilities, Early Childhood, Family Services, General Education, Health/PE, Homeless, Math, Reading, Safe/Drug Free Schools, Science/Environmental, Social Studies, Special Education, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math)

Eligibility: Public School, Other

Proposal Deadline: Ongoing

Average Amount: $5,000.00 – $25,000.00

Address: Public Affairs P12B 1100 SW 6th Ave, Portland OR 97204

Telephone: 971-321-3162

Website: Standard Charitable Foundation

Availability: All States

Budgets and IEP Team Activities

by Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed. MLIS

This time of year, we are creating Individualized Education Program (IEP) teams and preparing for annual meetings for our kids. The subject of IEP team creation has come up in our district. An administrator noticed that budgets for last year had to be increased for SPED because of a very liberal IEP team that wrote expensive equipment into their program. A challenge for all districts: how do you find a balance between providing services and maintaining budgets? There are some promising new software solutions for some of the more common learning disabilities, but they are expensive and untried. Is it worth the investment? Can we find more cost effective solutions for similar problems?

Daily Organizer

The quick answer is, “Of course it’s worth the investment; we shouldn’t skimp on our kids.” The real answer is more complicated and deserves study and review.

IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) describes the IEP team as including:

  • The parents of the child
  • Not less than one regular education teacher of the child (if the child is, or may be, participating in the regular education environment)
  • Not less than one special education teacher of the child, or where appropriate, not less than one special education provider of the child
  • representative of the public agency who is qualified to provide or supervise the provision of specially designed instruction to meet the unique needs of children with disabilities, knowledgeable about the general education curriculum and knowledgeable about the available resources of the public agency
  • An individual who can interpret the instructional implications of evaluation results
  • Other individuals who have knowledge or special expertise regarding the child, including related services personnel as appropriate (invited at the discretion of the parent or the agency)
  • The child with a disability (when appropriate)

I’d like to focus on the individual who can “interpret the instructional implications of evaluation results.” Our superintendent has asked if this person is properly trained to deliver this service. He is supportive of district teams in general, but his responsibility is to stay within budget. The evaluation of services is an ongoing job, and it can’t be delegated to just one person, especially in large districts. You may have an “evaluation specialist” that attends your meetings, and you would hope that person has thoroughly evaluated new programs and equipment, but there aren’t always enough hours in the day.

Since 94-142 laws and their amendments have been written, the costs for special education services have soared. Providing programs and equipment to support the least restrictive environment language in the federal law has created a huge business for publishers and software companies. Are we too eager to jump on bandwagons without study?

If you’ve ever attended a sales meeting for large publishing company sales reps to come and show their wares, you know how tempting this is. The presentations are slick, and the statistics they throw around make it sound like their products are the only solutions for some of the more challenging disabilities and behaviors we see that cause referrals for SPED services at the classroom teacher’s level.

This subject deserves careful attention, and a single blog will not cover it adequately. I’ve collected some resources for you to review if this blog opens the dialogue for your teams.

Tell us if your district has a plan in place for reviewing SPED budgets and maintaining great educational services.


 

Grant Name: Foundation Grants

Funded By: Safeway Foundation

Description: The Safeway Foundation supports nonprofit organizations whose mission is aligned with our four priority areas: Hunger Relief, Education, Health and Human Services, and Assisting People with Disabilities.

Program Areas: After-School, Arts, Community Involvement/Volunteerism, Early Childhood, General Education, Health/PE, Homeless, Math, Reading, Safe/Drug Free Schools, Science/Environmental, Social Studies, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math), Technology

Eligibility: Public School, Private School, Higher Education, Other

Proposal Deadline: Ongoing

Average Amount: $2,500.00 – $10,000.00

Address: 5918 Stoneridge Mall Road Pleasanton, CA 94588

E-mail: Christy.Duncan-Anderson@safeway.com

Website: Safeway Foundation

Availability: All States

 

Aging Out

by Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed. MLIS

It’s the beginning of a new school year, but I’m going to touch on a subject that pertains to the long-range future of our disabled students. End-of-school career planning is something that needs to be addressed well in advance.

hands filing

In every student’s life, the expectation is a graduation ceremony of some kind. In my house, it was a given that we would go to college; thus, we’ve had several graduations in our lifetime. It was a lesson for me when I learned that some families are gratified when their child graduates from the eighth grade. There are parties and celebrations and joy from parents who never expected to see this milestone. They may have lived in poverty or just been part of a family that has never experienced the eighth grade, for whatever reason. They may have come to us from another country where education is not as readily available as it is here.

For children with disabilities, the calendar is different. The law says the school must provide services for children with disabilities through their 21st year. In most states there are transition plan requirements that help parents and students work through a more complex set of decisions as graduation comes near. Many disabled students cannot hope to pass state academic achievement tests. In the beginning of education reform, this was a serious issue as states clung to the graduation requirements for these high stakes tests. As the years have passed, states have developed safety nets and procedures for providing a path to college for many disabled students.

I have been impressed by the way community colleges have stepped up. They are ideally positioned in local areas to provide tutoring and transition classes for students who will not be able to walk across their high school graduation stage. This is working well not only for disabled students, but also for students whose first language is not English.

pile of folders

If you are a parent reading this, and you are wondering how you are going to support your disabled child through the graduation process, be aware there are many services available for you. Locally, your child’s guidance counselor can help with a transition plan. She will know what the law says and be aware of the tests and timetables for graduation for disabled students. If you are early in the process (your child is in the eighth grade or so), you should be working with your school’s special education committee to create IEPs that have an eye for the future.

boy writing 2

I’ve collected some resources for transition planning services.

Transition planning checklist

Wright’s Law – a great resource for understanding the law regarding special education

New York State’s transition planning infrastructure – good resource

PACER – champions for children with disabilities

Toolkit – for preparing a personal assistance plan after graduation

Vocational Rehab facilities (New York State – your state has one too)

Going to College – for students with disabilities

Heath Center – national clearinghouse for services to students with disabilities

Use Google or another search engine to find resources specific to your state, search strings might look like this;

“Services for students with disabilities in xyz (fill in your state) state”

Keep your expectations high for all your students, there are services and programs out there to help all students thrive in our society, you just have to know where to look. The Internet has been an enormous positive factor in helping families cope with the challenges of transitioning out of school. Use the services available.

Let me know how your school or state handles the transition planning process for your disabled students.


Grant Name: Educational Grants

Funded By: The Dorothea Haus Ross Foundation

Description: Giving on a national basis to advance the moral, mental, and physical well-being of children of all races and creeds; to aid and assist in providing for the basic needs of food, shelter, and education of such children by whatever means and methods necessary or advisable; to prevent by medical research or otherwise the mental and physical handicaps of children.

Program Areas:   Disabilities, Early Childhood, General Education, Health/PE, Special Education

Eligibility: Private School, Faith Based, Other

Proposal Deadline: Ongoing 

Annual Total Amount: $400,000.00 – $560,000.00

Average Amount: $1,000.00 – $15,000.00

Address: 1036 Monroe Avenue, Rochester, NY 14620

Telephone: 585-473-6006

E-mail: info@dhrossfoundation.org

Website: The Dorothea Haus Ross Foundation

Availability: All States

 

Special Ed’s Alphabet Soup: ADHD

by Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed. MLIS

ABC learning

Every profession has its list of acronyms. As a writer, I hate them because they obfuscate meaning and signal that “an expert” is coming. There’s a very good website dictionary of acronyms across all fields here:

http://www.acronymfinder.com/ADHD.html

If you look closely at the URL, you can find any acronym by typing in the base address (acronymfinder.com) then / then the acronym followed by .html. Special Education seems to have more than its fair share of acronyms to muddy the waters of professional conversation.

In this case, ADHD stands for “Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder”. It is a condition standing in the way of a child’s ability to absorb information from books and understand what is said in the classroom. There are 6.4 million identified ADHD children in this country, or a whopping 11% of our kids.

Some of the symptoms of ADHD include:

    • Difficulty concentrating, following directions and staying on task.
    • Impulsiveness, interrupting, loss of emotional control.
    • Hyperactivity – more than just squirming, a real inability to sit still for any length of time.

There are three distinct types of ADHD:

    • Inattention
    • Hyperactivity
    • Combined

The diagnosis is often applied to kids who are making teachers’ lives miserable – you know who they are, they live in every classroom. There must be a rigorous professional evaluation with input from parents and family, school psychologists, physicians, and school administrators for accurate ID. The symptoms must be severe enough to cause disruption in learning, not the disruption of a teacher’s day. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference, but it is imperative to make the distinction.

There has been a 42% increase in the incidence of the diagnosis from 2003 – 2012. Why? There aren’t more children, but there are now more sophisticated measures of behavioral markers and tests to document failure in academic achievement. Boys are two times more likely to exhibit symptoms than girls.

Causes vary; the most accurate description is still “we’re just not sure.” It seems to be a combination of brain injuries, genetics and environment. Many professionals point to alcohol and smoking during pregnancy as causative factors. For treatment, the most effective protocols seem to be combinations of behavioral therapy, social skills, and medication (psychostimulants and antidepressants.) Judicious application of medication for hyperactivity may be all that’s necessary to see improvement. This suggests a chemical imbalance is at work in some children.

We know that good teachers will apply some hard-earned wisdom to help the child succeed:

    • Get organized, have supplies and books stored in the same place every day.
    • Avoid distractions, be careful with computer use for ADHD children, they may become dependent on them.
    • Limit choices; make directions and instructions very clear and consistent.
    • Provide simple and clear communication.
    • Use goals and rewards, contract learning can be very effective.
    • Use timeouts and removal of privileges instead of yelling.
    • Create a rigid routine, ADHD children thrive in a structured environment.

You may ask, if computers are such attractive learning tools for these kids, why not use them all the time? The answer is kids need many problem solving tools to get along.

As is my habit, I’ve created a list of quality resources to help teachers create great conditions for learning in their classrooms (acronym alert!):

UDL – Universal Design for Learning

RTI – Response to Intervention

CEC – Council for Exceptional Children

AACAP – American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

CHADD – Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder

Help4adhd.org – National Resource Center on ADHD

Additude – Living well with attention deficit.

Add to our list, help guide this blog, and tell me about your challenges and favorite acronyms. I may feature your class or school in upcoming blog entries.


Grant Name: Teacher Art Grants

Funded By: P. Buckley Moss Foundation for Children’s Education

Description: The P. Buckley Moss Foundation for Children’s Education aids and supports teachers who wish to establish an effective learning tool using the arts in teaching children who learn differently. They look to support new or evolving programs that integrate the arts into educational programming.

Program Areas: Arts, Special Education

Eligibility: Public School, Private School

Proposal Deadline: 9/30/2014

Average Amount: $250.00 – $1,000.00

Address: 152 P. Buckley Moss Dr, Waynesboro, VA 22980

Telephone: 540-932-1728

Website: P. Buckley Moss Foundation for Children’s Education

Availability: All States

First Day of School: Here We Go Again

by Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed. MLIS

Every year, it never fails. The last days of August go by and that tickly feeling in my stomach starts. Mine includes a little thud at the end of 20 seconds of elevated heart rate. The thud part is generally located in my mid-section. I have never seen a doctor for this phenomenon because I know it is an automatic healthy response to the coming of a new school year.

Daily Organizer

Over the years, I have developed a fail-safe to-do list that I review before I go in to the school building and tackle the job of putting my classroom back together again. Inevitably, well-meaning custodial staff have once again moved everything despite my explicit instructions not to. The floors will sparkle (careful here, they’re slippery). I’ve always wondered why they don’t mix sand in the wax; it would save many cases of sacroiliac joint dysfunction—this is a fancy medical term for “oh my aching back.” If you are smiling at this description, I have met my goal for the article.

The first day comes and goes, and not once have I experienced the cataclysmic disasters my fertile imagination produces each and every year. I don’t lose any students, the one-to-one aides are really great people and they don’t add work to my special education routine. We’re good to go.

At the top of my list are supplies (disclosure: this blog is a product of Achievement Products®, a wonderful one stop shopping site for all your classroom needs). This year, I’ve been taking a close look at allergen free products. Is it my imagination, or are kids coming to us with more violent allergies? Peanut allergies are common, and so many food products have been made in facilities where peanuts are used that it really pays to read labels carefully. Our kids have enough challenges without facing allergies in the classroom.

There are now all sorts of hypoallergenic markers, crayons, paints and glue for students to use. There are even hypoallergenic balls and other playground items. It’s going to become my practice to add the word “hypoallergenic” to every search I do for supplies no matter where I decide to shop. Better safe than sorry. And if you’re like me, the purchasing process in your district is so convoluted and difficult that you always use some of your own money to outfit your classroom.

It seems I see more and more kids with perceptual disorders. There are some thoughtful products for these kids at very reasonable prices. Here are some new arrivals for you to explore.

I’ve been adding to my collection of exercise items in the classroom. Even if I don’t have children with specific physical disabilities, I have many overweight children and students who rarely get outdoors for fresh air and exercise. It seems they are all playing video games. Video games can be good training for some children, but you must also get them up and moving.

Achievement Products has a carefully selected group of adaptive technology items for the classroom. There are also products for students with communication challenges.

So when you wake up on day one, don’t reach for Pepto-Bismol. You’re just having first day jitters—perfectly normal. I’ve put together some resources for new and experienced teachers as they face the all-important first few days of school.

New Teachers, New School

Checklist

Practical Advice for Jitters

Survival Guide for New (All) Teachers

Creating a Teacher Mentoring Program

Special Education Teacher Support

Add to our list of resources, help guide this blog and tell me about your challenges. I may feature your class or school in upcoming blog entries.


Grant Name: Finish Line Youth Foundation Grants

Funded By: Finish Line Youth Foundation

Description: Giving on a national basis in areas of company operations, supporting organizations involved with athletics and youth development. Special emphasis is directed toward programs designed to promote active lifestyles and team building skills; and camps designed to promote sports and active lifestyles, and serve disadvantaged and special needs kids.

Program Areas: After-School, Disabilities, Health/PE, Special Education

Eligibility: Other

Proposal Deadline: Ongoing

Annual Total Amount: $200,000.00 – $500,000.00

Average Amount: $1,000.00 – $50,000.00

Address: 3308 North Mitthoeffer Road, Indianapolis, IN 46235-2332

Telephone: 317-899-1022 x6741

E-mail: Youthfoundation@finishline.com

Website: Finish Line Youth Foundation

Availability: All States

Do Video Games and the Internet Cause ADHD?

This blog article is a way to begin discussion about a topic of interest to many teachers. It is not presented as academic research, but the author has taken care to check sources cited.

Boy Playing a Video Game

The research cited here was performed at Iowa State University. The actual research paper, “Video Game Playing, Attention Problems, and Impulsiveness: Evidence of Bidirectional Causality” can be found here. It was published in Psychology of Popular Media Culture 2012, Vol. 1, No. 1, 62–70.

There has been discussion among teachers that a big uptick in SPED referrals is being caused by student use of computer games and the Internet. The research at Iowa State University shows that indeed, there is a measurable link. Green & Bavalier, 2003 noted that some visual attention could be improved for students who play video games, but it is noted that visual attention is not the same thing as attention that influences school and learning (62).

There are four hypotheses that may help us organize the study of increases in SPED referral and student use of electronic media.

  1. Excitement hypothesis
  2. Displacement hypothesis
  3. Attraction hypothesis
  4. Third variable hypothesis

Very briefly, the excitement hypothesis proposes that electronic screen media may make other activities (e.g., work or school) seem less interesting by comparison. Displacement hypothesis says exposure to electronic media may take up time that could be used for schoolwork. A third possibility is that individuals who have attention problems are more attracted to electronic media—the attraction hypothesis. The last suggests there is a third variable such as sex or age that may explain this association. However, studies included variables like sex and other factors, steering us away from the last hypothesis.

boy and a girl playing video game

The study included 3,034 children from 12 different schools in Singapore with a 99% response rate. This is a reasonably large sample from which to derive good data. The measurement of average weekly video game playing as a benchmark showed strong test–retest correlations. Participants indicated how many hours they played video games during each of three times (morning, afternoon, and evening) on a typical school day and on a typical weekend. Then, they calculated the average weekly video game playing time.

Participants completed the Current ADHD Symptoms Scale Self-Report. Participants also completed 14 items from the Barratt Impulsiveness Scale-11. Consistent with most previous research, this study found video game playing is associated with greater subsequent attention problems, even when earlier attention problems were statistically controlled.

It seems we have been witnessing a real phenomenon in increased special education referrals and placements. Based on my general observation, diagnoses of ADD and ADHD are on the rise. Diagnoses of conditions like Asperger’s and other forms of autism are also on the rise. For the past 30 years, most of the research on attention problems has focused on biological and genetic factors rather than on environmental factors. Many believe that there are other environmental influences. By identifying and studying those factors, we can create a more detailed picture of the problem to create effective solutions for schools.

More research needs to be done, but teachers must pay increased attention to student activities after school and in study halls. Those ubiquitous mobile devices may be part of the reason for increases in SPED referrals.

To read more about this:

The paradox: can we use video games to help treat attention deficits?

Add to our list of resources, help guide this blog and tell me about your challenges. I may feature your class or school in upcoming blog entries.


Grant Name: Dreyfus Foundation Educational Grants

Funded By: The Max and Victoria Dreyfus Foundation, Inc.

Description: Giving on a national basis to support museums, cultural, and performing arts programs; schools, hospitals, educational and skills training programs, programs for youth, seniors, and the handicapped; environmental and wildlife protection activities; and other community-based organizations and their programs. Organizations seeking support from the Foundation may submit a letter of request, not exceeding three pages in length, which includes a brief description of the purpose of the organization, and a brief outline of the program or project for which funding is sought.

Program Areas: After-School, Arts, At-Risk/Character, Disabilities, General Education, Health/PE, Math, Reading, Science/Environmental, Social Studies, Special Education, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math)

Eligibility: Public School, Private School, Higher Education, Other

Proposal Deadline: 11/10/14

Annual Total Amount: $2,800,000.00 – $4,000,000.00

Average Amount: $1,000.00 – $20,000.00

Address: 2233 Wisconsin Avenue N.W., Suite 414, Washington, DC 20007

Telephone: 202-337-3300

E-mail: info@mvdreyfusfoundation.org

Website: Max and Victoria Dreyfus Foundation, Inc.

Availability: All States