Transition Planning

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

As special education students reach high school, it becomes time to think about the afterlife—that is, life after high school.

boy writing 2The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that within the IEP in place when the student turns 16, there must include transition service needs. However, it’s never too early to start the process. Factors to be considered are:

Will there be:

  • Continued academic preparation?
  • Development of a viable community experience?
  • Development of vocational and independent living objectives?
  • A functional vocational evaluation (if applicable)?

Guidance is necessary to move from high school to the next stages in life. Steps must be documented and taken to guide and prepare students for college and a career or for independent living. Without goals, students may fall off the radar and flounder. Consider these sobering statistics:

kids testingOne way to begin is to teach students to advocate for themselves as early as possible.

  • Begin by talking with students about what they do well and the extent of their disability. Many students have never been required to articulate the nature of their disability. Likewise, they can’t always talk about skills they have learned and mastered to date.
  • Students may need to practice the words they need to verbalize what they can and cannot do.
  • Evaluate whether students can succeed in a post-secondary academic setting. Not all students are college material, but students need to be able to engage in discussions about college or community college.
  • Plan a visit to your local community college. This resource is uniquely qualified to provide the kind of guidance your students will need to get the conversation started.

Starting at age 14 and continuing until the student is no longer eligible for special education services, the IEP team should:

  • Help the student work through his or her own IEP
  • Take into account the student’s preferences and interests
  • Include developing the student’s post-school goals

See more at: Wrightslaw.com.

For students who are interested in embarking on a career right out of high school, administering an interest inventory might be a way to start. Finding the right job is not easy, even for highly skilled individuals. It’s even more difficult for those who lack adequate training or face special challenges.

For more great ideas on how to start preparing students for effective transition planning:

Grant Name: Technical Assistance and Dissemination to Improve Services and Results for Children With Disabilities

Funded By: Department of Education

Description: The purpose of this priority is to fund three cooperative agreements to establish and operate model demonstration projects that are designed to improve the literacy of adolescents with disabilities in middle and high school grades. For purposes of this priority, the target population includes: Students with disabilities in grades 6 through 12 who score below grade level in reading, or who have identified reading goals and objectives on their individualized education program.

Program Areas: Disabilities, Reading, Special Education

Eligibility: Public School, Private School, Other

Proposal Deadline: 5/4/2015

Annual Total Amount: $1,200,000.00

Average Amount: $400,000.00

Address: Education Publications Center (ED Pubs), U.S. Department of Education, PO Box 22207, Alexandria, VA 22304

Telephone: 202-245– 6425

Email: Gregory.Knollman@ed.gov

Website: Department of Education

Availability: All States

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Allergies and the Special Ed Classroom

In recent years we’ve learned a great deal more about allergies and the effects they can have on student learning. Absenteeism, hospitalizations for anaphylaxis and medication dispensing in the classroom are just some of the factors that are impacting student learning and the management of health issues for students in special education classrooms.

boy nose tissueWe don’t usually think of children suffering from allergies or asthma as children with special needs, but they certainly are. Children with these conditions are probably the most frequently encountered category of special needs, and statistics support the notion that allergies are on the rise. According to a 2013 study by the Centers for Disease Control, food allergies among children increased approximately 50% between 1997 and 2011. Food allergies result in more than 300,000 ambulatory-care visits a year among children under the age of 18.

The most common allergy symptoms are:

  • Runny nose and sneezing
  • Itchy, runny eyes
  • Hives on skin
  • Asthma-like reactions

The category of allergy receiving the most attention these days is food allergies. About 3 million children experience adverse reactions to something they eat every year in the United States. The most common food allergies are to:

  • Peanuts and other nuts
  • Seafood or shellfish
  • Milk and prepared foods containing milk products
  • Eggs
  • Soy, wheat and other grains like buckwheat

The symptoms of the allergic response vary as listed above. Students with allergies must:

  • Avoid the allergen
  • Carry medication called an EpiPen® (looks like a pen) containing injectable epinephrine
  • Wear an updated alert bracelet
  • Visit the school nurse for medication or to assess any new reactions
  • Be isolated from potential allergens during lunch to avoid reactions
  • Have alternative snacks on hand for classroom celebrations

Other allergens in special education classrooms may be related to paints, chalk and other art supplies. There are, of course, school supplies that are designed to be allergen free. Some schools develop policies to help monitor different allergens for those children with food allergies and subsequently provide protection from anaphylaxis. Large school districts are studying the possibility of establishing schools where students with allergies can be monitored and treated.

An allergen is a substance that causes an allergic reaction. When a person is exposed to an allergen such as peanuts, the person’s immune system becomes sensitive to the substance. When the person eats peanuts again, a reaction may occur. Anaphylaxis develops quickly, it is severe and it involves the entire body. The body releases histamines that cause airways to close which leads to a shortness of breath and other symptoms.

Symptoms develop within seconds and may include:

  • Gasping breathing sounds (wheezing) with chest discomfort, sometimes a cough
  • Anxiety
  • Difficulty breathing and swallowing, the feeling of chest tightening
  • Light-headedness
  • Hives
  • Severe itching

Anaphylaxis is a life threatening emergency condition that requires immediate medical attention. Call 911 right away.

In the beginning of the year, if you are sending out informational materials, you might want to send a survey for health care that parents can answer to provide more detail about any allergies their child might have. Be sure you have a prescribed EpiPen® available for all of your allergic children. Make sure they are filled and current. There is an expiration date on the package, and you may want to make a spreadsheet that lists those students and expiration dates close at hand so you can have them refilled as necessary. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure (that’s what I hear).

If you have any stories about allergies and your students let me know. I’d be happy to share them with our readers.


Grant Name: Let’s ALL Play Partnership

Funded By: National Inclusion Project

Description:  Let’s ALL Play brings an inclusive recreational experience to children with disabilities. As a national leader in the movement toward full inclusion, the National Inclusion Project is proud to partner with community organizations that are seeking to programmatically open doors for ALL children to learn, live, and play together. Through training, consulting, and funding, the Project will meet organizations where they are and help them to implement quality programs that impact children and families in their communities.

Program Areas: Disabilities

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

Proposal Deadline:  7/31/2015

Average Amount:  $10,000.00

Address: 104 T.W. Alexander Dr, Bldg 1, PO Box 110104 RTP, NC 27709

Email: aronhall@inclusionprojects.org

Website: National Inclusion Project

Availability:  All States

Is Your Classroom Paraprofessional a Positive Factor in Your Class?

Regulations regarding the assignment of paraprofessionals (paras) in special education classrooms depend on many factors. There are guidelines available, but much depends on your location (state) and the way you present your needs to your district administrators.

Group Of Elementary Age Children In Art Class With TeacherIf you really want to have a paraprofessional in your classroom, you will need to work with district SPED coordinators to define your needs and rationale. Some paras provide personal assistance as required by language in an IEP, usually for physically disabled students who need support with day-to-day activities. Acquiring a general classroom para, if not explicitly required by your state, is still challenging despite legal requirements. Your IEP process provides help; it is a legal document. 

Sometimes it’s a “be careful what you wish for” proposition, though. I know a young special education teacher who has been assigned two SPED paras in her class; one is a personal aide. They are both capable people, but she wonders how helpful the help is when she has to spend so much of her day training them to provide services. One of her aides is an older woman who has firm opinions about what she should be doing on a daily basis. She’s been an aide for a long time and is potentially a godsend, but first the generation gap needs to be addressed. She talks endlessly about her favorite teacher from the past, Ms. XYZ, and how she would have done things. 

My advice is to be upfront and completely transparent about your needs. Right away, make sure aides understand who is in charge in the classroom. You can become accustomed to eye rolling, loud sighs and other body language from disapproving aides if these issues aren’t addressed soon and often. Prepare evaluation checklists, and review them weekly. If the aide isn’t performing and filling your needs, let them know and share your concerns with your principal and district officials. If the aide becomes a problem, create a paper trail with dates and times. In serious situations, use the camera on your phone. If a personal aide is responsible for toileting and the child comes back from the bathroom with dirty hands every day, take a picture and share it with the aide—not as a hammer and a threat, but to illustrate your point. A picture is worth…

Math Teacher Writing on Chalk BoardThere are some wonderful training manuals available for paraprofessionals. Adopt one, and then provide it as a gift to a new aide. Require that she read it and adopt it as the official guide. I used to spend lunchtime with aides, especially in the beginning of the year, going over the material in the guide we used. Check with your district coordinator; she may have a library for teachers with materials that can be helpful. Your library media specialist can help you review materials and choose items for your own classroom library.

One of your best allies (hopefully) are the parents. Parents can be very vocal if they are not happy with an aide assigned to their child. If you haven’t convinced administrators that you have a problem, bring in the parents. Be careful here: you aren’t recruiting help. Be sure the parent shares all of your concerns already to prepare a unified front.

The world of paraprofessional training has changed drastically over the years. I remember when an aide would be assigned to my classroom, and what I saw was a mom or student who wanted a part-time job on the side. Now, paraprofessionals are well-trained, well-educated and devoted professionals who are proud of their calling.

In an ideal classroom environment, your aides are your trusted companions and often become friends. The aides, if you have more than one, hopefully work well together and don’t bump into each other’s responsibilities. Their roles are well defined. This isn’t an impossible scenario. It takes time and a consistent approach, finding your rhythm day by day.

Some resources for managing paraprofessionals:

Let me know how you’re doing.


Grant Name: 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:  5/10/2015

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

Email: info@mvdreyfusfoundation.org

Website: Max and Victoria Dreyfus Foundation, Inc

Availability:  All States

Doing the Ground Work for IEP Meetings

by Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed., MLIS
hands filingIf you’ve been a SPED teacher for a while, you have attended many IEP Team meetings. Some of you may have inserted the word “dreaded” before the word IEP. If so, this article is for you.

It doesn’t have to be that way, and it’s a true test of your administrative skills to create a consistently positive environment for team meetings. The IEP development process is too important to kids for it to be a contentious or difficult experience.

The success of the IEP meeting and approval process is completely up to you and your team members. It pays off in a big way to meet with your team often, without parents and others there. You need to be a cohesive and unified group. Much of the success has to do with doing your homework.

Like the team meetings, it pays to establish good relationships with parents outside of the team meeting room. Be sure your classroom is a welcoming place for parents. You’ll find their contributions will be key in the development of effective programs for children.

A story comes to mind. A parent was concerned about the help her child was receiving each day in the classroom. She had read an article about tablet computers and their effectiveness in blended learning classrooms. She hadn’t told the teacher that she wanted one for her child, so the concept was foreign when it was suggested at the team meeting. The teacher felt blindsided and was defensive when she heard the request for a personal tablet. This may not be a perfect scenario; these days tablets are readily available for most students, but it serves to make a point. We are all trying to keep costs down, and technology is expensive.

kids testingIf the parent had been a regular visitor in the school and classroom, the teacher would have already had the tablet conversation with her. Perhaps it isn’t necessary to have the personal tablet computer written in to the IEP. It can now become known that the school is in the process of acquiring them for all children, and there are also tablets available through the library. This kind of pre-meeting conversation will forestall any difficult moments in the meeting.

We talk a lot about “written into the IEP.” If the team is prepared ahead of time for each meeting, many expensive accommodations can be vetted and policies established for the provision of the services. Policies are wonderful things, they level the playing field and dispense with the notion that one child receives more support than another.

Use email and the telephone to stay in touch with students’ homes. You might solicit ideas from parents in a general email to all; you’ll start conversations that may make the IEP meeting easier. Knowing in advance what parents want and are expecting to see in the IEP will render the meeting a formality. No more long, drawn out and time-consuming conversations about whatever the parent is requesting this time. There will always be parents who are challenging, but doing your homework paves the way for a better team meeting.

I’ve found some helpful resources for team meeting preparation and administration:

For Parents:

Greatschools

Project Ideal

For teachers and other team members:

Guide

Regulations

Wrightslaw

Checklist

Who is on the Team?

Team meetings and IEP development are a critical part of a special student’s world. Our goal is to have the student’s welfare in mind at each stage of the process.

Let me know how you’re doing.


Grant Name: IWP Foundation Educational Grants

Funded By: Innovating Worthy Projects Foundation

Description: Giving on a national basis. The Foundation makes grants to organizations dedicated to serving developing innovative programs, disseminating ideas, or providing direct care or services for children with special needs, acute illnesses or chronic disabilities.

Program Areas: Disabilities, Early Childhood, Special Education

Eligibility: Public School, Private School, Other

Proposal Deadline: 12/31/2015

Annual Total Amount: $1,000.00 – $10,000.00

Average Amount: $100,000.00 – $200,000.00

Address: 4045 Sheridan Avenue, Suite 296, Miami Beach, FL 33140

Telephone: 305-861-5352

E-mail: info@iwpf.org

Website: Innovating Worthy Projects Foundation

Availability: All States

Testing for Special Education Students

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

Last time, I talked about blended learning environments for special education classrooms. With this learning model, we might want to talk about testing for our special needs children; are there new technologies that help teachers work with Common Core State Standards (CCSS) at testing time?

iStock_000016212768XSmall

I remember in the late 90’s when we were starting to embrace learning standards and develop new high-stakes tests. We heard a loud shriek throughout the land from teachers and parents who were sure their special needs children were going to be relegated to academic Siberia and required to take the same tests as “regular” children. It was a justifiable shriek; it seemed no one had really thought about this thorny issue, at least not very thoroughly.

We’ve calmed down since then, and now realize that requiring special needs students to take and pass high-stakes tests is just the equivalent of raising standards and expectations for all students, and providing the least restrictive environment—which is always a good thing. We’ve developed accommodations for children who need extra support at test time.

According to the law1

Testing accommodations are neither intended nor permitted to:

  • alter the construct of the test being measured or invalidate the results
  • provide an unfair advantage for students with disabilities over students taking tests under standardized conditions
  • substitute for knowledge or abilities that the student has not attained

The testing accommodations most frequently required by students as indicated in their IEP’s are:

  • flexibility in scheduling/timing
  • flexibility in the setting used for the administration of assessments
  • changes in the method of presentation
  • changes in the method of response

The key here is “in the IEP.” We have found ways to include many accommodations for special needs children in their IEP’s. We have struggled to find methods of assistance that don’t alter the tests or invalidate the results.

The NCEO (National Center for Educational Outcomes) provides a helpful bibliography of research-tested accommodations for testing. They also provide a nice description of differences among accommodations and discussions on test validity and reliability. There is considerable variability among states for the development of accommodations. Over time, states have developed alternate assessments that align with alternate state standards. We have also struggled with providing support for ELL students who have special needs.

teacher little girl

Where does technology step in to help us out with all these delicate balancing acts? A practical discussion of different ways classrooms can manage accommodations can be found at http://drscavanaugh.org/assistive/technology_accommodations.htm.

Teachervision has been one of my favorite sites over the years. They apply teacher speak to most of the ideas they present, and this article on assistive technology for students with mild disabilities is an example of that. Adaptive technologies may or may not be carried over into the testing environment. Remember the IEP? It may be allowed in the IEP, but here are some resources to help you sort this out.

Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) provides some guidance on using adaptive technologies for testing. PARCC is a group of states working together to develop a set of assessments that measure whether students are on track to be successful in college and their careers.

But, I digress. There are as many organizations, companies and others who are interested in creating and providing testing materials and guidance as there are stars in the sky, and for obvious reasons. There is a great deal of money to be made. Rather than insert my opinions about this, I’ll provide you with some (hopefully) unbiased resources to help districts with assistive technology make decisions as they relate to testing.

Education Week

University of Texas at Austin (study)

Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium

Wikipedia on CAT

One Parent’s Opinion (NY Times)

Indiana University (Assistive Technology and Assessment Center)

Let me know how your district has evolved on the subject of testing and the use of assistive technologies.

1Text taken from: http://www.p12.nysed.gov/specialed/publications/policy/testaccess/guidance.htm, New York State Education Department.


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: 9/30/2015

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