The Five Most Common Reasons for SPED Referral

by Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed. MLIS

hands filing

Over the years, the labels we use to describe special education students have changed. When I was in Special Education 101 (I’m really dating myself), we used to call developmentally disabled children retarded. Even worse, we split the kids into Mild, Moderate, and Severe categories. This was happening at the same time as “mainstreaming”. We understood that the least restrictive environment for all children was the way to go, but we muddied the issue by splitting kids into groups.

To some extent, we still do that. It’s important to be able find language to describe our children. We can’t provide special assistance if we can’t inform people about why it’s needed.

We’ve found there are five types of learning problems that students have that cause us to take a second look and refer them for special education assessment.

  • Specific Learning Disability
  • Intellectual Disability
  • Autism
  • Disorders of Hearing, Sight and Physical Disability
  • Emotional Disturbance

I am guessing at the order, there are probably numbers to tell us which of these is the most common, but I don’t have them handy. It really doesn’t matter; these areas of concern have created a bureaucracy of support for special education that is costly and complex. The bureaucracy has developed because of Public Law 94-142, the legislation mandating the least restrictive environment for educational services.

Today, most disabled students can be helped in resource rooms, or classrooms that pull students out for a period during the day for special education. There are however, substantially separate classrooms for students with severe problems. These are the students who have a one on one aide that help them with toileting, physical therapy, and other services we must provide by law.

School Committees all over the country bemoan the cost of these provisions, but at the end of the day, it’s an investment in our future. All students need the best we can give, regardless of cost.

Another part of the law is the requirement that parents be part of the team that outlines the type and duration of any services their children will receive. Schools may have different names for the teams, but it’s usually called the Individualized Education Program (IEP) Team. When the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was reauthorized in 2004, there were changes regarding IEP team members. Parents must be included, but there are others invited to team meetings including the classroom teacher, district administrators and others who are charged with providing services. Meetings occur two times each year, and amendments are made to treatment plans (individual education plans). For instance, parents can request that their children have special equipment. A tool called “Kurzweill” is commonly requested. This software reads aloud for the student and assists struggling readers. Students may also have readers during testing.

I’ve talked a lot about behaviors in classrooms and the costs we incur in our efforts to help at risk students. We can’t forget about the students with the most serious disabilities. Even though we may have substantially separate classrooms for some, this does not mean marginalization. In modern schools, every attempt is made to pull these children into everyday activities in the community at large.

Do you have questions for me? My readers answer more questions than they pose, but I welcome your involvement in this blog.


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Special Education and Compliance

by Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed. MLIS

pile of folders

In 1975, Congress passed Public Law 94-142 (Education of All Handicapped Children Act), now known as IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). In order to receive federal funds, states must develop and implement policies that assure a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to all children with disabilities. The state plans must be consistent with the federal statute. One of the tenets of the law provides that students who are found to have disabilities or special needs, must be provided education in the “least restrictive environment”. The law has created a large federal bureaucracy as most laws requiring compliance will do. School districts all over the country receive grants and special funding to make sure the least restrictive environment provision is met.

Large school districts have created special classrooms with complex equipment and specialists to meet most of the needs presented by students with IEP’s (Individual Education Plans). Students may spend part of their day in these classrooms, the rest in regular classrooms with their peers so they can be in a less restrictive environment, thus meeting the letter of the law.

In the recent past, students have been seen with increasingly complex medical and intellectual challenges. Medical science has improved birth outcomes for children with very low birth weight for instance; these children at one time would have died, but are now saved, some with complicated needs. The public schools are required to provide services for these children. Often, a child will need to be transported away from his neighborhood school to find a classroom that can meet his needs. You have probably seen small yellow buses in your town; that is what they are for, providing free transportation for special needs children to special services in their town, or a neighboring community.

The special education programs in schools are based on the rules and guidelines developed by the federal government.  These rules are established to protect special education students and parents and to promote the well-being of the students.  Because these rules and regulations are many, varied, and quite specific on a number of points, special education administrators as well as building principals must make sure that their schools conform to both the substance and the intent of these rules.  That is not always an easy job.

Many rules and regulations that administrators must understand revolve around special committees and IEP’s (Individual Educational Programs or Plans).  A program could be deemed non-compliant because all the required members of the committee were not present, or properly informed, or noted in the minutes of a committee meeting. By law, each child’s IEP must be reviewed on a regularly scheduled basis so all his needs will be met as he grows. Things change, and the committees are empowered to keep up with the changes by providing new services as needed.  Parents are heavily involved in this process; this is the intent of the law.

Another way a program might be found non-compliant is when parents are not afforded an opportunity for meaningful participation in the committee meetings. The parents might not have been notified of the meeting in a timely fashion or the meeting may have been set up at a time or place that was not mutually agreeable.  The parents might have disagreed with the committee and no meeting was set to reconvene.  The parents might have refused to sign or agree or disagree with provisions of new plans.  Any or all of these problems could have a school cited for non-compliance, especially if there is a pattern of this behavior.

The IEP itself can be the center of a host of other non-compliance problems.  This can happen if an IEP was not written to provide appropriate educational benefit to the student.  Maybe the goals and objectives were not set up so that they were measurable.  Perhaps the levels of academic achievement were not aligned with goals, assessments, or services provided.  Now, with the implementation of Common Core State Standards and new testing requirements, students may not have been provided with proper accommodations on exams so they can take them with their peers.

Being a special education administrator or a building administrator is a difficult job.  It is really challenging when you have to deal with the many compliance issues surrounding special education students in the form of IEP’s, and evaluation/reevaluation meetings.

This blog article is a very basic thumbnail description of some of the more basic provisions of a law that has greatly improved the academic environments for so many thousands of students. I will be writing more about this law, but I felt the need to provide this background material for you to absorb so you will understand complicated issues.

If you are a parent of a special needs child, I’d love to hear from you. How is your school district managing your child’s educational needs? Are you happy with the services your child receives? Comment on this or other blogs we provide.

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It’s the Little Things That Count – Creating an Inclusive Classroom with the HighScope® Curriculum

This post is authored by Francine Towbridge, Account Manager at Achievement Products® for Special Needs.

francine

This year I had the pleasure of attending the HighScope® International Conference in Ypsilanti, Michigan. The workshops were informative and enlightening. I especially enjoyed chatting with teachers who were excited and ready to learn new teaching strategies. Today, many preschools programs include children with special needs. Therefore, some teachers were particularly concerned about how to implement the HighScope® approach in an inclusive setting.

I attended two excellent workshops that addressed this topic:

  • A Preschool Class with a Special Approach: Plan-Do-Review in Inclusion Classrooms
  • Making HighScope® Work for Children on the Autism Spectrum

We all know that the goal of inclusion, is to create a warm environment that encourages positive interactions, and learning for students regardless of their ability level. I learned in the workshops that accomplishing this goal need not be a “Herculean” task!    

UCLA basketball coaching legend John Wooden said, “It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.” Coach Wooden won ten NCAA national championships, was named the national coach of the year six times, and his philosophy was based on teamwork. The workshops taught educators that changing a few “little details” in your HighScope® classroom and collaborating daily with your team will help you achieve the goals you have for your students.

Some of the strategies I learned in the workshops:

  • Focus on what the child can do! Current teaching practices in the field of special education are often based on correcting children’s “deficits.” If we make a little adjustment in attitude, we can start focusing on the child’s strengths and interests.
  • Special needs students are eager to learn. Meet them at their level. Give them opportunities to make choices by having a variety of learning materials available.
  •  Be consistent. A consistent but flexible daily routine gives children a sense of control and promotes independence.
  • Incorporate the students’ IEP goals into your daily routine. Small group time can be used to accomplish IEP objectives.
  • Use visual cues and photos for children with autism; this helps them interpret information. Some preschoolers can follow verbal requests, such as “Let’s put the blocks away.” However, children with autism may also need a visual cue for clean up time, such as a flicker of the lights or a photo of cleanup time. You can also create a visual representation of the daily routine and use pictures for planning and recall time.
  •  Be patient and positive. Allow extra time for the children to complete tasks and respond to a question. A warm classroom environment can lead to increased academic achievement and a sense of belonging.

After the workshops were over, many teachers lingered to ask the presenters questions, take handouts and the free visual aids. To me, this was a clear indication that the teachers were inspired to go back to their classrooms, tweak a few vital details and make big things happen with their little learners. I hope you will too!

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