Answering Subjective Test Items

Last week we covered strategies to use during objective assessments.  During this blog post, we will review strategies to use during subjective tests.  While taking an objective assessment, the answer you choose can be right or wrong, subjective assessments rely on your instructor’s interpretation of what you have written to determine if you know the material.  Subjective test items can include essay or short answer responses.

Preparation is key in completing essay questions and short response.  Start your studying early so that you can not only recall information easily, but also apply it.  When you take the exam, you will want to implement previewing, planning, writing, and reviewing skills.

  • Previewing.  When you get your assessment, make sure to give yourself a few minutes to preview it.  Look over the test to see what is being asked of you and estimate how much time you have on each item.  If there are multiple essays to complete, consider which one you would like to answer first.  This will likely be the one that you feel you can complete most easily.  Then carefully read the prompt, underlining key words and phrases to gain a thorough understanding of how to complete the question.  If there are multiple components to the question, make sure that you consider each part.

  • Planning.  It is also important to give yourself time to plan your response.  Begin by writing a brief outline of your response.  Refer back to the question to make sure you’re addressing everything you need in your outline.  Also think of some specific examples you can include to strengthen your points.

  • Writing.  Make sure that you address the question within the first paragraph.  Following your introductory paragraph, each paragraph needs to start with a topic sentence.  Your goal should be to answer the question directly with as much information as possible to demonstrate your understanding of the topic.  Leave nothing to inference.  Make sure to define terms you use and support any statement with facts.

  • Reviewing.  When you plan how long you have to answer each item, remember to allow for time to review your responses.  Once you have completed all essay items, go back and read through your answers, checking for appropriate capitalization, punctuation, spelling, and content.  If you are running out of time, it is always better to have a partial response than leaving it blank so that you may receive partial points.

Now that we’ve discussed skills and strategies to increase your chances of success in an educational environment, we will transition to discussing specific disorders that individuals may have cause difficulties in school.

If you’re utilizing all of these study and time management strategies and you continue to struggle to achieve at a level that is equal to your effort, there may be something more going on. Next, we will discuss specific disorders that can explain underachievement in an educational setting.

Test-Taking Strategies

Test taking can be very anxiety producing for students.  Luckily there are several strategies that can help you better prepare and feel more comfortable the day of the test.

Preparation.  In past posts, we have highlighted the importance of planning your time, note-taking, reading, and studying.  We cannot overstate the importance of preparation enough.  Frequent review of material throughout the semester, not just immediately before the exam, will help you truly master the material and feel more confident in your ability to do well.

Scheduling.  Besides coming up with a plan to manage your time throughout the semester (link), you will also want to think about your schedule the day of the test.  It is best not to schedule your study time right before the exam; all of your studying should be happening before the day of the test.  Knowing that everything is already done should relieve stress.  You won’t feel rushed getting to class, and if something were to go wrong, you won’t lose valuable study time.  You also should avoid scheduling anything immediately after a test.  This way, you will not be preoccupied with the time and whether or not you will be late to your next appointment, and can completely focus on the task at hand.

Previewing.  When you begin the exam, you should first preview the test so that you can come up with the best strategy for that specific exam.  Knowing how much time you have to complete the exam, how many questions there are, which questions are most time consuming, and which questions are worth the most points can help you come up with the best way to prioritize the questions.

Starting.  Once you have previewed the exam, it is time to begin.  First and foremost, read the instructions carefully.  This is such a vital step of the test-taking process.  Make sure that you understand what is being asked of you by re-reading the instructions and underlining the important components.  Ask the instructor for clarification of anything you might not understand.  Once you start the test, remember that you don’t have to go to in order.  You may want to prioritize questions worth the most points first, and then complete low point items later.  If you come to a question that you don’t know the answer to, skip it and come back to it.  Sometimes completing other questions will give you the information you need or prompt you to remember relevant material.  

Now that you have basic strategies to begin your exam, next week we will talk about specific item types and tips on how to address each one.

Reading at the College Level

Once you have organized yourself (link), your materials (link), and found your optimal study environment (link), the next step is to actually study. In a post-secondary institution, independently reading the assigned content is the first step to preparing yourself for in-class learning and studying for exams.

We highly recommend reading the chapter or assigned reading before attending the lecture that will cover the same topic. Proper scheduling using your syllabus is an important step to make sure that you are able to do this. When you read the material prior to the lecture, it allows you the gain exposure to the information more than once. This is especially important because you must be exposed to information multiple times before it transfers to from your short-term to your long-term memory. If you read the chapter before your lecture, you will have at least three exposures to the material: before the lecture, during the lecture, and during your study time after the lecture. It also allows you the opportunity to solidify new concepts prior to the lecture and develop specific questions to ask during the lecture. Accessing the information prior to the lecture also allows you to process the information with respect to your disability. An example of this would be if you have a reading disability, you are able to listen to an audio recording of the chapter.

When reading advanced level texts, it can be more difficult to read the content, understand the vocabulary, and comprehend the meaning. In order to encourage comprehension, is important to preview the text prior to beginning to read it. When previewing the text, you should read the title and the author’s name and think about the source. Next, skim the Table of Contents to see how the chapter relates to other chapters within the book. Begin by reading the abstract, introduction, and summary or conclusion. Then, read the headings and subheadings while looking at the graphic aids and photographs which will help you to determine the majority of information that will be covered in the chapter. Prior to begin reading, decide which portion is the most important or will be covered by the next lecture and prioritize that part of the chapter.

Below is a list of helpful questions to guide you during the previewing process:

  • Why are you reading this text (i.e. class discussion, background information, exam, or a paper)?

  • How long is this reading?

  • What do graphic aids/photographs tell you?

  • Are there any new terms or concepts?

  • What do I already know about this subject?

  • What you need to know about the text?

  • Turn headings and subheadings into questions and try to find the answers when reading.

Then, decide how much you are going to read, read that portion, and take a quick mental break. Before moving on to the next section, it is essential that you are able to answer the questions that you generated prior to reading. If you are unable to answer the questions, then you should reread the section until you have a thorough understanding. If a particular topic proves difficult for you, it is also appropriate to ask your previewing questions during the lecture.

Taking notes while reading can increase comprehension and improve your retention of information. Next week, we will discuss the importance of note taking and methods for taking effective notes.

 

Finding Your Optimal Study Environment

Now that you have your schedule and materials organized to set you up for success, it is time to consider your environment.  Many people underestimate the importance of their study space, but where you study is important to facilitate learning and reviewing the materials that are necessary for your classes.   While some people can concentrate well under almost any circumstance, the majority of students need a specific type of environment to foster good study habits.

When you identify study time in your schedule (link), you should also identify where this will take place.  If you have thought of all of the places that meet your needs beforehand, you should never be stuck if plans change or a space is unavailable.  The following are all things you should consider in choosing your optimal study environment.

Visual Distractions.  Some areas of your home, school, and community are busier than others.  You should consider the amount of activity happening in different environments and whether you can maintain your attention.  For some, it doesn’t bother them if people are walking by.  Others may look up at every person as they walk past.  Decide whether having activity around you is distracting or not.

Noise.  Noise is also an important factor to consider in planning your study environment.  Some students have better focus in areas without background noise, while others aren’t bothered by it.  For example, if you go to a coffee shop, you know that there will likely be background conversations as people order their coffee and talk with their friends.  Noise isn’t only caused by other people.  It can also be the radio, TV, or construction happening outside.  As you work in different environments, be mindful of your concentration and how it is affected by different noise levels.  Once you know how your body responds, you will have a better idea of what to look for in a study space.

Temptations.  Even if you have set up a study area that is best for you, sometimes temptations get the best of us.  It is easy to watch TV, talk on the phone, or get involved in your favorite activities if they are readily available to you while you study.  If you often find yourself getting involved in other activities while you should be studying, you may wish to study outside of the home to reduce potential distractions.

Physical Comfort.  How you feel within the environment is another important component in choosing your ideal study area.  If you constantly feel uncomfortable, it is hard to stay focused.  Choose spaces that have tables and chairs that meet your needs.  Also, consider whether the area has adequate lighting.  For example, it might be difficult to read somewhere that has dim lighting.  Air temperature is another consideration.  If you feel too hot or too cold, it will keep you from focusing on the task at hand. Finally, if you are a student who, whether for health reasons or for comfort, prefers to eat or drink while studying, find an area that allows food and drink in their facility.

Flexibility.  After you take a mindful approach to see how you react to different environments when studying, it will be easy to come up with a list of places that match your preference.  Remember to be flexible.  What works for you as an individual might not work if you change your study approach.  For example, you will likely have different needs if you are working with a partner or group.

Planned Breaks. Everyone has different capacities for concentration.  While working in an environment that suits you best will help sustain your focus, it is also important to recognize our individual differences.  Plan breaks as needed.  Two ways to plan a break is either by time or activity completion.  For example, if you find you can only concentrate for a half hour, schedule in purposeful break for every 30 minutes of studying.  If you find it is easier to take a break after completing a task, break up your reading, notes, or assignments into meaningful sections and take a break after your complete each one.

Now that we have covered what you can do to organize your time, materials, and space, we will be shifting to strategies to address specific skills you will need as you work your way through your post-secondary career.  Join us next time!

Project Management: How to Keep Procrastination at Bay

As we saw last week, having a system to manage our time is very important.  But if you often find yourself putting off tasks, you likely will not see the benefits.  Consistent procrastination can make situations more stressful than they need to be, and that ultimately can affect your ability to learn and recall class materials.  However, the following steps can make completing assignments and other tasks more manageable. 

Preview.  The first step of project management is to preview your assignment.  You will scan your syllabus or assignment directions to get an idea of what you need to do.  It is important to preview instructions as soon as you get them.  This will allow you to ask for clarification if you don’t understand something, as well as allow yourself enough time to complete the work.

Plan.  Once you have a good understanding of the assignment, you should break the assignment into logical and manageable goals.  While you can do this mentally, it can also be helpful to write a list.  Read through your list and prioritize the order in which goals need to be completed.  This visual representation will help keep you on track and make the assignment seem less overwhelming. 

Schedule.  This is where you should decide about how long each task will take and enter it into your scheduling system.  Having a set time to complete the tasks will minimize your tendency to procrastinate.  Try your best to be realistic about your timeline- it’s better to schedule too much time to complete a task than not enough.

Follow-Through.  Once you have done the previous steps, it is time to actually complete your tasks.  Follow your schedule as closely as possible.  It is important to give yourself time and space conducive to work.  If you’re still having trouble holding yourself accountable, schedule work times with classmates or tutors.

Rewards.  You should be proud of working hard to complete each step.  Many times, completing each step will make you feel more confident about your skills and interested in the assignment.  But at times it is hard to feel motivated.  If that’s the case, give yourself small rewards for completing different steps.  This could be scheduling time to do something you really enjoy in your free-time, making a phone call to a close friend, or buying yourself a small reward.

Flexibility.  While it is important to try to stick to your plan, sometimes it doesn’t work out the way you anticipated.  If you have given it an honest effort, you might need to make some changes with your plan or scheduling to better meet your needs.

Time and project management are essential components to success in the post-secondary setting.  Join us next time to learn more about other organizational skills that can help you achieve in your learning environment.

Time Management for Students

Managing time effectively can be one of the most challenging parts of being a student, especially when you consider all of the responsibilities confronting adult students. However, how you manage your time is one of the only aspects of college that you have total control over. Effective time management is the single most important empowerment tool for the overburdened college student. When determining how to most effectively manage your time, the following considerations are imperative.

The first step in taking control of your time is to find a specific time management system that works for you. Every effective time management system must have consistent schedule, which will allow you to save time, keep appointments, and gain a visual representation of your commitments. Although initially setting up a schedule/system may be time consuming, the long term time savings will be worth it. Having a calendar allows you to visually conceptualize your week, understand where you have pockets of time, and when you’ll be pressed for time. Your time management system must be written. If it’s not written down, it doesn’t exist.

The two most popular time management systems are either a digital time management system or a paper time management system, and it is essential to take into consideration your time management strengths and weaknesses while choosing your program. Many apps can be utilized to assist with time management which include: Google Calendar, Google Keep, and Remind 101.

Whether you chose a digital system or a paper system, the first thing that needs to be scheduled into your system is your class time. These blocks of time should include any commuting time that it will take you to get to and from your class. Then, schedule in work obligations and necessary activities of daily living such as breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Following those main blocks of time, you should schedule study time for yourself. For each hour in class time, you should be spending 2 hours studying/preparing. Conclude by adding your free time, social activities, and family obligations. Remember to include activities that you enjoy as rewards for keeping to your schedule.

When scheduling your study time, be honest about your concentration. If you know your concentration diminishes after an hour, do not schedule yourself for a four-hour, no-break study session. Based on your knowledge of your strengths and weaknesses, build in reasonable breaks between and during study sessions. Engaging in physical movement during these scheduled breaks can increase concentration when you return to studying.

You must also plan for the short-term and the long-term. Focusing on one aspect at the expense of the other can lead to scheduling conflicts and forgotten obligations. Not only should your schedule include daily classes and study sessions, you also need to consider long-term projects and papers. Start by looking at your syllabus to determine what projects/papers are going to be time consuming and will be a large part of your overall grade for the course. Take the time to break those assignments down into reasonable steps and establish deadlines for each step. This will help decrease the last-minute rush to complete your projects. Having them completed early will also allow you to get feedback from you professor prior to turning it in for a grade. Also allow time in your schedule to make appropriate edits based on others’ feedback.

There are a few common pitfalls that you want to be sure to avoid, especially when you first implement a time management system. Don’t take too much time to plan out your study schedule for the week. If your system of time management is too time consuming, chances are you are using this method of “time management” as a means of procrastination. Stick to your system. This does not mean become totally inflexible. Make sure your system can handle those unforeseen circumstances that affect us all.

Ultimately, the goal in managing your time is to put yourself in control. Following these simple strategies can help you to manage all of the responsibilities that adult students face. If you are struggling with creating or maintaining a time management system, the student Disability Services or Student Accessibility Services staff can help you to define your priorities and create an effective time management system. Join us next we as we discuss strategies to help stave off procrastination.

Assistive Technology

As we have been discussing in our most recent posts, accommodations, services available at your postsecondary institution, and private services can all be helpful in addressing the needs associated with your disability.  Another support comes in the form of assistive technology.  Assistive technology is a piece of equipment or product system that you can use to increase, maintain, or improve your functional capabilities.  If you have accommodations through a Section 504 Plan, assistive technology may be included as an accommodation.  Your Accessibility Office should be able to provide you access to some assistive technology.  You may also wish to invest in assistive technology of your own.  Below we will discuss common assistive technology tools that may be able to help you improve your performance as an adult student.

Reading Software.  If you have a disability that affects your reading skills, you will likely benefit from having access to reading software.  This is most helpful when you are able to read along with the text while you listen the audio recording.  Common examples of reading programs are:

  • Kurzweil3000.  This is a cloud-based services for reading.  Many colleges and universities can provide you free access to this program or other similar ones if you have a Section 504 Plan.
  • Learning Ally.  A collection of more than 75,000 digitally recorded textbooks and literature titles in audiobook format.
  • Google Read and Write.  An application that will work for the majority of webpages through Google Chrome. It includes text-to-speech, dictionary, translator, and word predictions.

Writing Software.  If you have a disability, you may wish to seek out assistive technology that addresses your written expression and spelling .  These could include:

  • Grammarly.  This application corrects grammatical mistakes, while also correcting contextual spelling errors and poor vocabulary usage. Grammarly can be useful in combination with a voice-to-text program, such as Dragon Speaking Naturally, in order to catch grammatical errors or determine the appropriate work usage in context.
  • Spelling and grammar checks on your word processing program, such as Word.  If you have a Section 504 Plan to address this area of need, you will likely be able to type in-class assignments and assessments.
  • Dictation.  You may also find dictation will aid you in your writing tasks.  Dictation programs change voice to text so that you can speak what is being written on your word processing program.  Dragon is one company that produces widely used speech recognition programs.

Audio Recording.  Being able to record your lecture can address many needs such as writing, processing speed, and attention deficits.  Check with your institution’s Accessibility Office to learn more about your school’s recording policies.

  • Most phones now have the ability to record.  This may be less obtrusive than other recording tools.
  • Smartpens.  A Smartpen is a pen you can use to write notes that also records audio.  Depending on the type of pen you get, you can transfer your notes with audio to your computer.  Livescribe is one company that produces a variety of smartpens.

Organizational Apps.  If you have a disability that affects your memory or organizational skills, you may find organizational tools helpful. 

  • Write your schedule in your calendar app.
  • Set reminders and alarms for complete tasks.
  • Google Keep.  Google Keep is an app that allows you to make notes to yourself, set reminders, and keep checklists in an organized way.

The information above are just a few of many of the assistive technology available to you.  As technology continues to advance, we are able to seamlessly integrate assistive technology into our lives to meet areas of need we may experience.  Now that we have covered services and technology to help you in your postsecondary career, we will be focusing on strategies you can implement to help you have success as an adult student.

Accommodations for Adult Students

In a previous post, we shared about the differences you will likely see between services and accommodations a student might receive in the K-12 and postsecondary settings.  While students in a college or vocational setting will not be provided direct services to remediate learning deficits like they would with an IEP in the K-12 setting, students with disabilities still have rights that will protect them at the postsecondary level.  Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act makes it clear that “no otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States…shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”  While an IEP and the services it ensures does not continue once you graduate from high school, under Section 504 an individual with a disability is defined as someone with a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities.  If you are a student with a disability, your postsecondary institution must provide reasonable accommodation to address your specific disability.  The accommodations you may receive will be linked to your areas of need.  Below are a variety of common accommodations that are frequently used by students with disabilities.  It is important that you meet with the person responsible for providing services to students with disabilities at your educational setting.  They will be able to give you more information about all of the accommodations and services they can offer.

Classroom Accommodations

  • Depending on your disability, you will likely need accommodations within the classroom setting.  These may include:
  • Copy of notes.  This may come in the form of a copy of the teacher’s slides or a copy of notes taken by another student in the class.
  • Assistive technology.  This may include things like typing written responses instead of hand writing them to allow you to spell check them.  You may also be able to audio record class lectures.
  • Preferential seating.  This could vary depending on the type of disability you may have.  For example, if you have visual, hearing, or attention issues related to your disability, you may prefer to sit nearest to the point of instruction.  If you experience anxiety or have a medical diagnosis that might require you to leave the room if you are experiencing symptoms, you might prefer to sit near the end of the row closest to the door.
  • Breaks as appropriate.
  • Extra time to complete in-class assignments. This accommodation may be provided if it takes you longer to complete tasks based on your disability.

Testing Accommodations

  • Taking assessments in a reduced distraction environment.
  • Extra time on assessments.  For most disabilities, postsecondary organizations typically allow an additional 50% to complete assessments.
  • Read aloud.  Tests may be read allowed to students who have significant reading deficits or visual impairments. 
  • Typing written responses.
  • For the next blog, we will share about additional services that postsecondary organizations may offer and how to find private services if you need additional supports.

Addressing Unhelpful Thinking Styles: A Coping Strategy for Students Experiencing Anxiety

We are pleased to welcome Katie D’Fantis to the Achievement Advantage Blog.   Katie is an LPC, a board certified music therapist, and an EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) clinician who works with teens and adults. She specializes in helping those who struggle with relationship issues, anxiety, and issues of self worth that stem from adverse life events such as grief/loss, abuse, and other traumatic experiences.  You can learn more about Katie's experience and services she offers, by visiting The Balanced Living Center's website.

overwhelmingthoughts.jpg

You can often hear me ask my clients “Where do you feel [that emotion] in your body?” And very often when the emotion they’re feeling is anxiety, my clients say they feel it in their head like “a dark cloud” or “a tornado” or like “static on a television set”. If you have ever struggled with anxiety, then you know that anxiety clouds your thoughts, perceptions and beliefs about yourself, others, and your experiences within the world. I have heard countless stories from my clients who are students and/or professionals about how these unhelpful ways of thinking have gotten in the way of their school work, preparing for a test or presentation, trying something new, or going out with friends on the weekend. As we embark on a new school year - a time when anxiety can run high - I want to share with you a tool that I find myself teaching almost every one of my clients at some point in our work together.

Below is a list of Unhelpful Thinking Styles. These are unhelpful ways of thinking that we all use from time to time and you may find that there are a select few that you use more often. Here are the steps to using this as a coping skill to develop more helpful ways of thinking:

Read
Read through the left column and take note of which unhelpful thinking styles you have used in the past/noticed yourself using presently. Become familiar with the ones you use most often.

Notice
Over the next week, just notice when you use an unhelpful thinking style. You will most likely notice you’ve used it after the fact; this is completely normal and is a step in the right direction!

Name It
Once you’ve noticed it, name the unhelpful thinking style. Just naming it and calling it what it is helps to diminish its power in the moment. For example, “I’m totally going to bomb this test! ...oh wait, that was me jumping to conclusions. I always do that before a big test, don’t I?!”

Work To Change It
Now it’s time to familiarize yourself with the right column of the page. These alternative responses are the ideal/more positive ways of thinking.  Over time and with continued work to improve your self-awareness, you’ll become better at noticing when you use these unhelpful thinking styles. Then you can work to change them by substituting the unhelpful thought with the alternative responses. Or, better yet, you’ll be able to anticipate the unhelpful thought, stop it before it happens, and the alternative responses will become your default way of thinking.

Wood, J.C. (2010).  The cognitive behavioral therapy workbook for personality disorders: A step-by-step program.  Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Wood, J.C. (2010). The cognitive behavioral therapy workbook for personality disorders: A step-by-step program. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Mastering these steps will take practice. Don’t forget to have compassion for yourself and to be patient. Think about it this way, you’ve likely spent years perfecting these unhelpful styles as your default, so naturally it would take time to change your default way of thinking. Practice makes permanent.

Wishing you all a successful start to the school year!

The Difference Between K-12 and Postsecondary Services for Individuals with Disabilities

As more and more students with disabilities are accessing postsecondary educational options, the need for information and services beyond high school continues to grow. The first step in accessing those services is to understand the similarities and differences in services between K-12 and postsecondary education.  The key lies in the laws that regulate those services.

Similarities Between K-12 and Postsecondary Education

The similarity between K-12 and postsecondary educational settings is that all individuals with disabilities are entitled to accommodations. These accommodations are guaranteed under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which aim to level the playing field between those with and without disabilities. These laws cover individuals from birth to death, so these accommodations are available to those in all educational settings and beyond.

Differences Between K-12 and Postsecondary Education

Although all individuals with disabilities are guaranteed accommodations in all educational and occupational settings, individuals with disabilities may only receive direct services to address their deficits during their K-12 experience. This is because services for individuals from ages 3 to 21 are also covered under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). IDEA ensures that those who met eligibility criteria for special education receive direct instruction supports and services to meet goals outlined in their IEP, in addition to any accommodations they may need. This is a higher level of support than what is provided under Section 504 or ADA. In a postsecondary and work settings, only Section 504 and ADA apply, and therefore adults are only promised access to accommodations.  There is no requirement to provide specialized services beyond reasonable accommodations. For our adult clients, this can be quite the transition.

Now that we under have established an understanding of the differences between services in educational settings, we will continue to talk about services in the college or postsecondary level.

The Top 4 Things First Year College Students Worry About

This week, please welcome Natalie Borrell as our next guest blogger.  Natalie is an academic life coach at Life Success for TeensShe works with teens and young adult to teach them skills they will need to be successful in high school and college.  This week, Natalie is sharing about what many first-year college students worry about, along with information they should have as they start college.

Here’s a secret that many recent high school graduates will adamantly deny. They are TERRIFIED about heading off to college. Even though they may pretend to be relaxed and ready, there are likely several things that are weighing heavy on their minds.

The first step to helping your teen handle their anxiety is to be aware of what they really fear about the whole college experience.  Here are a few of the top fears I hear from my clients:

Am I smart enough?
Many teens wonder if they will be able to continue to earn A’s and B’s like they did in high school. Even students who have taken honors and AP classes in high school often worry that they may not be able handle the increased work load that will inevitably come with college level course work. One student recently said to me, “Everyone in college is going to be smart.  What if I can’t compete?”

What your teen needs to know:
The best recipe for academic success in college includes three things: time management, organization, and using your resources (study centers, professor office hours, tutoring, etc.)

What if my roommate is weird?
Moving out of your parents’ home and into a small space with a stranger can be nerve wracking. It’s a great lesson in learning to tolerate other people’s differences. My freshman year roommate ate onions like they were apples. I learned to live with the smell.

What your teen needs to know:
Compromise is key. They will need to find a way to respect each other’s space and needs. It’s good to remember that Resident Assistants are trained to help work out any roommate differences.

What if I get homesick?
Missing your family and your dog is completely normal. Many teens worry that they won’t adjust well to college life and will end up coming home. One of my clients set up a weekly Skype date with her parents and siblings. She knew she could call them anytime, but looked forward to her set aside weekly family time.

What your teen needs to know:
It’s ok to have some bad days and want to go home. It can be helpful to fill your time with activities that make you happy. Try taking a workout class, joining a club, or playing an intermural sport. The more connected you are to other people, the stronger your support system will be. If the homesick feelings don’t go away, make sure you talk to a friend, your Resident Assistant, or go to the counseling center for some extra support.

How am I going to pay for all of this?
In addition to the cost of tuition, your teen needs to eat, purchase books, and have some extra spending money. Where does all of that money come from? How to get money, how to spend it, and how to have enough to last are all important skills they will need to learn.

What your teen needs to know:
Cheaper meals, books, and entertainment do exist. Make sure you shop around for deals, use coupons, and seek out free activities. Look for a part time job that would allow you to study at work. Don’t open up multiple credit cards. The free blanket isn’t worth it.

A Counselor's Take on Depression in Adult Students

We are excited to introduce our first guest blogger, Lauren O’Brien, a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor who works with older children through adult clients at Lifestance/PsychBC in Fairlawn, Ohio.  While she works with many clients with a variety of needs, Lauren specializes in treating clients with depression and anxiety.  You can learn more about her background and services by visiting her Facebook page or her Psychology Today page.  We hope you find her insight helpful!

“Where does depression hurt?  Everywhere.”  I think about this commercial when working with clients because, although the verbiage seems cliché, it is quite true.  Even though the commercial may be talking about everywhere in regards to the physical body, when working with my clients we discuss how “everywhere” can refer to many facets of life.  For the sake of this blog post, let’s use school and work.  Depression is often a vicious cycle of minimal motivation, disinterest in self-care or hygiene, withdrawal, decrease in self-esteem or self-worth, and the cycle continues. 

Let’s put this into play with a fictional student named Rob.  Rob has low self-esteem and recently has been experiencing depressed mood.  He has not been feeling well and has minimal motivation to do ADL’s, or activities of daily living. Rob has skipped his morning shower for the last few days, and this morning is disgusted with his greasy hair and unpleasant body odor.  He normally plays softball in a recreational league on Tuesdays and Thursdays but has felt that the past two weeks the team is better off without him.  He has turned down many opportunities over the last two weeks to spend time with friends and has begun to miss classes at his university.

Using the example of Rob, it appears he struggled with depressed mood and ultimately it affected his self-esteem, relationships, school status and probably several other facets of his life.  I can only imagine that if Rob’s cycle would continue without help, it would continue to hinder social interactions, hygiene, relationships and jeopardize his status as a student at his university. Depressive thoughts can contribute to irrational thought processes, and those thoughts can trigger emotions and behaviors. In therapy, I like to use thought logs to assist in challenging irrational beliefs.  A thought log looks something like this:

  1. Event: Received F  on Test
  2. Thought: I'm the stupidest person that has ever existed
  3. Consequence (Emotion or Behavior): Embarrassment, Sadness, Shame, Withdrawal from Classes
  4. Alternative Response: OK- I bombed that test.  How can I better prepare myself for next time?

I challenge my clients by utilizing an exercise like this in daily life to help alter thought processes. 

Coping skills can assist in diminishing symptoms. Some of the coping skills that I recommend to clients are keeping a schedule, exercising, journaling, staying involved with friends and family members, and reaching out to a trusted person when the thoughts get the best of you.

I feel there are times in every student’s life where they may experience symptoms of depression; that does not necessarily mean this student has a depression diagnosis but is experiencing depressive symptoms.  Even if you don’t have a diagnosis, it is important to seek out the support you need.  Partnering with a mental health provider can often help you work through periods of depressed mood.  Most postsecondary education institutes have counseling centers that provide services, or you may prefer to find a counselor in a private practice setting.  If you do have a diagnosis, you can visit your institution’s Accessibility Office, who can help you secure appropriate accommodations.  Your mental health provider will be able to write them a letter including information about how your diagnosis impacts your life and what supports you need to be a successful student.

Depression can become overwhelming and at times can lead to suicidal thoughts or plans.  Sadly, suicide is the second leading cause of death in people aged 15-34 as reported by the Center for Disease Control.  There are resources for students who feel suicidal.  Thanks to Logic, the Grammy nominated artist, the national suicide hotline has become more recognizable.  It is 1-800-273-8255.

If Rob sounds like you or someone you know, there is help.  Should you need further assistance, there are plenty of therapists out there who are willing to help, including myself.  Please know that depression is workable, and with the right support and assistance, you can work through the symptoms.  I’m here for you, you are not alone.

Adult Students

Many people are surprised when we tell them that our school psychology practice has many adult clients.  In fact, at least half of our clients have already completed their K-12 education by the time they see us. 

Why might adults need services to support their learning?  Even though we tend to think of children when we think of students, adults are students too!  And just like children, they have a wide variety of experiences that lead them to seek school psychological services.  Some come to us already having a diagnosis but needing updated assessment and documentation for accommodations.  Others come never having been diagnosed before.  Generally, these students have experienced a lot of struggles in their K-12 experience but, for whatever reason, they never received any special education services or accommodations.  Sometimes these are traditional college students who have even greater difficulties in college.  Others are adults who, because they had such negative learning experiences, go back to school later in life but want to get answers and support to help make their college a better experience.  Other adult students have gotten vocational training but need accommodations to do well on their board exams.  And the list of circumstances in which adult students find themselves is endless.

Many adults need services to facilitate their learning including assessment, tutoring, or mental health supports.  We will be dedicating our future blogs to address topics of interest to our adult learners.  Please check back to learn more about strategies you can implement in the postsecondary setting and resources that can support you.  We will also be inviting guest bloggers to share about their areas of expertise. 

IEP: Accommodations and Modifications

Since we have been talking about IEPs, in this blog we will be discussing an important component of IEPs: accommodations and modifications.  These are listed in Section 7 of your student’s IEP.  While specifically designed instruction includes the services that your student will receive to address their needs, accommodations and modifications refer to changes that can be made in the learning environment and assignments or assessments. 

Accommodations are changes in your student’s learning environment to provide them equal access to grade-level content.  Because everyone who has an IEP has such a unique profile, accommodations may vary widely, but every accommodation should be directly linked to the child’s needs.  For example, some may include additional time on assignments and tests, taking tests in a reduced distraction environment, audiobooks, frequent breaks, etc.  Similar to the specifically designed instruction portion of this IEP section, the team must list each specific accommodation, as well as the amount of time and frequency of the accommodations. 

Modifications refers to changes in the curriculum and assessments.  This means that while accommodations are generally meant to help students be able to access and achieve at grade-level standards, modifications reduce learning expectations.  Modifications tend to be reserved for a small portion of special education students with the greatest levels of need.

Accommodations and modifications are also addressed in Section 12 of the IEP which outlines information about statewide and district wide testing.  The team indicates whether the student will take assessments in each academic area (including reading, writing, math, science, social studies, and other) with accommodations or as a modified assessment.  If taken with accommodations, the team must list detail of accommodations.

Now that we have covered everything you need to know about the important components of an IEP, we will be shifting to what happens after K-12 to focus on adult learners in upcoming blog posts.  

IEP: Specifically Designed Instruction

In our last blog, we discussed the central component of an effective IEP: SMART goals. This week, we will discuss the complimentary portion of the IEP, which is Section 7. This section spells out the specially designed instruction, sometimes abbreviated SDI, that your child will receive to reach the objectives and goals that are described in Section 6. This section outlines what services the child will get, who is responsible for providing these services, the location of the services, and the amount of time that the child will receive these services.

We cannot express the importance of this section enough; this section explains what special education will look like for your child. Each area of specially designed instruction will be linked with the goal or goals that it is intended to address. The most important portion of the section is what specially designed services will be provided to your child. It is imperative that these supports are research-based interventions and services. However, it is not enough that they be research-based. The research must show that they improve the specific deficits that your child is identified as having. There must be a direct link between the need, the goal, and the service that is based on best practice and is supported by empirical literature.

Who is providing that service to your child is just as important. This is frequently driven by the location of services. If your child will receive their services using an inclusion model, typically these services will be the responsibility of the general education teacher and the intervention specialist. If your child is to receive their services in a resource room or self-contained classroom, these services are typically the sole responsibility of the intervention specialist. If your child qualifies for related services, then the provider may be a speech/language pathologist, occupational therapist, physical therapist, or specialized expert such as an orientation or mobility specialist.

Another extremely important factor is the amount of time that your child will be receiving these services. The amount of time your child receives specially designed instruction should be directly related to the intensity of need that the child has. The more intensive the need, the more direct special education services the child should receive. Additionally, the more goals a child has, the more special education services they should receive. After the team details the instructional, behavioral, and functional goals in section 7, the same process will be repeated for any related services that your child qualifies to receive.

Next week we will be discussing the second half of Section 7, which is accommodations and modifications.

How to Make Smart IEP Goals

The goal of an IEP is to explicitly lay out the services and supports that your child will receive in order to meet your child’s educational needs as outlined in the Evaluation Team Report (ETR). The ETR and IEP are inextricably linked due to the fact that only data-supported needs directly stated within your child’s ETR will be addressed as goals in your child’s IEP. That is why we cannot stress enough the importance of a quality evaluation which should lead to a high-quality IEP. It is essential that each need is addressed with a specific goal to improve the child’s skills in the areas of deficit.

As stated in our previous blog, there are many sections that comprise an IEP.

Depending on the nature of your child’s disability, specific sections may hold a higher level of importance than it would for another child or family. No matter what the child’s needs are the most important portion of the IEP is Section 6, which comprises the goals and objectives for the child’s educational, behavioral, and functional goals for that calendar year. These goals are the core of a child’s IEP, and the specially designed instructional services and supports that your child receives in special education are all designed around accomplishing those individualized goals. After ensuring that all each area of identified deficit is matched by a goal, the next step is to evaluate the effectiveness of each individual goal.

Each goal within a child’s IEP must meet the standard that is set out in the acronym SMART:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable/Attainable
  • Realistic and Relevant
  • Time-limited

The first portion of a SMART IEP goal is that the goal is specific. The requirement of specificity applies to the present levels of performance, the goals, and the objectives. The goal must be specific to your child and their needs as well as specific to the academic, behavioral or functional area that will be addressed. A specific IEP goal clearly describes the knowledge or skill that your child will learn and how the team will measure your child’s progress and mastery of that goal.

The second portion of a SMART IEP goal is that the goal is measurable. This applies to both the overarching goal and the underlying objectives required to meet the overall goal. The most important part of a goal being measurable is that you can count or observe the goal. That means that the goal is something that both parents and teachers are able to objectively measure whether or not the child is making progress toward that goal. Most academic goals are easily measurable; however, this is particularly important when assessing the quality of a social-emotional/behavioral or functional goals. The goal should also describe what data collection methods will be utilized to assess your child’s progress toward that goal and how frequently that progress will be reported to you.

The third part of ensuring that your child’s IEP contains SMART goals is that it must be achievable or attainable for your child. This portion of the goal directly relates to the present level of performance for your child. This can be done by comparing how they are currently achieving in that area and determine whether or not that specific goal is achievable for your child within one calendar year. The goal must maintain a balance between being not rigorous enough, too rigorous, and being achievable/attainable.

To ensure that your child’s IEP contains SMART goals, the goal must also be realistic and relevant. The IEP goals and objectives must be crafted to meet the unique needs that result from your child’s disability as identified in the child’s ETR. The means that the goals must be specifically designed to meet the needs that your child’s disability has demonstrated. It is essential that the goals are relevant to the precise needs that have been determined by the team.

The last portion of a SMART IEP goal is that the goal is time-limited. This means that the goal is designed to address what your child needs to learn or do in one year of special education services. A time-limited goal enables the child’s progress to be monitored at regular intervals. Typically, this is done through creating short-term objectives that the child will meet in order to obtain the overall goal.

The next blog installment will discuss the importance of the specially designed instruction section of an IEP.

What should I do if I disagree with the results of my child's evaluation?

Over the past few weeks, we have been writing about the evaluation process and the IEP process that follows when a team decides that a student has a disability.  Many times, the school team and parents agree about whether the child has a disability, and what needs the child has.  When this happens, the team is able to is able to use the information from the assessment to come up with a plan to best meet the student’s needs through the creation of an IEP.

Unfortunately, not all evaluations go as smoothly, and you may disagree with the school’s findings.  Eligibility determination meetings, where teams decide whether students qualify for special education services, can be stressful and emotional.  This is especially true when all team members are not on the same page.  We will be visiting some of the options you have so that you can make the best decision for you and your child during these meetings.

First, do not feel pressure to make a decision in the moment if you do not feel comfortable doing so.  At the end of the ETR, parents are asked to sign and date the document and check the “agree” or “disagree” box.  You may find that the team’s report reflects what you know to be true about your child.  In this case, you may be comfortable agreeing with the evaluation at the time of the meeting.  On the other hand, there may be times in which you know that you disagree with the findings of the report and will choose to disagree.  When you disagree, you will be asked to write a statement to provide information about why you disagree with the findings.  You do not have to do this on the spot; in fact, it is probably a better option to write a letter to the school district once you go home and are able to review the information and organize your thoughts.  Other times, you may not be sure about whether you completely agree or disagree with the findings.  In this case, we recommend that you sign and date the evaluation to indicate that you were in attendance and to note that you will be reviewing the report before making a final decision.  If you are feeling conflicted, you do not need to make any decisions in the moment, even if you feel pressure to do so.  It is reasonable to be able to take more time to look over the information that has been provided in the evaluation to make an informed decision.  While you do not want to take too long to decide, a day or two can make you feel more comfortable in knowing that you are making the best choice for your child.

If you disagree with the ETR, you have the right to an Individual Educational Evaluation (IEE).  IEEs are evaluations conducted by a qualified examiner who is not employed by the school district responsible for the education of your child.  They must be funded by the school district if you disagree with the results of their evaluation.  Often, a school district may be able to provide you with a list of practitioners who conduct psychoeducational evaluations.  You have the right to choose your own evaluator, so feel free to do your own research and decide who you would like to evaluate your child, even if they are not on the list provided by your district.  After the IEE, the team will reconvene to decide if the new information changes your child’s special education eligibility.  The IEEs should provided additional information that will make it clearer whether or not your child qualifies for special education services.  Many disagreements can be rectified through the IEE.  However, if there is continued conflict between you and your team, or you do not feel they appropriately take the information from the IEE into account, you may wish to seek legal counsel to guide you in Due Process.

Difference between an IEP and a Section 504 Plan

Although an Evaluation Team Report (ETR) and an Individual Educational Program (IEP) are required for a child to receive special education and related services, there is another type of plan that is available to support children with disabilities: A Section 504 Plan. This is an individualized plan that serves as a blueprint for specific accommodations and changes to the learning environment that a child requires in order to have access to the curriculum. Under Section 504, there is no list of approved disabling conditions; therefore, it covers a wide variety of disabling conditions. Instead, the law describes a person with a disability as someone who “has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities,” has a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment. Frequently, children with diagnoses of attention disorders and medical conditions receive school supports through a Section 504 Plan. Major life activities can include: caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, concentrating, and working. Common accommodations found on a 504 Plan include: frequent breaks, extended time, small group testing, and prompting/cueing. An evaluation is required to determine if the child meets these criteria and is eligible to receive accommodations through a 504 Plan. Typically, these plans are reviewed and updated on a yearly basis to ensure that they continue to meet the child’s needs.

There are two defining differences between a child who has a 504 Plan and a child who has an IEP: the laws that regulate these plans and the services outlined on the plan. The first major difference is the law under which they are housed. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) are federal laws that prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities and provide protection for those individuals. It is under these laws that individuals with disabilities are afforded Section 504 Plans. Individuals from birth to death are covered under these non-discrimination laws. Therefore, the accommodations that are necessary to level the playing field for the individual are provided in a variety of settings across the individual’s lifespan. The special education services outlined on an IEP are protected under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This is the federal law that ensures special education services are provided to children with disabilities. IDEA has more stringent eligibility criteria; a student must meet the definition of 1 of 13 disability categories and must require specially designed instruction in order to make educational progress. When a student meets eligibility criteria under IDEA, that is when a IEP is created. IDEA is a special education law specifically for school-aged students. Individuals are no longer protected under IDEA once they either graduate from high school or are 21 years of age. This means the protections of IDEA do not extend to college and adult life. Many times individuals who were provided services under an IEP K-12 education are transitioned to Section 504 Plans in college.

The second difference is the content of the plans. A Section 504 Plan is designed to provide equal access to individuals with disabilities and level the playing field with non-disabled people to mitigate discrimination. Therefore, Section 504 Plans are made up of specific accommodation supports for the child. It also specifies who is responsible to provide each support and the individuals who are responsible for ensuring that the plan is implemented. The purpose of an IEP is to design an individualized special education program with specific learning goals and objectives and describe the specially designed services that the child requires to meet those goals. An IEP also provides accommodations that would be incorporated into a 504 Plan, but it goes beyond accommodations with specialized educational services. The law specifies many more components that must be included in an IEP. The contents of an IEP were covered in our last blog. Essentially, a 504 Plan provides accommodations and supports in order to provide the individual access to the educational environment, while an IEP provides specific instructional supports in order to teach specific skills to meet measurable educational and functional goals.

Eligibility under either law requires that the school must provide a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) for the student and provide additional legal protections based on the identification of child as having a disability. Due to the fact that Section 504’s has a broader definition of disability than IDEA’s definition, this means that many more children are provided protection under this law and are eligible for a plan under Section 504 than are eligible for an IEP. Therefore, many children who are not eligible for special education services or the team does not believe that specialized instruction is necessary are referred to determine their eligibility under Section 504. A Section 504 Plan can provide the appropriate level of support for a student who requires the support of accommodations in order to level the playing field to ensure that they have equal access to the curriculum.

Individualized Education Program (IEP)

Once your child qualifies for special education through the Evaluation Team Report (ETR), the team’s hard work isn’t over yet.  They still need to create an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for your child.  The IEP is a legal document that is the plan of how the team will address your child’s needs and help them make gains.  In Ohio, the IEP must be completed within 30 days of the ETR meeting date. 

At the IEP meeting, you and your child, if appropriate, will meet with your child’s IEP team, which includes a general education teacher, special education teacher, district representative, and any other appropriate related service provider (speech/language pathologist, occupational therapist, etc.).

For most disability categories, the IEP is made up of 14 sections.  There is an additional section for children with visual impairments. 

Section 1: Future Planning
The first part of the IEP includes information about future planning.  This is where the parents’ input about what they hope to see in the future for their child is included.  It should also include information about the student’s interests and what they would like to be when they are adults.

Section 2: Special Instructional Factors
In the second part of the IEP, the team answers “yes” or “no” questions about the child regarding behavior, English proficiency, whether they have visual impairments, communication needs, requires assistive technology, or specially designed physical education. 

Section 3: Profile
The third section addresses your child’s profile.  This should include relevant assessment data, including data from the Evaluation Team Report (ETR) and other standardized and classroom assessments.

Section 4: Postsecondary Transition
The fourth section is only required for those who will be 14 years old during the length of the IEP, but may also be completed for younger students if appropriate.  It includes a statement about the transition services your child will need based on their course of study.  For those older than 16, data from transition assessments will also be included.

Section 5: Postsecondary Transition Services
For those students who are 15 or older, the fifth part of the IEP must be completed.  This included goals regarding postsecondary education and training, employment, and independent living.

Section 6: Measurable Annual Goals
The sixth section of the IEP is the goals that address your child’s needs.  It is important that these are directly linked with the information provided in the ETR so that the team is sure that they are specifically working on the student’s areas of difficulty.  Section 6 will provide information about the area of need, the present level of performance (based on assessment results), a measurable annual goal, and measurable objectives that will help your child reach that goal.  It will also include information about how your child’s performance on this goal will be measured, and how and when they will provide you information about your child’s progress.  Each area of need will have its own goals and objectives.

Section 7: Description(s) of Specially Designed Services
The seventh section of the IEP provides information about the types of services your child will receive, which goals those services are meant to address, who will provide those services, where the services will be provided, and the amount of time and how often they will be provided.  This section not only provides information about how your child’s needs will be addressed by teachers, but also includes information about related services, assistive technology, accommodations, modifications, and medical services your child may require, as well as support that the school personnel may need.

Section 8: Transportation as a Related Service
This part of the IEP determines if your child has any transportation needs do to their disability, and what types of accommodations or modifications may address those needs.

Section 9: Nonacademic and Extracurricular Activities
This section lists ways in which your child has the opportunity to participate in nonacademic and extracurricular activities with peers that do not qualify for special education.

Section 10: General Factors
The tenth section of the IEP ensures that the team has considered your child’s strengths, your concerns, results of evaluations, performance on state or district testing, your child’s needs, and whether your child needs extended school year (ESY) services.

Section 11: Least Restrictive Environment
This section addresses whether your child will attend the school they would be normally attended if they did not qualify for special education services, and whether your child will receive all special education services with nondisabled peers.  If not, the team must provide a justification about why the child needs to be provided services in a different setting. 

Section 12: Statewide and District Wide Testing
This part of the IEP addresses state- and district-wide testing that will take place during the length of the IEP.  It included what types of accommodations will be provided for each area of assessment and whether the student should take a modified assessment.  It also addresses whether your child will be excused form passing state assessments required for graduation.

Section 13: Meeting Participants
All team members who attend the IEP meeting should sign this section of the IEP to indicate their participation in the IEP process.

Section 14: Signatures
Parents will check specific boxes and sign to indicate what services listed in the IEP they consent to.  If your child is 17, you and your child will both sign to transfer safeguard rights to the student once they turn 18 years old.  The team will also indicate if they provided a copy of the Procedural Safeguards Notice and a copy of the IEP to you or when it was sent to you.

Section 15: Children with Visual Impairments
If your child has qualified for special education services due to a visual impairment, the IEP team must complete this section.  It addresses the reading and writing media in which reading and writing instruction will be provided to meet your child’s educational needs.

The School-Based Evaluation Process

After the team agrees a disability is suspected, a school-based evaluation will be initiated. There are three stages to the school-based evaluation process: the planning and consent, the evaluation process, and the eligibility determination. The school-based evaluation process is known as the Evaluation Team Report (ETR). You may also hear it referred to as a Multi-Factored Evaluation (MFE), which is the term used prior to ETR. Through this process, typically, the school psychologist is the team chairperson and is best able to respond to your questions.

Planning and Consent
From the date that the team suspects that your child may have a disability, the school has 30 days to gain your consent for an evaluation. Within that 30-day period, the team will hold at ETR planning meeting. Typically, this meeting consists of you, your child’s general education teacher, intervention specialist, school psychologist, and district administrator. This meeting is designed to gain your informed consent for the school team to conduct an evaluation of your child. At this meeting, the team will discuss which areas of disability are suspected under IDEA. These are the thirteen categories in which the team can suspect that your child meets disability criteria under: Autism, Deaf-Blindness, Deafness, Emotional Disturbance, Hearing Impairment, Intellectual Disability, Multiple Disabilities, Orthopedic Impairment, Other Health Impairment, Specific Learning Disability, Speech or Language Impairment, Traumatic Brain Injury or Visual Impairment Including Blindness. Then, the team will develop an evaluation plan based on the reason for referral and the areas of disability that are suspected. This is done through completing the following documents: Referral for Evaluation (PR-04), ETR Planning Form, Parent Consent for Evaluation (PR-05), and Prior Written Notice (PR-01).

The Referral for Evaluation (PR-04) form explains the reason that your child is being referred for an evaluation. The reason for referral is supported by information regarding your child’s educational history, attendance, background information, health data, and environmental factors. The ETR planning form determines which assessments will be completed and incorporated in your child’s evaluation. This form details all of the assessment areas that are related to the suspected disability categories, whether or not current data is available in those areas, whether or not additional information will be collected in a particular area, and who is responsible for conducting the assessment. The planning form drives the entire evaluation; therefore, it is extremely important that you are comfortable with the things that are detailed on this form, and you agree that it will provide a comprehensive evaluation for your child. The Parent Consent for Evaluation (PR-05) is the document in which you grant your voluntary, informed consent for the school team to put the evaluation plan into action. Signing the consent form also verifies that you received a copy of the A Guide to Parents Right in Special Education, which is a document detailing your rights and your child’s rights through this process, and that you understand the all the information provided. The district should also provide you with a Prior Witten Notice (PR-01), which explains the type of action the district is proposing to take and an explanation as to why the district is proposing that action. We would recommend asking for a copy of the paperwork for your records.

Throughout the evaluation process, new areas of concerns may arise that the team will want to assess further. In order to evaluate additional areas, the team must amend the planning form. Adjustments to the planning form can only be made with your express consent. Another Prior Written Notice (PR-01) should be provided to you detailing the amendments made and the data supporting why additional assessment is necessary.

Evaluation
From the date that you attend the planning meeting and grant your consent for your child to go through the ETR process, the school has 60 days to complete the evaluation and hold an ETR results/eligibility determination meeting. During this 60-day period, the multidisciplinary team will complete assessments in all of the areas indicated on the ETR planning form. Typically, the multidisciplinary team consists of the parent, school psychologist, general education teacher, intervention specialist, speech/language pathologist, occupational therapist, and a district representative. Other team members can be added depending on the areas of concern. Almost all psychoeducational evaluations will include assessment in the following areas: standardized assessment in the areas of cognition, academic achievement, communicative status, and social/emotional skills; information provided by parent; background information; observation; progress in the general curriculum; data from interventions; and vision and hearing screenings. Depending on the referral concerns and the disability suspected the team can also assess: fine motor skills; gross motor skills; adaptive skills; behavior; physical exam/general health; vocational/transition; Braille needs; audiological needs; and Assistive Technology needs. These assessments are almost exclusively conducted in a one-on-one testing session with the individual with expertise in that particular area.  

The ETR document has four separate sections. After completing the testing portion of their evaluation, each examiner completes what is known as a Part 1. A Part 1 is a written report that is divided into three sections. In the first section of a Part 1, each evaluator summarizes the results of the assessments that they conducted with the student. The results section should be data driven. It will provide the standard scores that your child received on the assessment in order to compare them to their same aged peers across the country as well as a narrative description of the assessment given and describe the specific areas of strength and weakness your child demonstrated. The assessor then completes the Part 1 by providing a descriptor of the child’s educational needs based on the testing results and the implications that those needs have on the student’s instruction and progress monitoring.

Part 2 of the ETR is a Team Summary. Each evaluator summarizes their evaluation results, needs, and implications into a team summary that provides a brief overview of the evaluation. This should provide a cohesive summary of your child’s strength and weaknesses in relation to all assessment performed and information gathered.

Part 3 of the ETR is specific to children who are suspected of having a Specific Learning Disability. This portion of the ETR is where the team determines the areas in which the child meets criteria for having a learning disability in: Basic Reading Skill, Reading Fluency Skills, Reading Comprehension, Written Expression, Mathematics Calculation, Mathematics Problem Solving, Oral Expression, and Listening Comprehension. This is also the portion in which the team summarizes the data utilized to support the eligibility decision in those areas utilizing either a response to scientific, research-based intervention or a pattern of strength and weaknesses. The team must also determine that the learning disability is not due to any of the exclusionary factors: a vision, hearing, or motor disability; mental retardation; emotional disturbance; Limited English Proficiency; environmental or economic disadvantage or cultural factors. The team must also document that the student’s underachievement is not due to a lack of appropriate instruction. 

The ETR culminates in Part 4, which is the eligibility determination section. All four of these components comprise a complete ETR.

Eligibility Determination
Part 4 of the ETR remains incomplete until the entire team meets for an eligibility determination meeting, which is held within 60 days you granting consent for the evaluation. In this section, the team must answer three questions in order to determine whether or not a student meets eligibility criteria for special education and related services including: is the determining factor for the child’s poor performance not due to a lack of appropriate instruction in reading and math or the child’s limited English proficiency; does the child meet the state criteria for having a disability based on the data provided in the document; and does the child demonstrate an educational need that requires specially designed instruction. If the answer is yes to all three of these questions, then the child is eligible for special education services under one of the thirteen IDEA categories. Following the ETR meeting, the school has 14 days to finalize the document and send a copy to the parent.

If your child meets eligibility criteria for having a disability under IDEA, then the next step is for the team to create an Individual Education Program (IEP), which we will discuss in our next post.