Important Areas of Reading Instruction

In 2000, the National Reading Panel, consisting of members of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHC), published a major study, which indicated there are five main areas that should be focused on to teach children how to read efficiently: Phonemic/Phonological Awareness, Phonics, Fluency, Vocabulary, and Text Comprehension.

Phonemic Awareness

Phonemic/Phonological awareness refers to the capacity to identify and manipulate phonemes (the smallest unit of sound) in oral language.

Phonics

Phonics refers to correlating sounds with letters or groups of letters in an alphabetic writing system. This included recognizing letter-sound correspondences as well as common spelling patterns.

Reading Fluency

Fluency refers to the ability to read quickly and accurately with appropriate expression.

Reading Vocabulary

Reading vocabulary refers to understanding the meaning of read words.

Reading Comprehension

Reading comprehension refers to deriving meaning from written text.

All of these skills build upon each other. For example, we need to have an understanding of the building blocks of oral language before we move on to learning phonics. If we can’t apply alphabetic principals automatically, we likely will not be able to read fluently. We need to be able to read words fluently to be able to identify them and understand the vocabulary. And if we don’t understand the words we read, it will be very difficult to derive meaning from a text. While these skills increase in complexity, students often work on various skills at the same time.

In our upcoming posts, we will explore how these five areas relate to reading disabilities, psychoeducational assessments, and instructional strategies that can help students who need additional support in reading.

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.

 

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.

Private Supports for Adult Students

In our previous blog, we discussed the supports that you can access at a postsecondary educational institution. Services, such as accommodations through a Section 504 Plan (link), must go through the Disability Services or Student Accessibility Services office.  Many postsecondary organizations also provide additional supports that all students can access (link), such as the writing center or counseling center.  There are also many services offered privately within the community. Typically, private services may be closer to the direct instructional services that you received as part of your IEP.

Private Tutoring. There are many different types of tutoring that are provided privately; however, they typically fall into two general categories.

  • General Academic Tutoring. The first type of tutoring for adult students is general academic tutoring. General academic tutoring provides overall coaching on study skills that can have an impact on multiple subject areas and enhance learning outcomes. They may provide you with general learning skills, study skills, test taking skills, tools for homework and assignment completion, brainstorming, editing, and accountability to ensure assignments are completed in a timely manner.
  • Subject-Specific Tutoring. Subject-specific tutors fall into two categories. The first category work with students in a specialized academic subject, such as chemistry, psychology, or physics. This type of tutoring focuses on current work in the specific subject area of the tutor’s expertise. The second category of tutors work with individuals who have deficits in specific foundational skill areas such as reading, written expression, or math that impact global educational functioning. The most common deficit is in the area of reading, which impacts the learner’s ability to achieve across all subjects areas. There are many research-based programs that have been proven to help individuals build their skills in the area of reading. At Achievement Advantage, we provide Wilson Reading System tutoring to support and build reading skills for both K-12 and adult students.

Executive Function Coaching. Executive functions are the self-management system of the brain. Many individuals with ADHD and other related diagnosis have weak executive functioning skills that make it difficult in the college environment. Executive function coaching focuses on teaching specific strategies and tools to improve sustained attention, organization/time management, planning, task initiation, task completion, self-monitoring, and emotional regulation. Mastering these skills has a positive impact on educational, occupational, and social functioning.

Private Therapy. Some students may wish to forego the counseling center at their university or may not have counseling services available to them at the school they attend. In these cases, private therapeutic services may be beneficial. When seeking private therapeutic services, the individual has the ability to choose a therapist that specializes in your specific diagnosis or needs.

Private Evaluation. Another service that adult learners may wish to seek privately is a comprehensive evaluation. Many adults seek private evaluation when they begin to struggle to master the content in a postsecondary setting that may reveal an undiagnosed learning disorder. Other adults seek a private evaluation in order to clarify a previous diagnosis that they feel may be incorrect or need updated documentation to substantiate the presence of a disability. Moreover, some adults may seek an evaluation to provide updated recommendations for accommodations and specific intervention services to address the educational needs that they have.

Knowing all of your service options and seeking the appropriate supports is essential for individuals transitioning from K-12 to adult educational options. When both public and private services are combined, students with disabilities succeed at postsecondary institutions at high rates. Next time we will discuss assistive technology that can further aid adult learners with disabilities succeed beyond high school.

 

 

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.

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.

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.

How do I request an evaluation if I suspect my child has a disability?

In our last blog post, we talked about the steps you should take with your school’s education team if you suspect your child may have a disability.  We suggested that you work with your child’s teacher and the rest of the team first (sometimes called Intervention Assistance Team, RTI Team, MTSS Team or Problem Solving Teams) so that your child can get the extra support they need in school and so the team can gather helpful information about what interventions work best for your student. 

But what should you do if your child is receiving intervention and is not showing appropriate growth or if they stay significantly behind their peers?  In this case, you may choose to request an evaluation to determine if they qualify for special education services.  In Ohio, schools must respond to your request within 30 days of receiving it.  This does not necessarily mean that they must conduct the evaluation, but this begins the process.  It is best to put your request in writing and provide it to your child’s school psychologist, teacher, or principal. 

Request a Special Education Evaluation

In order to write the most effective letters, we recommend to include the following:

  • State that you are formally requesting an evaluation to determine if your student is eligible for special education service.

  • Provide information about your child such as their name, date of birth, school, grade, and teacher’s name.

  • Indicate that your child is not making expected progress, and that you suspect a disability.

  • Note any specific areas of difficulty your child may be experiencing (academic skills, attention, social/emotional, behavioral, communication, motor, social skills, sensory, etc.).

  • Provide information about what makes you suspect a disability. This might include:

    • Past and current interventions, and any progress monitoring information

    • Report card information

    • Assessment information from state testing or the classroom

    • Any current medical diagnoses.

    • Any outside support your child receives, such as tutoring, mental health counseling, or other therapies

    • All of the support you provide them because of their difficulties.

Meet with the Team

Within 30 days, you should be invited to speak with the team.  At that time, you will review the data, and the team will decide if they suspect a disability and whether to move on with an evaluation.  If you have not received a response within 30 days, you should follow up with the school’s principal and/or the superintendent.  If your student has been provided interventions and there is data to demonstrate their difficulties in school, the team will likely agree to an evaluation.  If the team does not suspect a disability, the should come up with a plan on how to address your concerns and schedule a follow up meeting to go over new data based on the plan.

Unfortunately, at times you may find yourself disagreeing with the team.  It is important to know that you have rights and that there are resources for you.  You may opt to pursue a private evaluation.  While this type of assessment would be at your own expense, you also have more input about the evaluation process, and your concerns drives it much more than it might in a school setting.  Additionally, many schools have a parent mentor that is free of charge to you and can offer you information and attend meetings with you.  You may also choose to seek a private advocate.  In this case, make sure that you choose someone with a strong educational background and good reputation in the area.  The Ohio Department also offers information about parent rights on their website that can be accessed by clicking here.  The Ohio Coalition for the Education of Children with Disabilities (OCECD) may also be another helpful resource if you are having difficulty coming to a resolution with the school.

Next post, we will write about what happens during the evaluation process once the team suspects a disability.