Pros and Cons of Extended School Year
By Jeffrey Hartman - @jhartman1276
Extended School Year (ESY) services are a set of supports designed to prevent students with IEPs from losing established skills during the summer break. While any student with an IEP potentially could be eligible, ESY services are reserved for those who exhibit skill regression or delayed skill recoupment following scheduled breaks from school. Evidence of regression and recoupment issues can include the suspected potential for established skills to diminish. Each IEP team determines student eligibility, but students with the most severe disabilities tend to automatically qualify.
Every IEP team must consider ESY services. Teams use a set of criteria to decide whether or not ESY services are warranted. Meetings for students thought to be eligible are held midway through school year to give parents ample time challenge if the school denies eligibility. In some districts, arrangements for ESY services need to be made early in the spring for logistical reasons, but districts are obliged to ensure that services will be available for any potentially eligible students regardless of when eligibility decisions are made.
ESY services are not the same as summer school or a summer camp. They are not meant as enhancements to existing learning programs. An ESY program is meant to prevent a student from losing a skill. Services are intended to prevent a lapse or reversal of progress. Because of this, ESY services aren’t comprehensive. Rather than resembling an abbreviated version of the regular school day, ESY services focus on just one or two IEP goals. Teams concentrate resources on maintaining progress towards these particular goals.
Even though schools must provide ESY services to eligible students, attendance isn’t mandatory. Parents can send eligible students every day, every other day, or no days. Students need not attend, but school must have everything in place in case students do attend. This includes any related services that might be needed to support goal progress. The IEP must describe everything necessary to make ESY services successful.
Deciding whether or not to send students to an ESY program can be difficult for some parents. Several factors can complicate this decision. The eligibility criteria might make clear the potential need for the services, but it doesn’t tell parents whether or not services will be of benefit. Clearly, this decision must be made case-by-case, but below are some pros and cons of ESY services that might assist in making the decision.
- ESY services are free. They are considered part of a student’s Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) and therefore must come at no cost to parents. This shouldn’t be a determining factor when deciding against other potential summer placements, but parents shouldn’t decide not to send out of a fear of costs.
- While not comprehensive, the services will continue the effort to support progress towards one or more goals in a structured and highly individualized manner. ESY services will have a deliberateness and rigor not seen in other types of summer programs.
- The program will provide some measure of stimulation and engagement, even if tailored to a limited area of need. The target area will be of principle concern, but some naturally occurring socialization will take place.
- School-based related services such as speech or occupational therapy will continue, albeit in a limited fashion. These will be meant to support the specific setting of ESY, but progress made during the regular school year has some opportunity to continue.
- The services will take place in the safety of a school with certified teachers rather than in a camp setting that might involve volunteers or undertrained staff.
- The student might have different teachers, therapists, and assistants than during the regular school year. If so, they will need time to get to know the student, which could amount to time lost during an already short program. Additionally, services might be in a different classroom or building with different classmates than the student knows. The changes could be a difficult adjustment for some students.
- ESY services almost always happen during a truncated school day and week. Considering this, progress towards even the limited aims of the program can be strained, especially when feeding, dressing, and toileting needs are included. Essentially, the point of the services can be derailed by the limited time available.
- School buildings undergo renovations during the summer months. While a building might be hosting ESY services, it also might be having work done to the air conditioning or plumbing. Such renovations could inadvertently interrupt services, even though the services are guaranteed.
- Students are grouped as much as possible by relative abilities, but the possibility exists that a student might be mixed into a class with students who have remarkably different needs. This is dictated by space, available staff, and the number of students with particular needs enrolled.
- ESY services aren’t likely to be as enjoyable for a student as other summer placements might be. In the spirit of normalization, ESY services are quite different than what students without disabilities experience during the summer. A student might need a break. Another student might benefit from a general camp experience, or from one focused on developing some other aptitude. Maintaining skills is important, but so is enjoying childhood.
Functional school districts with ample resources should be able to provide a worthwhile ESY experience. Districts that struggle to provide for students might offer ESY experiences that could be outright detrimental. Parents must remember that gains from ESY services are likely to be slight and some loss could occur despite enrollment in the program. Attendance is not mandatory, so sampling a program while reserving the right to withdraw might be worth a try. Each case must be decided with what is best for the student in mind.
The Importance of Psychological Testing for Students with Intellectual Disabilities
By Jeffrey Hartman - @jhartman1276
For students who have intellectual disabilities, any kind of testing can seem like a burden for all involved. The student might struggle with the demands of the test. The psychologist might have difficulty administering the test in a way that accommodates the needs of the student. The parent can feel the test is going to reaffirm disappointing news about the student’s aptitude. However unpopular tests are, students with intellectual disabilities (or those on the cusp of being identified) are likely to need a specific and crucial test score to accompany them into adulthood. Most will need an IQ score.
IQ scores and the tests used to obtain them take heat from the public. Decades of criticism claim they don’t tell enough about a child’s functioning to be used to determine disability (test scores alone don’t determine this in schools). Critics denounce their use and suggest scores burden children with unshakeable labels. From accusations of cultural bias to questions about norm referencing, IQ tests and scores connote their share of negativity.
Whether or not anyone likes them, IQ scores are what county intellectual disabilities offices typically use to determine eligibility for services. These offices have enough cases to process that they don’t have time to work with anything but numbers. A constellation of factors might be used in schools to determine the presence of an intellectual disability and subsequent eligibility for special education services. At the county level, a clear and indisputable number usually is necessary. Using the score, the county will assign a case manager or give the family a choice of supportive agencies from which to choose. The agencies will provide services such as respite care, community integration, and job coaching. Eligibility allows a waiver that can be applied to the costs of recreational services or adult day programming. Without the score, accessing any of this can be anywhere from difficult to impossible.
To get the all-important score and resulting services, an IQ test must be administered, or at least attempted. Some students with serve disabilities might have been found eligible for special education services without undergoing IQ testing. Evaluating teams might have recognized that attempts to obtain a score wouldn’t yield anything of worth. County offices of intellectual disabilities will require some bona fide score. The specific test typically isn’t important, so long as it’s a commercial test from which a score can be obtained. If the student isn’t capable of responding to the test, a statement from the psychologist administering the test should suffice, assuming an attempt was made.
The cutoff for intellectual disability services is typically an IQ at or below seventy. The score should be no more than five years old. Some counties and states will accept older scores, but the more recent, the better. Ideally, the scores should be obtained before the student turns eighteen, because strictly speaking, an intellectual disability by definition must manifest before then. Depending on the county, intellectual disability services won’t be available until student turns twenty-one, but some services in some counties can start at eighteen or even earlier. To get the services at any age, the score has to exist.
Parents are sometimes caught off-guard when their child who has received special education services for years suddenly needs an IQ score to receive services outside of school. This is especially surprising if their child has been receiving life skills-oriented instruction. Yes, sometimes a statement of an intellectual disability in an evaluation might be enough to secure services from the county. Parents who assume this will be the case often assume too much.
For students whose functioning is thought to be on the cusp of an intellectual disability, testing is a judgment call. A student functioning at this level might not need some of the services offered by the county. Furthermore, the student and the family might not want to know the results if these happen to indicate an intellectual disability. A conversation about the need for services should happen with the IEP team.
Before putting a child through an IQ test, determining with certainty whether or not the score will be necessary is wise. Parents can find out from the special education department of their child’s school, from the county intermediate unit, or from the county office of intellectual disabilities. The names of these entities vary from state to state, but locally tailored searches should reveal the appropriate parties. The school might have a recent enough test score on file that new testing won’t be needed. If not and if the county requires an updated score, the school can and will administer the test.
Considering the expense in obtaining a score privately, petitioning the school for the score is wise. Parents can request an updated evaluation that includes an IQ score. Doing so in writing is always best. Motives need not be covert. Having the score is an important component of transition, so schools should be willing to assist. A plan might be in place to conduct the test during the last evaluation cycle prior to the student turning eighteen, but if not, urging the school is recommended.
The test itself will consist of a variety of logic puzzles, many involving pictures or items that are read to the student. For the score to be valid, standardized conditions must be maintained, although some accommodations can be made. Depending on the student’s disability, multiple sessions might be needed. Many schools share psychologists with other buildings, so a multi-session test could take weeks to complete. Parents might have questionnaires to answer, or at least some opportunity for input in the new evaluation. A full evaluation isn’t really needed unless the student is due for one. The evaluation used to obtain services can just include the IQ test and results.
Schools often offer a standalone evaluation that states only the IQ test results. The score will be obvious in this document. Schools cannot furnish this to the county or anyone else without the parent’s permission. Generally, the parent presents the findings to the necessary parties. School officials can help identify these if necessary.
The cruel irony is when a student tests too high to be eligible. Legions of adults exist in a limbo of not being eligible for intellectual disabilities services, but not being capable of many competitive jobs or training options. As with any other evaluation, parents can dispute findings and request an independent evaluation through the school. A second evaluation is no guarantee of a different score, but if services are desired, it’s worth a try.
Parents of students with disabilities sometimes cringe at the thought of their child having to endure testing. What must be understood is that some of these tests can be gateways to important benefits. IQ tests remain integral to special education services as well as to county intellectual disabilities services. Working with schools to make sure a score is on file is critical for transition.
By Jeffrey Hartman - @jhartman1276
Beginning The Paper Trail
Part of the difficulty parents face in navigating special education is coping with the barrage of paperwork. Parents aren’t alone in feeling overwhelmed. Excessive paperwork is a common complaint among teachers in the field. Special education demands layers of documentation. Understanding why along with what the documentation means can help dispel some of the confusion about special education processes.
Why Is There So Much Paperwork In Special Education?
The simple answer to this question is that the law requires it. A more thorough answer includes some explanation as to why the law requires it and why schools have had to respond to the law with such seemingly excessive protocols.
In practice, special education is a set of services meant to grant students with disabilities access to appropriate educational programming. The services are the visible part of special education. They happen to be merely one area covered by special education law. Most of the law deals with protecting the rights of students and parents. Services just happen to be one of those rights.
Special education law in America falls under the auspices of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (the IDEA). The law outlines eligibility for special education services. It requires schools to provide appropriate educational opportunities to students regardless of disability and at no cost to parents (Free and Appropriate Public Education, or FAPE). These educational opportunities must happen in the closest setting to the general education environment that is possible (the Least Restrictive Environment, or LRE). Each student must have a set of services tailored to his or her needs (an Individualized Education Program, or IEP).
To assure all of this happens, the IDEA requires schools to document every interaction with parents. The point of the documentation is to prevent schools from inadvertently or even purposely denying educational rights to anyone. Schools have mandates to follow according to the IDEA that parents never see, but most of the paperwork parents do see exists for the sake of holding schools accountable for following protocol, including the provision of services.
Schools face pressure to fulfill the mandates of the IDEA. Districts can lose funding if they fail to adequately provide services or document their efforts. Compliance with the IDEA drives much of what special education teachers and administrators do. Furthermore, mistakes made at any point in the process could result in parents filing for due process and possibly recouping compensatory education settlements. Certainly, most special education teachers and administrators are doing their jobs because they want to help students achieve, but the pressures they face are what create the paperwork parents see.
What Does The Paperwork Mean?
As parents receive document after document, special education can begin to feel like an exercise in redundancy. Parents of students who have received services for several years can become exhausted by having to review the same documents repeatedly. The documents do have purpose. Explaining them individually will help clarify this. The explanations will follow the order parents are likely to encounter the documents.
- Permission to Evaluate (PTE)
The PTE allows the parent to give the school permission to conduct an evaluation designed to determine eligibility for special education services. The school will issue a PTE under a few conditions. A student might be coming to an elementary school following Early Intervention, so the parent might request that the receiving school evaluate for services prior to admission. School staff might recommend an evaluation if a student has shown difficulty accessing the general education curriculum even with interventions. A parent might request an initial evaluation at any point in the student’s educational career. If so, just like with a student coming from Early Intervention, the request should be in writing. Schools do have to honor oral requests, but the written request is verifiable.
The school must respond following the receipt of a request. They may offer a Permission to Evaluate-Evaluation Request form prior to offering a PTE if an oral request is made. This extra form is their way of getting the request in writing. When parents receive the PTE, they can decide whether or not they grant permission and then sign and return the document. They’re essentially giving permission for a battery of assessments to be completed, possibly including psychological testing and even a medical assessment. They’ll often have questions to answer in the document about their child’s performance. They have to give permission for an Initial Evaluation. In subsequent evaluations, schools can evaluate without parental permission. Teams can even waive an evaluation should members agree that one isn’t needed to confirm eligibility.
For students with services in place, schools will issue a Permission to Reevaluate (PTRE) every two to three years (depending on the disability). This will be nearly identical to the PTE. Schools typically issue PTREs in the months prior to the expiration of the existing Evaluation Report.
- Procedural Safeguards Notice
This might be called a Notice of Parent Rights or something similar. The document is a lengthy, detailed description of student and parent rights throughout all special education protocols. Schools must provide this notice at some point during the school year. While there isn’t a specified point in the process to issue it, schools usually do so early in the process, perhaps shortly after an evaluation request.
- Psychological Questionnaires
While not specific to special education, if a student receives psychological testing as part of his or her evaluation, parents will have additional questions to answer on a series of non-district, commercial forms.
- Invitation to Participate
As the evaluation is completed, a meeting will be scheduled to review the draft Evaluation Report (whether an Initial or Reevaluation). The school will invite the parent using an Invitation to Participate form. This same form is used to invite parents to IEP meetings. The Invitation to Participate will list all parties the school intends to invite. Schools must issue an Invitation to Participate to students fourteen and over. The document must include a suggested time and place for the meeting, along with an opportunity for the parents to request any special accommodations.
The Evaluation Report and IEP may be reviewed during the same meeting, but often two separate, successive meetings are held. For the Evaluation Report review, the school will send a draft of the document for the parents to review prior to the meeting. Even if a student isn’t being evaluated in a given year, the school must issue an Invitation to Participate for the IEP meeting.
- Evaluation Report (ER)
The ER is the document that will be used to determine a student’s eligibility for special education services. It is the culmination of findings from the evaluation team, including input from teachers, therapists, parents, and the psychologist. If the findings point towards eligibility, the document will include a recommendation for special education services along with what specific type of services. Should parents disagree with the findings, they can request an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE).
ERs are written every three years for most students and every two years for students with more severe disabilities. Following the Initial Evaluation, ERs are referred to as Reevaluation Reports (RRs). When psychological testing is completed as part of an evaluation, a stand-alone Psycho-Educational Evaluation Report accompanies the ER or RR. All the same information is included in the ER or RR, but the stand-alone document can be helpful in petitioning for post-secondary services. All parties involved in creating the ER or RR sign it.
- Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA)
If a student has behaviors that need to be addressed through supportive services, the school may conduct an FBA as part of the evaluation. The FBA will use an assortment of evaluations to determine the antecedents of a behavior, the target behavior itself, and the consequences of this behavior. It will then recommend a course of action for supporting the student so that the behavior doesn’t interfere with learning. The FBA can happen separately from an ER, but parents still have to give permission through a PTRE.
- Individualized Education Program (IEP)
The IEP is what most people associate with special education. It is the document that outlines the services recommended in the ER or RR (or FBA, if one exists). The IEP contains a summary of the ER or RR, a description of present levels of student performance, annual goals for performance within the student’s curriculum, specially designed instruction to support performance, and a description of any related services, such as therapies. The IEP will detail how much time the student spends outside of general education environments, along with why. IEPs for students turning fourteen and older must include a transition plan. If an FBA recommends a Positive Behavior Support Plan, that must accompany the IEP. The IEP must be created annually, but IEP review meetings can happen several times per year at team member request.
Importantly, IEPs contain a signature page that shows who participated in the meeting. Signatures do not indicate approval of the plan. After the meeting, the team typically has a few days to implement the document. The parent should have time to review it. The IEP isn’t in place until the next document is signed by the parent to show agreement.
- Notice of Recommended Educational Placement (NOREP)
Until the NOREP is signed to indicate parental agreement, any new services outlined in the IEP can’t happen. The NOREP states what level of special education service the school will provide. It is the actual statement that these services will be provided. The IEP is the description of services, but the NOREP is the authorization. Sometimes a NOREP is written to cover a single new or changed service. A special NOREP can be written for students who are no longer eligible for special education and are exiting. Should a parent wish to refuse any part of an IEP and request mediation or due process, the NOREP is where to do it.
- Medical Assistance Billing Parental Consent Form
For students who receive related services such as school-based occupational therapy or speech therapy, parents have the option to give the school permission to bill these services to the state. Parents can grant or deny this consent. Services will not be declined if a parent denies consent.
- Manifestation Determination (MD)
If a student with an IEP causes in infraction in school that would normally warrant discipline, an MD must be conducted to determine if the student’s disability was the cause of the behavior leading to the infraction. Students aren’t to be disciplined for anything attributable to their disabilities. If the MD finds the student’s behavior was not caused by the disability, typical disciplinary measures can be enacted, so long as the student’s educational program isn’t interrupted beyond predetermined degrees. If the MD finds the student’s behavior was a manifestation of his or her disability, a new FBA typically must be made. The MD review meeting is an IEP meeting for which the parent must be invited. It often leads to the issuance of a new PTRE for the creation of an FBA.
- Progress Reports
Progress towards IEP goals and objectives must be reported at whatever intervals the IEP team determines. They are usually issued with report cards, but they are not the same as report cards. Report cards show grades in courses. Progress reports show progress towards IEP goals, which are in place to support overall curricular progress. The goals are typically skills needed for curricular achievement. The grades on report cards are the curricular achievement. The exception is for students who follow alternate curricula. Their grades might mirror their IEP goals.
- Summary Of Academic Achievement And Functional Performance
This document is created at the end of special education services, typically when a student is leaving school. It lists what academic or functional competencies the student has achieved by the end of services. It also describes steps the student and parent can take for post-secondary living, along with contacts for resources.
Dealing With The Documents
The list above isn’t exhaustive. Some special circumstances demand other less common paperwork. For most students, these are the most frequently appearing documents. Many students won’t need FBAs or MDs, but any eligible student will have ERs, IEPs, and NOREPs. Parents would be wise to maintain a chronological binder of all documents, either organizing strictly by date or by document type. Keeping copies of every document is also recommended. Schools will furnish replacement copies upon request, but preserving records is best.
Special education is awash with paperwork, but an understanding of what each document is along with a good organizational method for dealing with them will benefit all involved. The IDEA is in place to protect rights, which must be remembered when the paperwork seems burdensome.
By Jeffrey Hartman - @jhartman1276
For many children and their parents, special education services begin long before kindergarten. Depending on the nature of the disability, the journey might begin before or just after a child is born. The news of a child having a delay or disability is jarring enough. Learning to navigate the system of available services can be confounding. Becoming acquainted with this system sometimes starts mere hours after delivery.
An attending physician may note the possibility of a delay upon examination of a newborn. Characteristics of a specific disabling condition might be clearly evident. Apgar assessments of breathing and reflexes and such might aid identification, but visual inspection alone could be enough to note an anomaly. The team assisting in the delivery might immediately begin what could be considered proto-special education as they prepare a referral for early intervention services.
The purpose of early intervention services (often abbreviated as EI) is to address a possible developmental delay. These are delays in what would be considered average functioning for a child at a given developmental level. Eye gaze, grasping, or sitting are examples of milestones that could be delayed. Such delays might be the result of surgery, prematurity, or low birth weight. They also could be caused by a congenital condition. If an obstetrician or pediatrician notes a possible delay at birth or in the days, weeks, or months afterwards, he or she will recommend EI. Parents also might initiate a referral if they note something atypical and bring this to a pediatrician’s attention.
EI is meant to promote the physical, cognitive, and even social development of a child experiencing some kind of developmental delay. The services are provided via Part C of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and consequently are considered special education. They are free to parents. Protocols and protections akin to those afforded to older students with special needs are in place. Access to EI is a right and the IDEA mandates provision.
A child must first qualify for EI. The referral doesn’t automatically qualify the child. Parents must take the referral to a center that provides EI. If a physician hasn’t made (or won’t make) a referral, parents might be able to obtain one directly from the EI provider. Typically, this provider will be a county Intermediate Unit (IU) or a county office of intellectual disabilities (whether or not an intellectual disability is suspected). Sometimes the provider will be an entity solely dealing with EI. Whichever the case, an intake and evaluation will proceed at the direction of an assigned service coordinator. This will be the point person throughout the evaluation. The point of the evaluation will be to determine the presence of a delay and the need for EI.
The IU, county office, or EI center staff will conduct the evaluation. Even if the parent initiates the referral, the service coordinator will obtain parental permission before proceeding. To the greatest extent possible, the evaluation will take place in the most comfortable environment for the child, which usually is the home. The evaluating team might consist of a nurse, a teacher, and a psychologist. Various therapists might participate, depending on what is noted in the referral. Parents will answer a set of screening questions. The team will use various scales to determine readiness. The evaluation will resemble a conversation mixed with playtime for the child.
The team completes the evaluation after meeting with the child. They review results with the parents. To qualify for EI, the completed evaluation must note that the child shows delays of approximately 25% or 1.5 standard deviations below what would be considered average functioning in at least one of the assessed areas. The actual cutoffs and assessed areas vary per state. If the child qualifies, the team must create an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) within forty-five calendar days of the completed evaluation. Should the parents disagree with the findings of the evaluation (which might be the case if a child is found ineligible), they can request an independent evaluation and use the findings of this to challenge what the initial evaluation finds.
The IFSP determines what EI will be. Per the IDEA, services should take place in the most natural setting possible, such as a typical daycare center for children without disabilities. They might take place in the home per a qualified instructor. This is in the same spirit of least restrictive environment that applies for older children with special needs. For children with severe disabilities, services might need to happen at a center for EI. Wherever they happen, they will resemble a more sophisticated and deliberate version of common daycare activities. Unlike most available daycare, services might include specialized transportation or specific therapies. Crucially, all services will be based on the needs of each child. Six months following the start of the IFSP, the team will review its effectiveness and revise as needed. Such adjustments can be made earlier per teacher, therapist, or parental request. In rare instances, teams might determine services can cease—a decision parents can challenge. If a child qualifies initially, the likelihood of services no longer being needed by the time of a review is fairly low.
Part C of the IDEA covers services from birth to three. From three forward, Part B of the IDEA begins. Services for children from three to school age are considered early childhood services, although in some states and districts it is still called EI. Prior to the child turning three (ideally, at least four months prior to this), parents must contact the local school district about enrollment. The EI service coordinator can assist with this. A written request for a new evaluation should accompany the contact, though schools are obligated to honor oral requests.
The school district will send the parents a specific request form for an evaluation followed by a formal permission form. It might seem redundant, but most districts will insist on both—the first to verify the request and the second to obtain indisputable permission. The district must send the permission form within ten calendar days of the written or oral request. Upon receipt of the parent’s permission, the district must complete the new evaluation within sixty calendar days. A team including a teacher, a psychologist, and various therapists will create the evaluation. Parents will supply input. Testing might happen in the home or other daycare setting, but more likely will happen at a district early childhood center. The evaluation once again will determine eligibility, this time according to one of the thirteen disability categories under the IDEA.
If the child is eligible, the team (including the parents) will have thirty calendar days to create and implement an Individualized Education Program (IEP). This document will guide the child’s educational program through the district-run early childhood center. A certified special education teacher specifically licensed to work with young children will oversee the IEP. Parents get the opportunity to review and approve or disapprove the program before its implementation. If they disagree with some aspect of it, they can refuse the placement notice and request either mediation or due process. Some cases don’t even get this far without a dispute. Like with the EI evaluation, parents of a child found ineligible can dispute the findings and request an independent evaluation.
The child will be evaluated every two or three years, depending on the disability. At regular school age, a placement determination will be made per which school or program will best meet the child’s needs. Admission to a regular school could be delayed by the team should members feel the child isn’t ready for that transition. Services do transfer to private and charter schools, although these entities might not be able to actually accommodate some needs. Public schools have to either accept students or pay for them to be educated at an appropriate private school.
The path from EI to school admission can seem complicated. It does involve many steps. Parents must know that county IU and intellectual disability offices are in place to assist them. A massive network of support exists. Although it might appear overwhelming, it is there to help.