Problem-Solving Model for Improving Student Achievement
Principal Leadership Magazine, Vol. 5, Number 4, December 2004
Counseling 101 column, a problem-solving model for improving student achievement.
Problem solving is an alternative to assessments and diagnostic categories as a means to identify students who need special services.
By Andrea Canter
Andrea Canter recently retired from Minneapolis Public Schools where she served as lead psychologist and helped implement a district-wide problem solving model. She currently is a consultant to the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) and editor of its newspaper, Communiquè . “Counseling 101” is provided by NASP ( www.nasponline.org ).
The implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) has prompted renewed efforts to hold schools and students accountable for meeting high academic standards. At the same time, Congress has been debating the reauthorization of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which has heightened concerns that NCLB will indeed “leave behind” many students who have disabilities or other barriers to learning. This convergence of efforts to address the needs of at-risk students while simultaneously implementing high academic standards has focused attention on a number of proposals and pilot projects that are generally referred to as problem-solving models. A more specific approach to addressing academic difficulties, response to intervention (RTI), has often been proposed as a component of problem solving.
What Is Problem Solving?
A problem-solving model is a systematic approach that reviews student strengths and weaknesses, identifies evidence-based instructional interventions, frequently collects data to monitor student progress, and evaluates the effectiveness of interventions implemented with the student. Problem solving is a model that first solves student difficulties within general education classrooms. If problem-solving interventions are not successful in general education classrooms, the cycle of selecting intervention strategies and collecting data is repeated with the help of a building-level or grade-level intervention assistance or problem-solving team. Rather than relying primarily on test scores (e.g., from an IQ or math test), the student’s response to general education interventions becomes the primary determinant of his or her need for special education evaluation and services (Marston, 2002; Reschly & Tilly, 1999).
Why Is a New Approach Needed?
Although much of the early implementation of problem-solving models has involved elementary schools, problem solving also has significant potential to improve outcomes for secondary school students. Therefore, it is important for secondary school administrators to understand the basic concepts of problem solving and consider how components of this model could mesh with the needs of their schools and students. Because Congress will likely include RTI options in its reauthorization of special education law and regulations regarding learning disabilities, it is also important for school personnel to be familiar with the pros and cons of the problem-solving model.
Student outcomes. Regardless of state or federal mandates, schools need to change the way they address academic problems. More than 25 years of special education legislation and funding have failed to demonstrate either the cost effectiveness or the validity of aligning instruction to diagnostic classifications (Fletcher et al., 2002; Reschly & Tilly, 1999; Ysseldyke & Marston, 1999). Placement in special education programs has not guaranteed significant academic gains or better life outcomes for students with disabilities. Time-consuming assessments that are intended to differentiate students with disabilities from those with low achievement have not resulted in better instruction for struggling students.
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Dilemma of learning disabilities. The learning disabilities (LD) classification has proven especially problematic. Researchers and policymakers representing diverse philosophies regarding disability are generally in agreement that the current process needs revision (Fletcher et al., 2002). Traditionally, if a student with LD is to be served in special education, an evaluation using individual intelligence tests and norm-referenced achievement tests is required to document an ability/achievement discrepancy. This model has been criticized for the following reasons:
- A reliance on intelligence tests in general and with students from ethnic and linguistic minority populations in particular
- A focus on within-child deficiencies that often ignore quality of instruction and environmental factors
- The limited applicability of norm-referenced information to actual classroom teaching
- The burgeoning identification of students as disabled
- The resulting allocation of personnel to responsibilities (classification) that are significantly removed from direct service to students (Ysseldyke & Marston, 1999).
Wait to fail. A major flaw in the current system of identifying student needs is what has been dubbed the wait to fail approach in which students are not considered eligible for support until their skills are widely discrepant from expectations. This runs counter to years of research demonstrating the importance of early intervention (President’s Commission on Excellence in Special Education, 2002). Thus, a number of students fail to receive any remedial services until they reach the intermediate grades or middle school, by which time they often exhibit motivational problems and behavioral problems as well as academic deficits.
For other students, although problems are noted when they are in the early grades, referral is delayed until they fail graduation or high school standards tests, increasing the probability that they will drop out. Their school records often indicate that teachers and parents expressed concern for these students in the early grades, which sometimes resulted in referral for assessments, but did not result in qualification for special education or other services.
Call for evidence-based programs. One of the major tenets of NCLB is the implementation of scientifically based interventions to improve student performance. The traditional models used by most schools today lack such scientifically based evidence. There are, however, many programs and instructional strategies that have demonstrated positive outcomes for diverse student populations and needs (National Reading Panel, 2000). It is clear that schools need systemic approaches to identify and resolve student achievement problems and access proven instructional strategies.
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How It Works
Although problem-solving steps can be described in several stages, the steps essentially reflect the scientific method of defining and describing a problem (e.g., Ted does not comprehend grade-level reading material); generating potential solutions (e.g., Ted might respond well to direct instruction in comprehension strategies); and implementing, monitoring, and evaluating the effectiveness of the selected intervention.
Problem-solving models have been implemented in many versions at local and state levels to reflect the unique features and needs of individual schools. However, all problem-solving models share the following components:
- Screening and assessment that is focused on student skills rather than classification
- Measuring response to instruction rather than relying on norm-referenced comparisons
- Using evidence-based strategies within general education classrooms
- Developing a collaborative partnership among general and special educators for consultation and team decision making.
Three-tiered model. One common problem-solving model is the three-tiered model. In this model, tier one includes problem-solving strategies directed by the teacher within the general education classrooms. Tier two includes problem-solving efforts at a team level in which grade-level staff members or a team of various school personnel collaborate to develop an intervention plan that is still within the general education curriculum. Tier three involves referral to a special education team for additional problem solving and, potentially, a special education assessment (Office of Special Education Programs, 2002).
Response to intervention. A growing body of research and public policy discussion has focused on problem-solving models that include evaluating a student’s RTI as an alternative to the IQ-achievement discrepancy approach to identifying learning disabilities (Gresham, 2002). RTI refers to specific procedures that align with the steps of problem solving:
- Implementing evidence-based interventions
- Frequently measuring a student’s progress to determine whether the intervention is effective
- Evaluating the quality of the instructional strategy
- Evaluating the fidelity of its implementation. (For example, did the intervention work? Was it scientifically based? Was it implemented as planned?)
Although there is considerable debate about replacing traditional eligibility procedures with RTI approaches (Vaughn & Fuchs, 2003), there is promising evidence that RTI can systematically improve the effectiveness of instruction for struggling students and provide school teams with evidence-based procedures that measures a student’s progress and his or her need for special services.
New roles for personnel. An important component of problem-solving models is the allocation (or realignment) of personnel who are knowledgeable about the applications of research to classroom practice. Whereas traditional models often limit the availability of certain personnel-for example, school psychologists-to prevention and early intervention activities (e.g., classroom consultation), problem-solving models generally enhance the roles of these service providers through a systemic process that is built upon general education consultation. Problem solving shifts the emphasis from identifying disabilities to implementing earlier interventions that have the potential to reduce referral and placement in special education.
Outcomes of Problem Solving and RTI
Anticipated benefits of problem-solving models, particularly those using RTI procedures, include emphasizing scientifically proven instructional methods, the early identification and remediation of achievement difficulties, more functional and frequent measurement of student progress, a reduction in inappropriate and disproportionate special education placements of students from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds, and a reallocation of instructional and behavior support personnel to better meet the needs of all students (Gresham, 2002; Ysseldyke & Marston, 1999). By using problem solving, some districts have reduced overall special education placements, increased individual and group performance on standards tests, and increased collaboration among special and general educators.
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The enhanced collaboration between general education teachers and support personnel is particularly important at the secondary level because staff members often have limited interaction with school personnel who are outside of their specialty area. Problem solving provides a vehicle to facilitate communication across disciplines to resolve student difficulties in the classroom. Secondary schools, however, face additional barriers to collaboration because each student may have five or more teachers. Special education is often even more separated from general education in secondary school settings. Secondary school teachers also have a greater tendency to see themselves as content specialists and may be less invested in addressing general learning problems, particularly when they teach five or six class periods (and 150 or more students) each day. The sheer size of the student body and the staff can create both funding and logistical difficulties for scheduling training and team meetings.
Is Problem Solving Worth the Effort?
Data from district-wide and state-level projects in rural, suburban, and urban communities around the country support the need to thoughtfully implement problem-solving models at all grade levels. There are several federally funded demonstration centers that systematically collect information about these approaches. Although national demonstration models may be a few years away, it seems likely that state and federal regulations under IDEA will include problem solving and RTI as accepted experimental options. Problem solving continues to offer much promise to secondary school administrators who are seeking to improve student performance through ongoing assessment and evidence-based instruction. PL
- Fletcher, J., Lyon, R., Barnes, M., Stuebing, K., Francis, D., Olson, R., Shaywitz, S., & Shaywitz, B. (2002). Classification of learning disabilities: An evidence-based evaluation. In R. Bradley, L. Donaldson, & D. Hallahan (Eds.), Identification of learning disabilities (pp. 185-250). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
- Gresham, F. (2002). Responsiveness to intervention: An alternative approach to the identification of learning disabilities. In R. Bradley, L. Donaldson, & D. Hallahan (Eds.), Identification of learning disabilities (pp. 467-519). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
- Marston, D. (2002). A functional and intervention-based assessment approach to establishing discrepancy for students with learning disabilities. In R. Bradley, L. Donaldson, & D. Hallahan (Eds.), Identification of learning disabilities (pp. 437-447). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
- National Reading Panel. (2000). Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction-Reports of the subgroups. Washington, DC: Author.
- Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education. (2002). Specific learning disabilities: Finding common ground (Report of the Learning Disabilities Round Table). Washington, DC: Author.
- President’s Commission on Excellence in Special Education. (2002). A new era: Revitalizing special education for children and their families. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.
- Reschly, D., & Tilly, W. D. III (1999). Reform trends and system design alternatives. In D. Reschly, W. D. Tilly III, & J. Grimes (Eds.), Special education in transition: Functional assessment and noncategorical programming (pp. 19-48). Longmont, CO: Sopris West.
- Vaughn, S., & Fuchs, L. (Eds.) (2003). Special issue: Response to intervention. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 18(3).
- Ysseldyke, J., & Marston, D. (1999). Origins of categorical special education services in schools and a rationale for changing them. In D. Reschly, W. D. Tilly III, & J. Grimes (Eds.), Special education in transition: Functional assessment and noncategorical programming (pp. 1-18). Longmont, CO: Sopris West.
Case Study: Optimizing Success Through Problem Solving
By Marcia Staum and Lourdes Ocampo
Milwaukee Public Schools, the largest school district in Wisconsin, is educating students with Optimizing Success Through Problem Solving (OSPS), a problem-solving initiative that uses a four-step, data-based, decision-making process to enhance school reform efforts. OSPS is patterned after best practices in the prevention literature and focuses on prevention, early intervention, and focused intervention levels. Problem-solving facilitators provide staff members with the training, modeling, support, and tools they need to effectively use data to drive their instructional decision-making. The OSPS initiative began in the fall of 2000 with seven participating schools. Initially, elementary and middle level schools began to use OSPS, with an emphasis on problem solving for individual student issues. As the initiative matured, increased focus was placed on prevention and early intervention support in the schools. Today, 78 schools participate in the OSPS initiative and are serviced by a team of 18 problem-solving facilitators.
OSPS in Action: Juneau High School
The administration of Juneau High School, a Milwaukee public charter school with 900 students, invited OSPS to become involved at Juneau for the 2003-2004 school year. Because at the time OSPS had limited involvement with high schools, two problem-solving facilitators were assigned to Juneau for one half-day each week. The problem-solving facilitators immediately joined the Juneau’s learning team, which is a small group of staff members and administrators who make educational decisions aimed at increasing student achievement.
When the problem-solving facilitators became involved with Juneau, the learning team was working to improve student participation on the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam (WKCE). The previous year, Juneau’s 10th-grade participation on the exam had been very low. The learning team used OSPS’s four-step problem-solving process to develop and implement a plan that resulted in a 99% student participation rate on the WKCE. After this initial success, the problem-solving model was also used at Juneau to increase parent participation in parent-teacher conferences. According to Myron Cain, Juneau’s principal, “Problem solving has helped the learning team at Juneau go from dialogue into action. In addition, problem solving has supported the school within the Collaborative Support Team process and with teambuilding, which resulted in a better school climate.”
By starting at the prevention level, Juneau found that there was increased commitment from staff members. OSPS is now in the initial stages of working with Juneau to explore alternatives to suspension. The goal is to create a working plan that will lead to creative ways of decreasing the number of suspensions at Juneau.
Marcia Staum is a school psychologist, and Lourdes Ocampo is a school social worker for Optimizing Success Through Problem Solving.
What Is Response to Intervention?
Many researchers have recommended that a student’s response to intervention or response to instruction (RTI) should be considered as an alternative or replacement to the traditional IQ-achievement discrepancy approach to identifying learning disabilities (Gresham, 2002; President’s Commission on Excellence in Special Education, 2002). Although there is considerable debate about replacing traditional eligibility procedures with RTI approaches (Vaughn & Fuchs, 2003), there is promising evidence that RTI can systematically improve the effectiveness of instruction for struggling students and provide school teams with evidence-based procedures to measure student progress and need for special services. In fact, Congress has proposed the use of research-based RTI methods (as part of a comprehensive evaluation process to reauthorize IDEA) as an allowable alternative to the use of an IQ-achievement discrepancy procedure in identifying learning disabilities.
RTI refers to specific procedures that align with the steps of problem solving. These steps include the implementation of evidence-based instructional strategies in the general education classroom and the frequent measurement of a student’s progress to determine if the intervention is effective. In settings where RTI is also a criteria for identification of disability, a student’s progress in response to intervention is an important determinant of the need and eligibility for special education services.
It is important for administrators to recognize that RTI can be implemented in various ways depending on a school’s overall service delivery model and state and federal mandates. An RTI approach benefits from the involvement of specially trained personnel, such as school psychologists and curriculum specialists, who have expertise in instructional consultation and evaluation.
- National Center on Student Progress Monitoring, www.studentprogress.org
- National Research Center on Learning Disabilities, www.nrcld.org
This article was adapted from a handout published in Helping Children at Home and School II: Handouts for Families and Educators (NASP, 2004). “Counseling 101” articles and related HCHS II handouts can be downloaded from www.naspcenter.org/principals .
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Perspectives & resources, what procedures do you think rosa parks elementary is using to provide services to struggling students why are school personnel dissatisfied with this process (opinion question: no resources), what approaches are available to schools to help struggling readers and to efficiently identify students who need special education services.
- Page 1: Struggling Readers
- Page 2: The IQ-Achievement Discrepancy Model
- Page 3: The Response-to-Intervention Approach (RTI)
What other information might a school find helpful when choosing which approach to adopt?
- Page 4: The Rationale for RTI: Early Intervening and Identification of Learning Disabilities
Page 5: Approaches to RTI
What steps might the s-team propose to help its struggling readers.
- Page 6: Steps to This RTI Approach
- Page 7: The Rosa Parks RTI Framework
- Page 8: Practice with the Tiers
- Page 9: References & Additional Resources
- Page 10: Credits
Click on the movie below and find out what other choices the S-Team has to make about RTI (time: 0:40).
Transcript: Other Choices
The S-Team members now think that RTI might solve the problems they have faced trying to expedite help to students with weak reading skills. They also think that RTI may well solve many of their frustrations with the current method for identifying students with learning disabilities. But the S-Team has more decisions to make. Ms. Jacobs tells her colleagues that there are a couple approaches to RTI being used across the country and even in different districts in their state. Before moving forward, the team needs to learn more about the two basic approaches to RTI. One is called the problem-solving approach; the other is called the standard protocol approach.
If a school or district elects to utilize an RTI approach to intervene early and to identify students with learning disabilities, the federal government requires a multi-tiered model, though it does not specify a requisite set of procedures. Because of this, many options are available for the implementation of RTI, though in general two basic approaches to RTI are followed. These are described below.
Descriptions of Two RTI Approaches
The two most commonly used RTI approaches are problem solving and standard protocol . Although these two approaches are sometimes described as being very different from one another, they actually have several elements in common. In practice, many schools and districts combine or blend aspects of the two approaches to fit their needs. Regardless, to better understand them, these two approaches are described separately.
The Problem Solving Approach to RTI
- Identify the problem and determine its cause
- Develop a plan to address the problem
- Implement the plan
- Evaluate the plan’s effectiveness
The utilization of a team for selecting interventions and making decisions allows for more brainstorming and flexibility throughout the problem solving approach process. Because the school-based team has a wide variety of intervention options from which to choose, a student can receive instruction that is aligned more closely with his or her individual or specific academic needs. On the other hand, the quality of the instruction depends on the skills, knowledge, and training of the team personnel who plan each individualized program.
Click here to learn more about the Problem Solving Approach.
Universal Screening or Class-Wide Assessment. Universal screenings are used to identify students’ current levels of academic achievement. Students whose achievement is less than desired are identified.
Tier 1: Class- or School-Wide Interventions (Primary Prevention) . All students receive high-quality classroom instruction using empirically validated techniques. Students receive frequent progress monitoring of academic skills, and those who do not meet desired benchmarks become eligible for Tier 2 services.
Condition or characteristic of having been proven through high-quality research to be accurate or to produce positive results.
Tier 2: Targeted Interventions (Secondary Prevention) . Students who do not make adequate progress in response to Tier 1 instruction receive more targeted instruction (i.e., Tier 2). The school-based team selects individually tailored, evidence-based interventions because it is assumed that each student will respond to an intervention differently. Students with similar needs, as identified by the assessments, can receive small-group instruction together. For example, students who exhibit phonemic awareness difficulties can be grouped together, while students with fluency problems can receive separate small-group instruction. Student progress is monitored frequently (1-2 times per week) in order to determine the effectiveness of the intervention plan. Interventions are not implemented for set periods of time but, rather, are modified or discontinued based on student progress data.
Tier 3: Intensive, Individual Interventions (Tertiary Prevention) . State and district policies determine the options at Tier 3. In one option, students who still do not make adequate progress in response to Tier 2 instruction can receive more intensive instruction. A school-based team makes decisions about the validated techniques used to provide more intensive instruction. In another option, students receive special education services if abbreviated or comprehensive evaluation results verify the existence of a disability.
Standard Protocol Approach to RTI
The second major approach is called the standard protocol approach (sometimes referred to as standard treatment protocol ) and is supported by a strong research base. The words standard (that is, consistent, the same for all students) and protocol (that is, predetermined format or delivery system) describe this approach to RTI. This option uses one validated intervention, selected by the school, to improve the academic skills of its struggling students.
To learn more about the Standard Protocol Approach, click here.
Universal Screening or Class-Wide Assessment . Universal screenings are used to identify students’ current levels of academic achievement. Students whose achievement is less than desired are identified.
Tier 2: Targeted Interventions (Secondary Prevention) . The standard protocol provides all students receiving Tier 2 with the same, empirically validated intervention. This intervention is often provided in a small-group setting for a set period (anywhere between 10–20 weeks), with frequent progress monitoring. Students within the small groups may possess heterogeneous or homogeneous skills. Typically, the validated standard protocol includes instruction in several sets of skills so that each child’s needs can be met, even with heterogeneous grouping. For example, a small group might include one student who has problems with reading fluency, another who has poor phonemic awareness, and another who has difficulties with phonics skills. The intervention the group members receive is the same, with time devoted to each skill area (e.g., phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, reading fluency, and comprehension).
Tier 3: Intensive, Individualized Interventions (Tertiary Prevention) . State and district policies determine the options at Tier 3. In one of these, students who still do not make adequate progress with Tier 2 intervention can receive more intensive interventions. In another option, students receive special education services if abbreviated or comprehensive evaluation results verify the existence of a disability.
Because a single, consistent intervention is used, it is easier to ensure accurate implementation or fidelity . Additionally, a variety of support staff (such as paraprofessionals, tutors, or parent volunteers) can deliver the instruction; however, it is critical that they receive comprehensive training before assuming their instructional responsibilities. They also need to receive ongoing support and professional development while implementing the standard protocol procedures to ensure that the intervention is correctly provided.
The degree to which an intervention is implemented accurately, following the guidelines of its developers.
Comparison Between Problem Solving and Standard Protocol
The table below reviews some key features of these two basic approaches to RTI. Notice that both utilize universal screening, multiple tiers, early intervening services, validated interventions, and student progress monitoring to inform decisions. The main differences between the two approaches (also highlighted in the table) lie in how instructional decisions and placement are made and in the number of interventions used with individual students.
Let’s highlight some of the major points found in the table comparing the problem solving and the standard protocol approaches:
- The use of validated practices in the core classroom instruction
- The provision of instructional intervention to those who need it early
- Progress monitoring to inform decision making
- Evidence-based interventions in multiple tiers/ phases
- Reduced inappropriate referrals for special education services
- Teams, not instructors, making instructional and placement decisions
- The number of interventions used with individual students
Click to hear Sharon Vaughn’s perspective on a balanced approach to RTI (time: 1:55).
Sharon Vaughn, PhD Professor of special education Director of the Vaughn Gross Reading Center University of Texas, Austin
Transcript: Sharon Vaughn, PhD
It seems to me that there are several advantages to standard protocols. Perhaps most important, we have evidence that standard protocols have demonstrated effectiveness with the majority of students at risk. And, when these approaches are ineffective, we then have greater confidence that the students for whom they were less successful really require a special education or special instruction. Thus, when students don’t respond to these standard protocols, it could be for reasons other than lack of instruction. That’s why I advantage standard protocols when providing response-to-intervention. In my judgment, it doesn’t mean that people want to give up the interactive problem-solving process of thinking as a professional community for children and about what practices make sense for these students. Nor does it mean that we will do all of these in the absence of considering the context in which children learn, and the context of classrooms, communities, and teachers. But I do think schools that lead without a standard protocol type are vulnerable because they do not provide reliable information about discerning whether risk is a result of poor instruction or whether students have special needs. At this time, we simply do not know enough to say there is just one answer or one approach. It actually reminds me of a joke that people say which is, “You know, before I had any children, I had one theory about child rearing. But after I had three children, I had fifteen theories about child rearing.” And I think it’s very much the same thing with RTI. We can come up with one idea about how Tier 2 and Tier 3 are going to work, and then as we start implementing it, the craft knowledge from expert professionals with the day-to-day problems that come up with real children in real settings will give us the opportunity to adjust these approaches.
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The Special Education Process in 6 Steps
Special Education From Referral to Services in Just 6 Steps
Kristian Sekulic / Vetta / Getty Images
- Learning Issues
Developing an IEP
The goal of special education is to provide equal access to education for children through age 21 by providing specialized services that help them experience success in the classroom and beyond. If you, your child's doctor, or their teacher suspect that they may qualify for special education services, it's helpful to know what to expect.
But if you're unfamiliar with special education, the process can seem like a bewildering maze of bureaucratic red tape. We have taken the confusion out of the process by providing insight into the six crucial steps that occur in the special education process.
Identifying Learning Issues
The first step in the special education process is determining if your child has a learning problem and needs help. Typically, children with developmental delays or physical disabilities are diagnosed by their pediatrician or another medical provider. Because they are diagnosed before entering the school system, these children enter school with special education plans already in place.
But for students with learning disabilities, they often look and act just like their peers. They may even perform well during preschool and even in kindergarten without any recognizable difficulties. But as the schoolwork becomes more challenging, they may begin to struggle more than their peers.
The key to identifying potential learning disabilities is to be in tune with how your child is faring in school and to know what challenges they are experiencing.
If you're concerned your student is struggling more than normal, don't be afraid to ask for help. In fact, according to the Learning Disabilities Association of America, if kids who are struggling with reading in first grade receive intervention early, 90% of them will achieve normal reading ability. But, if assistance is delayed until third grade , 75% will struggle with reading throughout their lives.
Although recognizing that your child is struggling does not automatically mean they have a learning disability or that they need special education, it does at least warrant a conversation with the teacher . Clearly, there are ongoing problems with learning that require additional assistance.
Initially, schools will provide academic assistance or intervention strategies prior to going further with the special education process. In many cases, this type of intervention will resolve the problem, and no further action is needed. For children who continue to struggle, though, schools will move to evaluate the student.
Referring for Evaluation
When a parent or the child's teachers feel it's necessary to evaluate a child to determine how severe their learning problems are and whether a disability exists, the decision to evaluate is made during a special education meeting. During this meeting, parents are advised of their rights and are asked to sign a formal consent for evaluation.
All special education meetings must be held at a mutually agreeable time and place for the parents and committee members. Parents also must be given adequate notice that enables them to attend and they must be informed of who will be there as well as the purpose of each special education meeting.
Know Your Rights
Parents always have the right to bring a support person with them to a meeting or an advocate to represent them.
If the committee agrees, and the parent gives consent, the child is then evaluated in a process that involves several types of tests. The school has 60 days to complete the evaluation and implement a special education placement if the child qualifies. If the parents disagree with the results of the evaluation, they may request a full, independent educational evaluation at the school's expense.
As a parent, it's important to remember that this assessment will involve the use of diagnostic tools that provide an overview of your child's school performance, their strengths and weaknesses, their hearing and vision, as well as their cognitive functioning.
Assessments are valuable tools that provide insight into your child's struggles. They also are useful because they allow you the opportunity to set goals and request services. But assessments are not able to predict your child's future performance or ability. So, it's important to view them realistically.
Once the evaluation is complete, the child's special education team, including the parent, will have a meeting to review the results of the evaluation and determine whether the child meets the state's regulatory guidelines for diagnosis with a disability. Not every child who receives an assessment will have a learning disability, but many do.
In fact, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, 7.1 million students received special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) during the 2018-19 school year and 33% of those students had specific learning disabilities.
For kids who are identified with a learning disability and who qualify for special education services, the next step is an IEP meeting (individualized education program). If your child does not have a learning disability and doesn't qualify for special education, keep looking for solutions to your child's educational struggles.
Work with your child's teachers and other service providers to draft an action plan designed to help your child meet their education goals. If you do not agree with the decision of the committee, you may request mediation, file a formal complaint, or request a due process hearing.
If your child meets the eligibility criteria, and the committee agrees they have a disability, the school must develop an IEP. Under IDEA, the school district has 30 days from the documentation of the disability to complete the IEP.
To develop an IEP, the special education team will consider your child's needs and assessment data in order to determine what type of services, interventions, and accommodations your child might need in order to be successful.
For parents, it's important to remember that your child is entitled to receive services in an environment as close to the general education setting as possible.
If you don't understand why a recommendation is being made, you should ask for clarification. It's important that everyone have a clear understanding of what's being recommended and why. You also can make requests if you feel an area of concern is not being addressed.
For instance, if your child's assessments show that they struggle with reading comprehension , you can use that data to request speech and language support. You can even request classroom accommodations , such as extra time to complete reading and writing assignments and tests.
Discussing the IEP
The committee, including the parent, meets to develop the IEP. Schools may develop a draft IEP and bring it to the meeting, but the IEP is not finalized until the meeting is held and the committee members have input into the document. During this meeting, the team will use data such as test scores, work samples, and behavioral charts to support any recommendations that they make.
If you are uncomfortable with a placement recommendation, it's important to work with the IEP team to come up with a better solution or alternative.
Keep in mind that by law, decisions are made by consensus. So while you have considerable influence, you don't have the right to veto decisions the committee recommends.
You can involve an advocate , but you will need to use conflict resolution strategies to come to an agreement. Try to use the data gathered during the assessment along with verifiable research to support your requests.
In most cases, the team is able to come to an agreeable solution. After all, everyone in the meeting wants to see your child succeed.
Finalizing the IEP and Placement
Once an agreement on the content of the IEP is reached, the committee finalizes the most appropriate placement for the child. Placement can range from a fully inclusive program in the regular classroom to pull-out services in a special education program. In rare cases, students may be served in special schools or hospitals. The parent is asked to sign consent for the agreed-upon services to be provided.
After the IEP is finalized, you will meet with the IEP team annually to discuss your child's progress. During those meetings, the team will evaluate the effectiveness of the IEP and modify it as needed.
You also can request an IEP meeting anytime throughout the school year if you feel something isn't working or that a change needs to be made.
Every three years, your child will be assessed to determine if they still require special education. You will be presented with this information in a triennial meeting.
In addition to these formal meetings, you should be in regular communication with your child's teachers. Together, you should be monitoring how your child is doing academically and whether or not they are meeting their educational goals.
A Word From Verywell
It's not easy to hear about your child's struggles and learning disabilities. Yet, on an intellectual level, you know this issue is one you need to hear about and address. While it's important to recognize and accept your feelings, whatever they may be, you also need to work toward acceptance of the challenges your child is facing.
By learning as much as you can about your child's disability and by taking an active role in your child's education, including the IEP process, you will be able to help your student not only get the services and help they need, but also meet their goals and be successful.
Learning Disabilities Association of America. New to LD .
National Center for Education Statistics. Students with disabilities .
Benitez Ojeda AB, Carugno P. Special education . In: StatPearls . StatPearls Publishing. PMID:29763032
Chesmore AA, Ou SR, Reynolds AJ. Childhood placement in special education and adult well-being . J Spec Educ . 2016;50(2):109-120. doi:10.1177/0022466915624413
Hibel J, Farkas G, Morgan PL. Who is placed into special education ? Sociol Educ . 2010;83(4):312-332. doi:10.1177/0038040710383518
By Ann Logsdon Ann Logsdon is a school psychologist specializing in helping parents and teachers support students with a range of educational and developmental disabilities.
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Math Problem-Solving: Combining Cognitive & Metacognitive Strategies in a 7-Step Process
Solving an advanced math problem independently requires the coordination of a number of complex skills. The student must have the capacity to reliably implement the specific steps of a particular problem-solving process, or cognitive strategy. At least as important, though, is that the student must also possess the necessary metacognitive skills to analyze the problem, select an appropriate strategy to solve that problem from an array of possible alternatives, and monitor the problem-solving process to ensure that it is carried out correctly. This issue of NASET’s Practical Teacher presents math problem-solving strategies that combine both cognitive and metacognitive elements (Montague, 1992; Montague & Dietz, 2009).
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- What Happens When Children Who Do Not Respond to or Struggle Greatly with Phonics, More of the Same?
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- How Rhyming and Rappin’ Can Improve Reading and Writing: Improving Poetic Intelligence
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- Comparing and Contrasting Research-to-Teaching Practices: A Critical Analysis of Highly Restrictive Special Education Placements for Students with Low-Incidence Disabilities
- Parental Involvement within Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Families: Misconceptions, Barriers, and Implications
- The Effects of Parent Therapy for Disruptive Behaviors: A Review of the Literature
- Children’s Literature + DI + UDL + Mathematics = Success for Students with Disabilities
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- Students with Disabilities in Postsecondary Institutions: What Higher Education Should Be Doing to Support Them
- Hospitality in an Inclusive Classroom
- UDL and Art Education for Students with Disabilities and Physical Impairments
- Truly Experiencing Teaching and Learning for the First Time: Snails are Introduced to a Community of Learners Patricia Mason, Ed.D.
- Disproportionate Representation of English Language Learners (ELLs) in Special Education Programs
- 1+1= iPad Math Apps for Teachers
- Using Music to Teach Reading to Kindergarten Students
- Creating a Classroom for Diverse Learners
- The Challenges of Special Education for Parents and Students: A Literature Review By Reshma Mulchan
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- Inquiry - Based Learning: Special Education Applications By Jillian F. Swanson
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- Special Education Research: Where to Start?
- Intellectual Disabilities in Your Classroom: 9 Tips for Teachers
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- The Five Secrets to Being a Special Education Teacher and Still Loving Your Job
- Bridging the Great Divide: Best Practice Ideas for the Resource/Inclusion Teacher
- Enjoying Favorite Books with Struggling Readers: Part 2
- Trauma Informed Teaching in Special Education By: Joshua A. Del Viscovo, M.S., B.C.S.E.
- Enjoying Favorite Books with Struggling Readers: Part I
- A Proper Fraction Museum
- A Review of Financial Literacy Programs for K-12 Students with Intellectual Disabilities: Utilizing the Principles of Universal Design for Learning
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- Schedule A Hiring Authority: Tips for Youth and Young Adults with Disabilties Interested in Starting a Career with the Federal Government
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- College Planning for the Child with Special Needs: A Parent and Teacher Collaboration
- Latin and Greek Word Root Study to Accelerate Spelling, Vocabulary, and Reading Proficiency for All Students
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- Math Problem-Solving: Combining Cognitive & Metacognitive Strategies in a 7-Step Process
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Problem-solving is the ability to identify and solve problems by applying appropriate skills systematically.
Problem-solving is a process—an ongoing activity in which we take what we know to discover what we don't know. It involves overcoming obstacles by generating hypo-theses, testing those predictions, and arriving at satisfactory solutions.
Problem-solving involves three basic functions:
Generating new knowledge
Problem-solving is, and should be, a very real part of the curriculum. It presupposes that students can take on some of the responsibility for their own learning and can take personal action to solve problems, resolve conflicts, discuss alternatives, and focus on thinking as a vital element of the curriculum. It provides students with opportunities to use their newly acquired knowledge in meaningful, real-life activities and assists them in working at higher levels of thinking (see Levels of Questions ).
Here is a five-stage model that most students can easily memorize and put into action and which has direct applications to many areas of the curriculum as well as everyday life:
Here are some techniques that will help students understand the nature of a problem and the conditions that surround it:
- List all related relevant facts.
- Make a list of all the given information.
- Restate the problem in their own words.
- List the conditions that surround a problem.
- Describe related known problems.
For younger students, illustrations are helpful in organizing data, manipulating information, and outlining the limits of a problem and its possible solution(s). Students can use drawings to help them look at a problem from many different perspectives.
Understand the problem. It's important that students understand the nature of a problem and its related goals. Encourage students to frame a problem in their own words.
Describe any barriers. Students need to be aware of any barriers or constraints that may be preventing them from achieving their goal. In short, what is creating the problem? Encouraging students to verbalize these impediments is always an important step.
Identify various solutions. After the nature and parameters of a problem are understood, students will need to select one or more appropriate strategies to help resolve the problem. Students need to understand that they have many strategies available to them and that no single strategy will work for all problems. Here are some problem-solving possibilities:
Create visual images. Many problem-solvers find it useful to create “mind pictures” of a problem and its potential solutions prior to working on the problem. Mental imaging allows the problem-solvers to map out many dimensions of a problem and “see” it clearly.
Guesstimate. Give students opportunities to engage in some trial-and-error approaches to problem-solving. It should be understood, however, that this is not a singular approach to problem-solving but rather an attempt to gather some preliminary data.
Create a table. A table is an orderly arrangement of data. When students have opportunities to design and create tables of information, they begin to understand that they can group and organize most data relative to a problem.
Use manipulatives. By moving objects around on a table or desk, students can develop patterns and organize elements of a problem into recognizable and visually satisfying components.
Work backward. It's frequently helpful for students to take the data presented at the end of a problem and use a series of computations to arrive at the data presented at the beginning of the problem.
Look for a pattern. Looking for patterns is an important problem-solving strategy because many problems are similar and fall into predictable patterns. A pattern, by definition, is a regular, systematic repetition and may be numerical, visual, or behavioral.
Create a systematic list. Recording information in list form is a process used quite frequently to map out a plan of attack for defining and solving problems. Encourage students to record their ideas in lists to determine regularities, patterns, or similarities between problem elements.
Try out a solution. When working through a strategy or combination of strategies, it will be important for students to …
Keep accurate and up-to-date records of their thoughts, proceedings, and procedures. Recording the data collected, the predictions made, and the strategies used is an important part of the problem solving process.
Try to work through a selected strategy or combination of strategies until it becomes evident that it's not working, it needs to be modified, or it is yielding inappropriate data. As students become more proficient problem-solvers, they should feel comfortable rejecting potential strategies at any time during their quest for solutions.
Monitor with great care the steps undertaken as part of a solution. Although it might be a natural tendency for students to “rush” through a strategy to arrive at a quick answer, encourage them to carefully assess and monitor their progress.
Feel comfortable putting a problem aside for a period of time and tackling it at a later time. For example, scientists rarely come up with a solution the first time they approach a problem. Students should also feel comfortable letting a problem rest for a while and returning to it later.
Evaluate the results. It's vitally important that students have multiple opportunities to assess their own problem-solving skills and the solutions they generate from using those skills. Frequently, students are overly dependent upon teachers to evaluate their performance in the classroom. The process of self-assessment is not easy, however. It involves risk-taking, self-assurance, and a certain level of independence. But it can be effectively promoted by asking students questions such as “How do you feel about your progress so far?” “Are you satisfied with the results you obtained?” and “Why do you believe this is an appropriate response to the problem?”
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Teaching Problem Solving
Problem solving and thinking skills can be taught. It is important that students be given direct instruction on the use of problem solving skills within their curriculum.
Given the secondary disabilities caused by some disorders, children will benefit from explicit instruction that includes:
- how to select the appropriate problem solving skill,
- how to gather the necessary information,
- how to apply the skill to solve a problem,
- how to shift problem-solving strategies when the original strategy is ineffective, and
- how to use the skills across academic domains and life situations .
Specific problem solving approaches depend on the task the child has to solve. However, there are general thinking strategies to help students learn efficiently in the classroom.
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10 Steps in the Special Education Process
The state must identify, locate, and evaluate all children with disabilities in the state who need special education and related services. To do so, states conduct “Child Find” activities. A child may be identified by “Child Find,” and parents may be asked if the “Child Find” system can evaluate their child. Parents can also call the “Child Find” system and ask that their child be evaluated.
A school professional may ask that a child be evaluated to see if he or she has a disability. Parents may also contact the child’s teacher or other school professional to ask that their child be evaluated. This request may be verbal or in writing. Parental consent is needed before the child may be evaluated. Evaluation needs to be completed within a reasonable time after the parent gives consent.
- The child is evaluated. The evaluation must assess the child in all areas related to the child’s suspected disability. The evaluation results will be used to decide the child’s eligibility for special education and related services and to make decisions about an appropriate educational program for the child. If the parents disagree with the evaluation, they have the right to take their child for an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE). They can ask that the school system pay for this IEE.
- Eligibility is decided. A group of qualified professionals and the parents look at the child’s evaluation results. Together, they decide if the child is a “child with a disability,” as defined by IDEA. Parents may ask for a hearing to challenge the eligibility decision.
- The child is found eligible for services. If the child is found to be a “child with a disability,” as defined by IDEA, he or she is eligible for special education and related services. Within 30 calendar days after a child is determined eligible, the IEP team must meet to write an IEP for the child. Once the student has been found eligible for services, the IEP must be written. The two steps below summarize what is involved in writing the IEP.
- contact the participants, including the parents
- notify parents early enough to make sure they have an opportunity to attend
- schedule the meeting at a time and place agreeable to parents and the school
- tell the parents the purpose, time, and location of the meeting
- tell the parents who will be attending
- tell the parents that they may invite people to the meeting who have knowledge or special expertise about the child.
- The IEP meeting is held and the IEP is written. The IEP team gathers to talk about the child’s needs and write the student’s IEP. Parents and the student (when appropriate) are part of the team. If the child’s placement is decided by a different group, the parents must be part of that group as well. Before the school system may provide special education and related services to the child for the first time, the parents must give consent. The child begins to receive services as soon as possible after the meeting. If the parents do not agree with the IEP and placement, they may discuss their concerns with other members of the IEP team and try to work out an agreement. If they still disagree, parents can ask for mediation, or the school may offer mediation. Parents may file a complaint with the state education agency and may request a due process hearing, at which time mediation must be available.
- Services are provided. The school makes sure that the child’s IEP is being carried out as it was written. Parents are given a copy of the IEP. Each of the child’s teachers and service providers has access to the IEP and knows his or her specific responsibilities for carrying out the IEP. This includes the accommodations, modifications, and supports that must be provided to the child, in keeping with the IEP.
- Progress is measured and reported to parents. The child’s progress toward the annual goals is measured, as stated in the IEP. His or her parents are regularly informed of their child’s progress and whether that progress is enough for the child to achieve the goals by the end of the year. These progress reports must be given to parents at least as often as parents are informed of their nondisabled children’s progress.
- The IEP is reviewed. The child’s IEP is reviewed by the IEP team at least once a year, or more often if the parents or school ask for a review. If necessary, the IEP is revised. Parents, as team members, must be invited to attend these meetings. Parents can make suggestions for changes, can agree or disagree with the IEP goals, and agree or disagree with the placement. If parents do not agree with the IEP and placement, they may discuss their concerns with other members of the IEP team and try to work out an agreement. There are several options, including additional testing, an independent evaluation, or asking for mediation (if available) or a due process hearing. They may also file a complaint with the state education agency.
- The child is reevaluated. At least every three years the child must be reevaluated. This evaluation is often called a “triennial.” Its purpose is to find out if the child continues to be a “child with a disability,” as defined by IDEA, and what the child’s educational needs are. However, the child must be reevaluated more often if conditions warrant or if the child’s parent or teacher asks for a reevaluation.
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10 Basic Steps of Special Education
Many children struggle with learning and developmental disabilities. Parents often recognize problems early in their children's lives, but occasionally, problems are not recognizable until their children enroll in school. Children struggle with various learning problems, including difficulty retaining information, dyslexia, and other reading problems. Many children struggle with behavioral problems.
It's essential to diagnose a child's behavioral problem or disability before he or she can receive the necessary help. If a child is diagnosed with a disability, all public schools have special education programs to assist disabled students.
Parents should be aware of the process followed to diagnose special needs or at-risk children with learning disabilities. The following information details the 10 major steps followed when determining whether a child has a learning disability:
Step 1. Child is identified as possibly needing special education and related services.
Children are usually referred to professionals for review and diagnosis after being referred by a parent or teacher. Another method used to determine special needs children is the Child Find program. This program is used by educators in every state.
Child Find. A law passed by the federal government in 2004 known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act mandates that all state public schools evaluate students demonstrating signs of potential disabilities. If a child is diagnosed with a disability, school districts must provide adequate special education assistance. Many educators rely on the Child Find program to locate at-risk children.
Referral or request for evaluation. Teachers often refer children to school counselors or psychologists to be evaluated for possible disabilities. When this happens, parents must be notified to give their consent. Concerned parents can also refer their children directly to professionals.
After parents grant their consent to an evaluation of their child, the law requires that evaluations be concluded within 2 months after parents agree to the decision. However, this timeframe can differ in individual states.
Step 2. Child is evaluated.
The evaluation stage is very important and is intended to determine whether children:
- Have a disability that would necessitate assistance through a special education program
- Have any needs requiring special education instruction
- Require any type of special education assistance
The first session between a counselor or psychologist and child demonstrating symptoms indicative of a disability is often intended to determine whether the child has a problem requiring further assessment. Many facets of the child's life will be evaluated. If it's determined the child needs assistance, then recommendations for special education programs will be provided by the counselor or psychologist.
Parents uncomfortable or in disagreement with their children's diagnosis can request an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE). School districts often cover the costs of these evaluations.
Step 3. Eligibility is decided.
After a child is evaluated, parents and other professionals review results to decide whether the child requires special education assistance. Parents can always seek a re-evaluation if the results are not conclusive.
Step 4. Child is found eligible for services.
When children are diagnosed with disabilities, they can enroll in a special education program. Within a month of a diagnosis, educators must prepare an Individual Education Program (IEP) to aid children diagnosed with disabilities.
Step 5. IEP meeting is scheduled.
Schools are responsible for setting up and administering IEPs. It's also their responsibility to:
- Contact parents and notify them in advance of an IEP planning session, so they can be present
- Schedule an IEP planning session at a time and location convenient for parents
- Notify parents of educators and other professionals who will be present at the meeting, including professionals specializing in the type of disability afflicting the child
Step 6. IEP meeting is held and the IEP is written.
IEP meetings are held to discuss a child's educational needs and outline an IEP. In most meetings, parents and their children attend and participate. Whenever a group outside the school makes determinations for a child's IEP, parents are invited to their meetings. After IEPs are developed, parents must agree to any special services their children receive. Children receive assistance immediately after IEPs are finalized and parents agree to them.
Parents disagreeing with IEPs can always discuss the issues they have with educators and others involved in the process. When compromises cannot be reached, parents can request mediation.
Step 7. After the IEP is written, services are provided.
Once IEPs are finalized and signed off on by parents, schools follow the plans as outlined in an IEP. Teachers and special education specialists can refer to the IEP whenever they have questions about a child's needs. They can also find information about alterations made to a child's plan in an IEP.
Step 8. Progress is measured and reported to parents.
Educators and special education specialists closely monitor students and document any progress made by students. Parents receive constant updates about the progress made by their children. Progress reports are usually given to parents on the same intervals as grade reports for other children enrolled in the school.
Step 9. IEP is reviewed.
IEPs are reviewed by educators annually or whenever parents request a review. When it's required, educators and parents can make alterations to IEPs. Parents are permitted to make recommendations for IEP modifications and appeal any disagreements they have with plan revisions and discuss possible compromises with educators. Parents can also request more testing, review by an independent committee, and seek additional alterations whenever they disagree with an IEP. If necessary, parents can submit a complaint with the appropriate government agencies. These agencies are administered at the state level.
Step 10. Child is reevaluated.
Special education students must be re-examined every 3 years, in what is known as a "triennial." Re-evaluations are conducted to determine whether students still require special education services, but in many cases, children are re-examined if their problems worsen or they require additional assistance.
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Five current trending issues in special education.
The majority of students with disabilities is now served in general education classrooms as we embrace inclusive practices in our schools. The primary dynamics of the general ed classroom is changing due to these inclusive measures. Continuing scarcity of special education teachers and movement toward team teaching or co-teaching impact the process that districts approach special education as well. The lines are blurring in diagnosis, pedagogy, and instruction between a general education classroom and special education approaches to instruction.
As mentioned, both here and in previous blog posts, the classroom is changing. The focus of educators is becoming more about supporting students who face trauma, catastrophic events, multiple disabilities, and special talents, all without the benefit of a clear diagnosis. This is leaving general education classroom teachers responsible for a greater need for understanding of student learning that falls outside the realm of a worksheet and basal reader.
Let’s take a deeper look into some of the top five issues that are currently trending in the world of special education.
As technology continues to substantially alter the classroom, students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) are especially targeted for extra support. By leveraging technology, classroom instruction can be enhanced with individual learning occasions, which allows teachers greater flexibility for differentiation in instruction through blended learning opportunities and the variety of Web-based, evidence-based practices. No longer are students stuck in a classroom they don’t understand, learning at a pace they can’t keep up with.
Students and teachers are often faced with dire situations far outside their control. Managing these situations and addressing the emotional impact can make day-to-day instruction feel trivial in comparison. How do you face a traumatic event and continue to learn fractions?
This school year, we have seen flooding, fires, tornados, mudslides, polar vortexes, and hurricanes affect communities. Surely these should be considered traumatic events! The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) counts natural disasters as traumatic events . The NCTSN defines a traumatic event as a “frightening, dangerous, or violent event that poses a threat to a child’s life or bodily integrity.” Each student reacts to trauma in his or her own way. While there is no clear-cut set of cues to spot, there are many resources describing possible signs of trauma to keep an eye out for. According to the NCTSN, there is a variety of behaviors that you might observe in students affected by trauma.
These students are dealing with issues that are far outside of the classroom, yet impact learning. How students deal is unique to them, but they do not qualify for special education services immediately. Trauma-screening resources are available for educators to help providers identify children’s and families’ needs. Knowing the signs and resources is a first step to managing a general education classroom with these special students.
Students who face trauma certainly require special accommodations. Their world and work are significantly impacted by forces outside of their control. There are behaviors we can look for and resources we can put in place, but as educators, and often participants of the same catastrophic events, we need to be aware of the resources and act as part of the solution, not the only solution.
To explore some of the ways that educators can support students who have gone through trauma, as well as some additional resources, read our full blog post, which expands on this topic .
Educators are well aware of the impact of poverty on students and learning. But, do you know how many of your students are homeless? This is a challenge being faced by more students than you might expect, and under new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requirements, increased focus is being placed on monitoring the academic growth of this specific population. Again, these students fit outside the realm of traditionally acknowledged special education students.
For homeless students, the classroom could be the one safe, stable place in their day-to-day lives, an important tether to the safety and security of routine and, perhaps most critically, an essential support in the journey out of poverty and into a better situation. These students are being forced to deal with significant, difficult, and interrelated challenges outside of the classroom that inevitably impact academic performance and the ability to participate in instruction.
At this point, it should come as no surprise that for children already identified as needing special education services, the stresses of homelessness can exacerbate learning problems. After all, transitions are often hard for children with exceptionalities—can you imagine anything more transitional than being without a consistent place to sleep every night? However, not all homeless students have gone through the evaluation process (or need to), so providing educational support and resources is not an option, but consider how difficult it must be for general education students to deal with the uncertainty of circumstances and continue to maintain focus on classroom instruction. Read our full blog post on this topic for strategies for educators and for resources you can connect your students to.
One of the challenges teachers face, in addition to everything else on their plates, is providing material that is appropriate in content and grade level for every child. When discussing students with special needs, this can often refer to age-appropriate and skill-appropriate content. There is another population of students that must be reviewed with an eye toward their special needs. These children often get lost, and because of their talents, these students often find themselves hiding in the “average” populations.
In education, students who qualify for gifted programs as well as special education services are described as “twice-exceptional” learners. Twice-exceptional (or “2E”) students demonstrate significantly above-average abilities in certain academic areas but also show special educational needs, such as ADHD, learning disabilities, or autism spectrum disorder. Because their giftedness often masks their special needs, or vice versa, they are sometimes labeled as "lazy" or "underperforming," even though that is not the case.
Educators recognize that 2E students exist—often in the shadows—of the classroom. However, the real challenge is how to accurately identify these students, understand the challenges that they face, and implement whole-child-based strategies to best support them. Savvy teachers are now learning how to allow these students to experience the same opportunities available for gifted students, learn in ways that highlight their strengths, and address their challenges at the same time.
To learn more about how to best support 2E students in your classroom , read our full blog post on this topic .
We have talked at great length about some of the issues that students and teachers are facing within special education. Many of these topics are outside of the identification of diagnosis and recognition of special ed disabilities and guaranteed services. However, one common theme we have not discussed is the approach that must be considered when meeting with parents. You, as their child’s teacher, may be the very first person to indicate that there is an issue with their precious baby. Starting the conversation is hard—you can be met with tears or terror. The main thing to consider is that this is their child and that you only know one small piece of the puzzle.
It is important from the beginning that you are part of the one unified team that supports students in the best way possible. At the end of the day, you and your students’ parents want the best for the children, and it’s important to remember that. You play an important role in students’ lives, so make sure that you’re making your voice heard, but be sure that you’re listening to what parents have to say. Keep children’s best interests in mind. Remember, you are an advocate, but they are the parents. Create a plan that you can all agree on—one that will find students where they are.
There is more legislation supporting students with special needs as being part of the general education classroom. Students with special needs are part of the general populations of their grade levels both in testing and in instruction. ESSA has clear limits on which/how many students can be classified for assessments (high-stakes exams), and the assessment world is moving toward the growth mindset, which celebrates a growth over final scores. It’s a position where special education teachers have lived for years.
Next Steps for Educators
Classroom teachers are amazing. It’s as simple as that. More and more students, either diagnosed or facing matters that are outside the standards of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) categories of special ed, are showing up in the general education classroom. This puts significant pressures on general education teachers. Continuing education, individualized instruction, and flexibility are paramount for these teachers.
Legislation calls for some of these previously underrepresented populations to be accountable in high-stakes testing, without IEPs or provisions. This means that classroom teachers must be aware of how best to teach everyone in the classroom and not turn over the keys to a special education teacher. Teachers with special education certification may not be there or may be spread across many classrooms. Communication is key. Work with other teachers, parents, and students to create an environment of shared practice and success. Be sensitive to the journey your students are on; it may have hidden barriers we might not know about.
Looking for more special education resources to support your students? Check out the special education tag on our blog , where you’ll find classroom practices, the latest news, and tons of resources to best support all students in your classroom!
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