Do you ever have those moments where you really want to focus but you just can't? Bear with me as today is that day. Earlier this week I became an aunt to a beautiful new baby girl! We've been busy hosting family, dropping off meals, and smelling that sweet baby's head for hours at a time.
Even so, I don't want to leave you hanging for our P in the ABCs of SPED series. This P is one of the most important, and often unfamiliar, concepts for parents in the special education process.
P is for Prior Written Notice (also abbreviated as PWN).
What is this?
I.D.E.A. legislation states that,
"The school district must give you a written notice whenever the school district: (1) Proposes to begin or change the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of your child or the provision of a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to your child; or (2) Refuses to begin or change the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of your child or the provision of FAPE to your child."
You read that correctly! The school is required to give you written notice of any proposed changes or rejected changes as they relate to your child's identification, evaluation, placement, or provision of FAPE (free, appropriate, public education).
So where does the "prior" come in? The school team is required to give this written notice BEFORE any changes or refusals go into effect. This means that prior written notice is typically given after an IEP meeting, but before the IEP must be implemented.
Remember, you have a number of days to sign the IEP before it goes into effect. I recommend NEVER signing an IEP during or the day of the meeting, and waiting to sign the IEP until you have received a copy of the Prior Written Notice and have reviewed it for accuracy.
You might now be wondering what must be included on a Prior Written Notice form. The requirement for Prior Written Notice states that schools must provide the following (from ed.gov):
This means that a PWN form should be thorough. I often see them and they look just like a single page of minutes describing the meeting. This is often NOT acceptable. An accurate Prior Written Notice form must provide evidence for numbers 1-5 above for EVERY proposed change or refused changed discussed at the meeting.
This means that if you ask for something (like an assistive technology device or an increase in service time) and the school says no, they must provide a justification in writing while hitting on all 5 of the bullet points above. If you've listed 10 requests in your parent concerns, all 10 refusals of those requests must be written out on the Prior Written Notice.
Why does this matter? Documentation is crucial if you ever get into a situation where you need to file a complaint or initiate due process. I hope you never do! But if you end up there, it's easy for it to become a "he said, she said" situation. Having a copy of the Prior Written Notice that outlines what you asked, what was granted or refused, and why is exceedingly helpful.
Your homework? At your next meeting:
Your other homework is to learn a bit more about PWN and how it can be used and leveraged. I'd suggest checking out this article from Wrightslaw and this article from The Center for Parent Information and Resources. And as always, PLEASE check your Procedural Safeguards booklet for information about Prior Written Notice in your state-- there may even be a sample template in there for you to look at.
Have you ever had issues with PWN? Share in our IEP Guru Facebook Group!
An objective, in special education, is essentially a short-term goal. You know how we have those big (sometimes hairy, audacious) annual goals? A short-term objective exists to break down that annual goal into more digestible pieces.
Short-term objectives are important for two reasons:
1. They provide stepping stones to move the student toward the big annual goal
2. They show us where the student may be falling through the cracks on the way to the big annual goal
Think about it this way. Let's say you have a goal to lose 10 lbs by the end of the summer. You start working at it, cutting back on your calories and adding in a bit more exercise...and you lose a pound or two. But then you go to a pool party and overindulge and gain it back. Then you lose, then you gain, then you lose, then you gain. Sound familiar?
A short-term objective outlines the small steps that must be met in order to achieve the larger goal. In our example of weight loss, a short-term objective may be "Eat at least 5 servings of vegetables a day for next week" or "Substitute flavored water for diet coke." They are smaller goals that push you further down the path toward your larger goal.
I can't tell you how often I hear from parents who say that their child has the same goals from year to year.
It's like the team gets to the very end of the year and only THEN realizes that the annual goal they chose wasn't realistic or reasonable, so they give the child (and themselves!) another year to reach it.
To this I say:
No no no no no no no.
My first piece of advice for these parents? Ask for short-term objectives to be written into the IEP. If the student does not meet a short-term objective for quarter 1 by the end of the first quarter, change the objectives and change the annual goal, as the student is no longer on track to meet it.
And then? Outline in the IEP what program supports, accommodations or modifications will be used during the following quarter to try to help the student meet the short-term objective so they can get back on track.
Note that many teachers do not want to include short-term objectives simply because it's more work for them to write and it's more work for them to track. If your child isn't progressing and you're not sure why-- push for these objectives!
The best way I can explain the importance of short-term objectives is think of a bridge. Your child and their current abilities are on one side and their goal is on the other. Short-term objectives are the wooden planks in the bridge to help them cross to the other side.
It may seem like the summer has just started... but the new school year will undoubtedly sneak up sooner than we'd like. And you know what that means?
...packing more lunches
...navigating the homework drama
...sitting in the carpool pick-up line
...welcoming new members to your child's IEP team!
You'll likely see a few new members on your child's IEP team with every new school year. Whether due to staffing changes, a move to a new school, or just moving from grade to grade, your child's special education teacher, general education teacher or related service providers may switch from year to year.
And it can be hard to acclimate to a new team and to build rapport with fresh team members.
How do I know this? Because my subscribers told me.
I asked parents (in a recent survey) what they found to be the most frustrating part of the IEP process.
You know what they said?
It wasn't the number of meetings they had to attend.
It wasn't the paperwork, the signatures, or the reports.
It wasn't even the sometimes-spotty communication from their school team.
It was that they felt like they had to explain, and convince, and TEACH their child's team about their child and his or her challenges. This is true year after year, with every new therapist or paraprofessional or special educator. Parents are tired of educating their child's educators about their child.
In order to alleviate this issue, I created a FREE resource to help you get a new IEP team member up-to-speed on what your child needs in order to be successful at school.
Enter: The One-Page Plan
This is a short, single-page document that includes the most important information about your child's needs. Sometimes called a "cheat sheet," "student summary," or "student resume," this document does the educating for you whenever a new member is added to your IEP team. And contrary to your student's IEP, it features what is most important to them and includes a list of their strengths. Because this is what defines your student, not their challenges.
Want a blank copy of this tool to use with your student? If you're already on my email list, it's already on its way! If not, use the SUBSCRIBE button below to sign up. I'll send a copy your way in the next few days.
Here's hoping you have at least two more months of summer before you have to use this :)
To start this week's blog, I decided to look up the definition of "Mastery." It's one of those words where you just know what it means, you know? But I wanted to be clear on its technical definition. And you know what? I didn't really like what I found!
Here's what Merriam-Webster says about mastery:
a : the authority of a master
b : the upper hand in a contest or competition
2a : possession or display of great skill or technique
2b : skill or knowledge that makes one master of a subject
I guess the best definition they give is 2a... but I'd like to do my own "Mallory-Webster" definition of mastery which is this:
The ability to complete a task without assistance or prompting, every time the task is given, in varying and appropriate contexts.
Let's break this down into pieces:
First, mastery includes the ability to complete a task. Mastery is active! If we're creating SMART annual goals (specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic/relevant and time-bound), then mastery of any particular goal will require the ability to perform the action stated in the goal. For example, if a goal states that a student will be able to write his/her name, the student must be able to write to demonstrate mastery. It seems so obvious, but even Merriam-Webster references "knowledge" in one definition! In education, we don't want "knowledge" of something to be the criteria. We want the action of being able to do something.
Next, mastery means a student is able to complete a task without prompting or assistance. To determine whether a student has mastered a particular skill or goal, we must assess whether they can do so without our help. Note, though, that this doesn't exclude accommodations like providing directions in multiple formats, or breaking down the directions into multiple steps. When assessing for mastery, we want to solely assess a student's ability to perform the skill, not their ability to follow directions or process large amounts of information.
Third, mastery means the student is always able to perform the skill. I think of mastery like I think of muscle memory. The student should have such a grasp on the particularly skill or task that they can do it without much conscious thought or effort. For example, I have mastered the skill of typing on a QWERTY keyboard. I can perform this skill without stopping to look at the keys or thinking about where the shift button is or wondering if there is a question mark key somewhere. Any time someone asks me to type something, I will be able to do so with a high level of performance, even if it's first thing in the morning or late at night, or on my laptop or on a desktop or even on my phone. Mastery is the ability to perform the skill whenever and wherever a student is asked.
Lastly, mastery involves transferability of the skill into varying contexts. We looked at knowledge transfer a few weeks ago so I wont belabor this point, but for a student to truly have mastered a skill, they must be able to perform the skill in any context that requires it. If a student can count money in the classroom but not at the grocery store checkout, they have not truly mastered the skill! However, if they can count money at the checkout but NOT in the classroom for some reason, I'd still consider this mastery as the checkout is the appropriate context for counting money.
Again, my very official IEP Guru definition of mastery is this: The ability to complete a task without assistance or prompting, every time the task is given, in varying and appropriate contexts.
So how does this apply to you or your student? When looking at whether your child has met his or her annual goals, go through each piece of this definition and evaluate whether the criteria is met. If your student meets some of the criteria but not others, they have not achieved mastery and the goal needs to be revisited-- typically in the form of short-term objectives. And lucky you, that's what I'm covering next week! Keep your eyes peeled...
Want more great tips? Be sure to follow IEP Guru on Facebook or join our collaborative IEP Guru Facebook group!
If you, like me, are over the age of 30, you probably do not remember having students with disabilities in any of your classes throughout the entirety of your school years.
This is because educational inclusion is a relatively new concept. Though the concept of "least restrictive environment" was first put forth in 1975, most of us were long outside of our school years by the time students with disabilities were routinely included in the general education classroom.
Prior to this, most students with disabilities were educated in self-contained special education classrooms or in special schools that were intended solely to serve students with disabilities.
The IDEA mandate for "least restrictive environment" (or LRE) sets the expectation for how and where students with disabilities are to be educated in their local school system.
“To the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities, including children in public or private institutions or other care facilities, are educated with children who are not disabled, and special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only when the nature or severity of the disability of a child is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily." Section 612(a)(5) (italics mine)
Yes, you read that correctly! Students with disabilities, to the maximum extent appropriate, are to be educated with children who are not disabled.
As such, a student's LRE, or Least Restrictive Environment, is the most inclusive placement possible that still meets the student's needs.
I like to think of LRE as the center of a Venn Diagram that has "student's needs are met" in one circle and "student is included with peers without disabilities" in the other. For some students, the two circles overlap-- this would be full inclusion. For others, the circles are totally distinct, i.e. for the student's needs to be met, s/he doesn't have any interaction with students who don't have disabilities (as is often the case for medically-fragile and homebound students).
LRE is not "inclusion" or "the general ed classroom" or any particular space in a school building. LRE is a spectrum, with full inclusion on one side and full exclusion on the other, and a lot of different stages and options in between.
What is an appropriate LRE for one child may not be appropriate for another, even those who have the same diagnosis.
But how do we make sure that a proposed placement truly is the LEAST restrictive possible?
We work OUT, not IN!
While many school teams do not function this way, it is appropriate and necessary that the operating expectation is that all students can be educated in an inclusive setting. As such, when discussing placement, the team must start from a place of full inclusion and move to more restrictive environments as dictated by the student’s needs.
What often happens instead is that the school team will start with an assumption that the student will be in a restrictive environment, such as a self-contained special education classroom, and will then try to figure out how to build in inclusion time for an hour here and an hour there—perhaps at lunch or in a special like art.
This is NOT how it's intended to work. Because children with disabilities are to be educated with children who are not disabled (and again, that's language from IDEA), school teams must work OUT from a place of inclusion, rather than IN to a place of inclusion.
So what options are there in terms of special education placement? First, know that anything is possible if the student’s needs dictate it (and as a result, I hate prescribing options because these are not hard-and-fast). However, since this can be a confusing concept for some parents to wrap around, here's how I see it from most inclusive placement (at the top) to most restrictive placement (at the bottom):
1. Full inclusion in a general education setting
2. General education classroom with "push-in" support (from a teacher or therapist)
3. General education classroom with "pull-out" support (i.e. the student is pulled out for certain subjects, interventions or therapies)
4. 50/50 split between general education and special education
5. Most of the day in special education with some inclusion time here or there (typically specials, lunch, recess)
6. All day in a special education classroom
7. Special school
8. Homebound or hospital-bound placement
You want to start at number 1 and only move down as far as necessary to get your child what they need. Often school teams try to start at 5 or 6. Many, many, many students with different diagnoses and needs can be served in placements 1-4. I get incredibly wary of schools who want to put kids in a 4, 5, or 6 placement before they've even tried a less restrictive environment.
That said, some kids truly do need a more restrictive environment, and for them, a number 6 or 7 placement is the least restrictive they can go while still having their needs met. In these cases, their LRE would be that special classroom or special school.
So what do you do if you feel like your child's LRE isn't truly the least restrictive possible?
That's more than I can include in one blog post! Check out the IEP Guru Digital Course for full lessons on inclusion and all-things-IEP!