IEP Tip: Let’s talk independent evaluations. If an independent evaluator provides a “rule out” diagnosis, he needs to explain to parents that a child is at-risk for a disability. It does not mean the disability, along with an inability to make effective progress, exists currently and that the school should be providing specialized instruction or related services now. Special education is not pro-active, it is reactive. If a child is “at-risk” of a reading disorder, but accessing, obtain the general ed benchmark testing and keep careful watch. Ensure RTI interventions are put in place, if appropriate. But, telling the parent of a young student (K or 1) that specialized instruction is required for what very well could be a reading disability, but is not now, is placing a lot of stress and guilt on the parent. In addition, when outside testers make recommendations, they need to take care to write what the specific child needs, not what every child with the diagnosis would benefit from. Some parents then want the school to implement 3 pages of best practice accomodations for a disability which may really be a relative weakness. “Access to an iPad or laptop” does not mean a student requires a dedicated device, “frequent teacher check-ins” does not mean every moment and every worksheet. Parents may think accommodations mean the child’s performance should be perfect and they jump to the conclusion that if there is an error, the teacher didn;t do their job. The bottom line is everyone needs to be reasonable (schools, evaluators, parents, and advocates). We need to look at the big picture. A good advocate will tell the parent whether an IEP or 504 is sufficient, and whether one is obtainable, and then help the parent build a case for services. A good advocate may help the parent access outside services. A great advocate will be honest and supportive; she doesn’t tell parents only what they want to hear.
IEP Tip: When a school has no data to prove their case with, it does not mean it is easy to get them to do the right thing. It means you have a much stronger case. Poorly written IEPs have general goals and horrifically bad unmeasurable benchmarks. The IEP drives placement (type of and then specific program location). Make sure progress reporting on the IEP goals will yield measurable data. And remember the IEP itself should not mention specific placement, it should define the students needs to allow the team to determine the type of placement and then recommend where that program can be delivered. Too often placement drives draft IEPs and that is backwards and contrary to the regulations.