Saturday, March 27, 2010

All classes - no progress

Yesterday I attended an IEP/Annual Review for a student of Woodstock's own therapeutic day school at Clay Academy (formerly known as Clay Elementary School). I was invited by the student's parents and thought I was going to a parent-teacher conference.

Imagine my surprise (well, not too great) at being ushered into the principal's office and finding quite a few people present: principal, nurse, social worker, outside agency rep., school district office rep, teacher, case manager and two parents.

This particular student has had a very high rate of absenteeism; in fact, out of 43 school days since mid-January, he attended on 17 (if I remember the count correctly from the attendance report).

Although the 15-year-old student was invited to attend, he did not accompany his parents to the meeting. There are some meetings where it's better that the student not attend, and this was one of them.

His progress was reported as non-existent, "due to the number of absences." After listening for about 90 minutes, I was asked if I had a comment, and I asked whether the school had attempted to determine the cause for the absences. Exactly, I meant.

I suggested a Functional Behavior Assessment, which is a well-known tool designed to reveal the causes of any particular behavior are. If properly used, an FBA can often pinpoint what is leading up to the behavior in question. You look for causes; what happened before the behavior;what was to the student; who was present; what happened before that? And before that?

The popular phrase, "the devil is in the details", comes to mind. Teachers and staff must be honest and complete in their reporting.

If a student reports that a teacher is constantly yelling at him, a teacher may deny it. But, is it happening? Responses are sometimes "politically correct". Sometimes (often?) they are couched in "workshop" or "in-service" terms that protect the teacher. But, if the student feels "yelled at" and shuts down or acts out, and it's a therapeutic school setting for special-needs students, then the teacher and staff should be figuring out Plan B.

These teachers have a tough job. There is no doubt about it. But they also have smaller caseloads and small classes. We need, and the kids deserve, the "Ron Clarks" and the "Erin Gruwells" of the educational world. If you don't know who they are, do a search on Google for "Ron Clark 55" and Erin's name.

Sorry, but "no progress" is not an acceptable report. There must be some progress, even if you only pick up from the last day of attendance and go on (even a little).

3 comments: said...

As a former Michigan public school counselor and teacher, School-based counseling, whether at the elementary, secondary or post secondary level, is an educational process, and not a therapeutic one.

To do otherwise is to leave oneself and one's employer wide open to major legal action on the part of the parent or guardian. Granted we listen to many personal problems, but we are not therapists. We do not do "therapy."

Some of what school counselors do is facilitate and advocate for all of their students via participation in ongoing Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) meetings for special needs students, i.e., those who have undergone an thorough battery of psychological and intelligence tests in order to determine the nature of the learning disability, as well as offer recommendations for remediation.

Additionally, under Section #504students, i.e., those who appear to be progressing academically and meeting state graduation requirements, but who have been diagnosed with a medical condition which significantly impacts their ability to: 1)carry out daily activities of living (AOLs); 2)learn, or 3) learn have also received any and all needed accommodations as spelled out in their Section #504 Plan and subsequent meetings.

Under either the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) or Section #504 (originally an employment law) all special needs students are accommodated.

If, after all efforts to invite students to learn have been exhausted, the student chooses to remain at home each day, as opposed to attend school, their formal academic education will not progress.

If the parents or guardians enable their student's truancy, perhaps social services needs to be included in a multi-disciplinary approach on behalf of the student.

Typically, "at risk" students are identified and tracked very early in elementary school, where career pathway education should begin. Beginning in the seventh grade, and continuing through the twelfth grade and graduation, Michigan public school counselors are required to implement not only career education into the curriculum, but also work with each of their students in the development of an Educational Employability Development Plan.

Career Education involves introduction to and exploration of the six career pathways, while the student EEDP - usually a portfolio of student interests, checklists, achievements, interests, decision-making skills activities, etc. is begun.

If a student is identified as "at risk" for early withdrawal, career education becomes particularly critical, as a means by which to increase retention and eliminate excessively high and predictable drop-out trends.

In an effort to connect school with work, students "at risk" for early withdrawal may need to be evaluated for an "alternative educational" setting, where non-academic interests and future career goals may continue to be implemented, in an effort to connect school with work.

Nevertheless, when all is said and done, the student is the agent of change. said...

In the third paragraph of my comment, I inadvertantly typed "learn" twice; the third vaiable protected by Section #504 is, obviously, one's ability to "earn" such as a living.
My error - sorry.

Incidentally, many - but certainly not all - school personnel and their parents, assuming they understand the ramifications of Section #504 and its impact on school law, detest the mandated semester meetings during which at least one core academic instructor,as well as parents,as well as any outside agency if applicable meet to discuss the suitability of the accommodations. Incidentally, there are parents and students out there who are NOT clamoring for any "special accommodations!" They do not want the stigma which the "handicapping condition" may warrant.

The one student of mine which stands out in my mind developed a genetic condition which adversely affected his eyesight, and,thus, his ability to read the textbook print, as well as that of the PSAT and PLAN tests, both administered during the sophomore year. School personnel had prior knowledge of my student's inevitable need for accommodations, since his older sister had also developed the same eye condition, which eventually rendered her legally blind.

Nevertheless, the mother became adamant that I would treat her son "just like everyone else," which I followed through on,but against my professional judgement, and ordered no "enlarged print" textbooks. The student, did, however, ask me to read aloud a standardized test, due to the small size of the print, which I did.

Although I resigned from that district at the conclusion of the summer following his sophomore year, I'm sure that eventually he would have required all necessary accommodations, particularly throughout whatever post-secondary training or educational program he may have chosen after graduation from high school.

Since IEPs do not exist in post-secondary academic settings,it is up to the student to make their particular handicap known to the appropriate individuals, so that whatever accommodations are possible, they are made available to the student. said...

With great interest, I have read the article in which Clay Academy is described as a "therapeutic" day school, and, where I attended fourth and fifth grades. Without disrespecting the multiple and various needs of the current public school population, initially, the term "therapeutic" sounded almost humorous. Most would describe their sum total of school experiences as anything but "therapeutic!" I certainly didn't feel "therapeutized" when my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Drummond, whom I feared and respected, informed me that I would be joining her every afternoon after school for practice on my "timed" multiplication facts.

Do you remember? This was the test which involved completing fifty multiplication facts, while listening to the ticking of the timer in the background! Who cared that it was warm and nice outside? Who cared that the steady ticking sound of that timer in the background had the power to exact an ominous consequence (probably more required practice later that evening) until ALL fifty were completed correctly. At the time, this necessary "drilling" felt anything but therapeutic to me, but, guess what? It worked!