Saturday, February 27, 2010

This is Just a "Snapshot View" : IEP of an Asperger's Student

"This is just a snapshot view." The school psychologist's words rang out in the tense IEP meeting. The "so-called experts" were giving their opinions based on brief observations and testing sessions that gave them glimpses into the capabilities, challenges and growth of my student, a lively 5 yr. old girl, Susie (not her real name)whose diagnosis of Asperger's Disorder seems to explain some but not all of her quirky behaviors.
Not one question was asked of me, the teacher, during the first 60 minutes of the meeting. The speech therapist was the first to speak after introductions were made. She began discussing, in painful detail, every test she administered to a group who seemed to already know that Susie would not qualify for speech and language services.
The scene clearly depicted my role as a teacher/advocate for Susie: I sat closest to my student's parents, who were on my right, followed by an advocate, then Susie's grandfather, a retired administrator. To my left was my student teacher/ intern, followed by the Special Ed brigade: the resource teacher, the Special Ed Director and her fast-typing, tape recording assistant, and finally, the school psychologist who had sat with me for many of my lunch hours, asking me questions and rephrasing my answers to fit the "district lens."  All of the detailed information and accounts of emotional breakdowns and social-emotional challenges were somehow omitted from the psychological report.
At one point, after the speech therapist had rambled on, painfully reviewing each test she had administered, I jotted down my thoughts on the psych report so that my intern could see. Was I going crazy or were my observations carefully neglected and absent from the report? "These were not my words," I scribbled furiously on the page. Although the report stated, "The teacher reports..." the words that followed were not mine. They did not even come close.
As the school psychologist discussed how my student did not qualify for any special ed services, the advocate and the parents asked questions. Her father began to speak first, "If Susie does not require an "aide", then why does she have one?" Every single person in that room knew that Susie had help so that the children in the classroom would not be injured by one of her impulsive pencil poking episodes or so that Susie would not run into the parking lot and into the street if she chose to run away. Silence was followed by some clever sidestepping. The resource teacher spoke," Well, she doesn't have an aide. The teacher has a classroom support person to help her." Technically, I suppose they were right. The person helping Susie was a yard duty and grandma of another kindergarten student at my school. No training, no real support, but merely a warm body placed in my class to help ensure the safety of Susie and her peers. Not one person voiced this fact as the recording device monitored the awkward silence.
I was so proud when Susie's dad raised the question," So, if Ms. D. is a classroom support person, as you say, is she there when Susie is absent? Complete and utter silence was broken when the resource teacher began her sidestepping song and dance once more. "Well, uh, I'm not really in a position to say," she stammered. He interrupted her babbling and looked at my intern and I. "Well, there are at least two people in this room who know the answer."  Finally, after an hour of b.s. I was invited to speak. "No, Ms. D. is not in the classroom when Susie is absent." Victory, I thought as the district folks buried themselves in their own lies.
After the school psychologist finished her "much too long" explanation of how the district could not qualify Susie for any special services, I was invited to speak but only after the advocate and the district staff bantered back and forth about a request for an outside evaluation. The scene felt combative and hostile; I struggled to find the right words as I was keenly aware that I was being recorded.  I felt a lump in my throat, tears well up in my eyes, and began babbling about how Susie was so much more than a "snapshot view" of test sessions. I told them how I worried about her transition to first grade as transitions are very challenging for her. I thanked the parents for our teamwork and celebrated how far Susie has come this year. She does not poke people in the eyes any more though she does stomp on teachers' feet, put her head up my shirt, try to pull down my skirt, and just 2 weeks ago tried to choke a little girl who is her "best friend." Susie has made progress due to the unrelenting positive beliefs and hard work by her parents, my intern and I. Because of her progress, the special ed director had the nerve to say," If Susie were truly impaired enough to qualify, she wouldn't have made such great progress."  So I suppose if I had done a half ass job, Susie might not have made progress and she would qualify? The logic baffles me. The whole thing simply makes me angry as well as sad.
Currently the parents are demanding an outside evaluation to make sure that the district has been correct in their evaluation. I hope that Susie gets her needs met and sets a precedent for the many others who fall through the cracks every day.
If you have stories, comments you would like to share, please feel free. Together we can advocate for children who need us most.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Teachers Held Hostage

On a daily basis, more and more pressure is added to the teacher workload. Endless standardized tests, heightened expectations for growth and an increasingly diverse group of learners are  challenging teachers enough without the added pressure of the unique behavioral challenges today's students bring.
In my school, teachers often feel as if they are "held hostage" by students whose behaviors require very frequent individual intervention. In my kindergarten class, I have had a child poke students in the eyes, choke other students, body slam peers and stomp on others' feet  while the administration deems this child unable to qualify for any intervention or special services. Of course, suspension is not an option either, as kindergartners are never suspended at my school. My principal is proud of his "low suspension" and low "behavior referral" data without critically evaluating the reason behind the data. The real issue is that teachers often don't refer students to the office for discipline reasons because the principal often blames the teacher for "not engaging" students adequately. Even more importantly, students view a trip to the office as a "break" and not something to be avoided. I am not saying that some teachers don't "over -refer." And I know that when an environment is engaging and challenging at the right level some of these behaviors don't surface. I try to reflect and try every strategy under the sun before I send a child to the office.
When teachers at my school feel safe enough to be honest, they report that they have a handful of kids who have been "repeat offenders" since we had them in kindergarten. If our school-wide Positive Behavioral Intervention System is so great, then why are these students still wreaking havoc on the classroom environment in 4th grade?
As I look at my own class profile, I reflect on the kids who take my attention away to the point that I lose track of my lesson. Some kids, not ready for school, are here for free daycare. Their disruption affects everyone's learning, yet if I ask for help I am given the message that there is something wrong with my teaching.  Aggression, emotional lability, difficulties with attention seem to be a clear problem in my school and most others I have read about. Yet teachers are asked to do more, work harder and just "teach better."
Sure that will fix the situation. If someone were truly a hostage, would sending in food and water be the ultimate goal? Or would administrators be working to alleviate the hostage situation? I think we know the answer, now, don't we?