Diane Vigrass, SESIS

    You're feeling frustrated because you're not seeing the progress that’s needed in your students with disabilities, and you'd like to verify that your hard work is actually moving the student’s skills forward.
    Your frustration is coming from the change and improvements that are being made in your school to make things right for students!  The unnerving thing is—the teacher and the student are stuck in the middle …expectations are set higher and the gap from the existing state to the desired state may be huge for some students (and some teachers!)  Just the fact that you are feeling this frustration signifies change is taking place—and, underneath the frustration, that’s a good sign!  But—as you know, change happens slowly.
    It’s critical to continue with the change.  That means informed decisions must be made on a student-by-student basis with the higher expectations and standards driving goals.
    Consider the following what ifs…

    What if… 

    So what does it mean? 

    Now, what to do?

    What if IEP PLPs and Goals improve in quality so that the student’s needs are now being explicitly targeted and prioritized?  We will start to see the students placed in programs/services that are more appropriate.  The accommodations will be better streamlined in quality rather than quantity.  Continue improvement in IEP writing—but focus on high quality data and data analysis of the student’s skills, the grade level progress, and how well the Spec Ed service is meeting the student’s needs.
    What if the SWD has not progressed because he’s not been in the right program for a couple years?  He has been held back from reaching his potential in the GE curriculum and therefore skill growth has stagnated.  What’s done is done…we have to reevaluate the student’s needs and levels and see how we can plug in the gaps as best and as quickly as possible.  This might mean moving him BACK temporarily to a more restrictive setting so we can redirect his progress.  But priority should be placed in moving him to a less restrictive setting as soon as the data suggests.
    What if the student’s instruction is not explicit or specially designed?  Research indicates SWDs are most successful when skills, strategies, and content are explicitly taught.  Given purpose for content and strategies is critical to helping the student make connections to make learning “stick.” 
    Any teacher who delivers instruction to the student should plan purposeful learning and instructional strategies into each lesson.  Include frequent checks for understanding and data collection/analysis.  Be sure the student is working harder than the teacher in each lesson!  
    (Which of the 3 “what ifs” may be something in your control to further investigate?)
    The facts…  
    • If the PLP is weak or the “Needs” are not on target, the CSE decision for services tends to provide “more of the same” rather than advancing the student to an a less restrictive environment that will keep him challenged and moving skill development forward…or in many cases –OUT of Special Education, when possible.  (IEPs are the strategic plan to do this.)
    • No matter what service (ICT, Special Class, RR, CT…), it boils down to providing specially designed instruction based on the IEP Management Needs and accommodations.  Once again, we go back to the author of the IEP—how clear are these sections?  How subjective is the PLP?  Are the goals hitting the priority needs?  These are based on data (progress monitoring).  
    • The decision for program/placement should never be left completely up to the teacher.  The decision rests primarily with the CSE, based on the evidence submitted in the PLP.
    • CSEs need tremendous improvement in recognizing educational benefit, understanding the IEP components, and understanding their roles and legal responsibilities in making these decisions.  The first difficult step is assessing the program and setting expectations.  Following next is the the hard work of maintaining the expectations and tweaking where needed.  The focus may be on educational benefit—which includes the IEP quality, best programming, and best decision-making by the CSE.  There’s a lot to get right before anyone can feel progress or see benefit happen.  This won't happen in 1 or 2 years though.

    It takes a village… awareness of the student’s needs in order to be successful with the General Education curriculum, collaboration among all who instruct the student, progress monitoring with purposeful data, and informed decision-making using data…makes the highs and lows of the ferris wheel ride less queasy.