In my previous post, I discussed the 5 types of data that every teacher needs to collect to move their students forward. Today, I’m going to focus on one type of data mentioned in that post – Individualized Education Plans (IEPs). Every teacher – whether they teach accelerated or special education students – will come across students with disabilities, who often have IEPs. It’s imperative that teachers take the time to examine IEPs and intentionally plan for the special needs of these students.
I’m ridiculously lucky to co-teach with an incredible Special Education teacher, Kristie Green-Bannister. In the year that we’ve worked together, I’ve learned so much about students with disabilities and made a dear friend. About 40% of the students in our co-teach classes have IEPs, so we were able to maximize each other’s strengths to best benefit those students while also helping the other students reach mastery.
How long you’ve been teaching, and what have been your various teaching assignments?
This is my 18th year. Did my student teaching in a middle school teaching Reading, English, Math and History. The summer before I started officially teaching, I served as a sub in the Juvenile Court and Community Schools (JCCS), which is for students that had been in Juvenile Hall or who had been expelled from school and were court ordered to attend there. The experience definitely helped me in dealing with difficult students down the road because I learned a lot about the structure of the classroom and how that will affect behavior.
After that, I taught for almost 15 years at Chula Vista High School. There I taught self-contained Special Ed (Special Day Class) to 9th and 10th graders. I primarily taught Reading and Writing, although I taught math a few times there. I’m now at Rancho Del Rey Middle School, and have taught Math and English, mostly in the co-teach setting, as well as study skills.
When you look at an Individualized Education Plan, what do you look at first?
I look at the first page to see what the disability category is and the description of the disability. For example, it may say “SLD” (specific learning disability), which generally includes Auditory or Visual processing delays or memory issues. If this is the case, then I will adjust my teaching, such as giving more visual or auditory cues. If the disability says “AUTISM,” then that’s a different set of approaches I might use. If it says “OHI” (Other Health Impairment), I want to know if it’s ADHD, Anxiety, Seizure disorder, etc. All of those will help me determine my approach with the student.
How do you formulate a plan for goals?
For goals, we generally are dealing with what the previous teacher (case carrier) put into place. Most of the time they are appropriate, but sometimes they don’t fit with what we are doing in middle school, and we have to move forward as best we can. When it’s time for the student’s “Annual Review,” I look at what the student is currently doing and able to do (Present Levels of Performance). After getting feedback from the general ed teachers, I then decide what the area is that the student most needs to improve on.
At our school, I go directly to the SPED Math 7 co-teacher for help on writing the math goals, and in turn I help her write the English goals for our students since I co-teach English 7. An example of goal setting is, for middle school English, the students usually need to work on citing evidence in writing and in summarizing what they read. In math, most students need to work on integer operations and solving 2- step equations with one variable. Therefore, since those are grade level standards, the goals are written using the standards.
If a student is significantly below what we are working on in the general ed class, then it becomes an issue about placement in a more supportive class, but that’s probably a topic for another day.
What would be red flags or something that you’d need to follow up with?
On the IEP? I always need to look at what accommodations the previous case carrier included. Those are the items that are supposed to help the student the most. While the accommodations aren’t always appropriate for 7th grade, we are bound to them until the annual IEP review, and can’t change them without a formal meeting to Amend the IEP.
After you read the IEP, what do you do next?
This is usually when I email teachers anything I noticed that seems really important, and I need to have everyone on the same page, such as any unusual needs. Sometimes, I only need to share the “IEP at a Glance form” (the first few pages) if what’s in there is pretty standard or I don’t see anything that needs special attention.
What should new teachers do with an IEP?
I recommend that they keep a copy of each “IEP at a Glance” in a binder or in a single folder on Google Drive that they can access anytime they need a reminder about needed accommodations. It is a legal document that the teacher is expected to be familiar with. It’s not necessary to have each one memorized, but at least have a way to access the information when needed.
Anytime a teacher needs to contact a parent, I suggest they look at the “IEP at a Glance” before they call or have a meeting. This ensures that the teacher isn’t caught off guard if the parent specifically refers to the document, and this way it serves as a sort of mental checklist for the teacher – “Did I do what I needed to do to support the student?”
How will a student with a disability like ADHD or auditory processing act or function differently in a gen-ed classroom?
No two students are alike….ever. However, some students will display similar characteristics that can be generalized, but not always. For example, students with ADHD might be talkative or distracting to others, but they may also be daydreamers who are disorganized. Some may be over attentive to singular details, which may or may not be part of the actual task. On the other hand, some may be trying to pay attention to all details at once and are unable to zero in on the one detail they need for a specific task. ADHD should be a code for “The Student has issues paying attention.” There are 3 categories: Inattentive type, hyperactive-impulsive type, and combination. We often don’t have this info in the IEP but we can usually figure it out by observing the student for a few classes.
What are some of the more common accommodations for the different subject areas?
A pretty standard accommodation is to allow the student to turn in work late without penalty. Another is to offer the student to take exams in a separate location. This will reduce some anxieties and usually offer a quieter, more controlled environment for testing. Even though we think that our classes are quiet and not distracting during testing, students lose their train of thought by things we don’t notice. Also, some students have a lot of trouble copying information off a board, so letting a student take a picture of the board or providing a copy of the notes cuts down a great deal on the student missing the actual material. Some teachers don’t like this, but if you think about it, are we assessing their ability to copy from the board or their ability to synthesize the information?
What type of seating arrangements/groupings work best for SPED students?
It depends on how the room is set up. At our school a lot of teachers use a four-person group model. I recommend that, if possible, there only be one student with an IEP in each group. However, in co-teach, we have a higher concentration, so often there are up to two students with IEPs in each group of four. We want the students around them to be role models for behavior and/or academics. On a similar note, it doesn’t work if you have a student that doesn’t have an IEP but is hyper as the role model for behavior for a student with ADHD. You also need to be cautious about the non-disabled peer being too far above the student with the IEP, as that could create tension if the higher student feels like they are having to help too much or are being held back on tasks. Teachers need to be very strategic with seating charts when you have students with IEPs.
When should a teacher be alarmed and contact you?
Teachers should contact me when a student is doing poorly (not doing homework, test grades are low). I also tend to suggest that a teacher touch base with me before responding to a parent call or email if they want to be sure they are saying the right thing. Definitely contact me after they read the IEP and need advice on how to implement any of the accommodations.
Any new trends, diagnoses, or acronyms that aren’t widely known yet?
I discussed OHI earlier. This is on the rise due to Mental health issues that are being diagnosed more frequently. Typically we are talking about ADHD as OHI, but we have a significant increase in students that are being diagnosed with Anxiety, Depression, ODD (Oppositional Defiance Disorder) and some other chronic health issues.
Most people have heard that Autism has increased by 3000% in the last 20 years. This is not false information. We have 38 students on our campus this year that have Autism, and I remember years where we had just one or two on an entire campus. Sometimes a student will be diagnosed with PDD (Pervasive Developmental Disorder). This is usually in younger children, but I have seen it carry through to middle school before. It is a grey area on the Autism spectrum, meaning the child had some Autistic-like characteristics, but may not have met the requirements for a full Autism diagnosis. In my view, we need to treat these students as Autistic as the characteristics are similar, and therefore the approach will be similar.
What do you wish general ed teachers understood about IEPs and SPED in general?
Hmmm. In general, the students don’t want to be different. They have higher rates of depression and anxiety due to YEARS of struggling and often being singled out, and they will continue to struggle. The IEP is supposed to help find a way for them to struggle a little less, and have a support system they can turn to for help if needed. We can’t erase a disability, but hopefully by offering some accommodations (and sometimes alternate curriculum,) we can give them a little more even playing field. In college, most Universities do have a “Disabled Student Support” office where they can continue to get accommodations, so we want the students to learn to use the accommodation appropriately, and in middle school, to begin self-advocating.
Also, school and its staff can be held legally responsible if we don’t offer the accommodations in the IEP. For example, if the IEP says the student needs to sit at the front of the room, it’s non-negotiable. If the IEP says the student gets extra time to complete assignments, then a teacher cannot give the student a penalty for late work. These are the items I mostly need to be in communication with teachers about. Case carriers need to make sure that general ed teachers are aware of the accommodations and are making their own plan for implementation in their classrooms.
A big shout-out and thank you to this educational expert! If you have any questions for Kristie, please leave them in the comments below, and I’ll be sure to get them to her!
Also, this post is part of a series on how to use data to guide your teaching. If you like it, be sure to subscribe to this blog so that you won’t miss a thing.
This post is part of my multi-part series on how to analyze data in a meaningful way. Check out my previous posts to get the most out of your data!
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