Special Education: Moving from Compliance to Results is not about Testing

I was so excited to see that Arne Duncan was talking about moving from compliance to results in special education in this country, only to be dismayed that the announcement immediately became a lightning rod for the anti-testing community. Granted, he is off-base when he states that the NAEP test should be used to monitor results in special education, but at least we are talking about the elephant sitting in the special education room!

I want to describe what the current compliance-driven system looks like in reality. The only thing that is inspected is paper work, so the only thing we make sure gets done right is the paper work. Now, if there was a strong correlation between getting the paper work right and student learning, this would be great. There is a strong correlation; unfortunately it is a negative one. The more time we spend trying to get the right words on the page, the less time we spend planning effective instruction. I’ve confessed this before and I’m confessing it here again; I got subs for special education teachers so they could get their IEP paper work in order. I wonder what would have happened if I had spent the amount of time and energy getting the paper work right on getting the instruction right.

Reality check. Here is a list of things I see and hear about all the time:

  • Special education students are pulled out of core curriculum simply because they have a goal. (Example: All students with Math goals go to the special education teacher for Math and do not go to core Math at all)
  • Special educations students are not allowed to access Title 1, At-Risk, or MTSS services because it is considered “double dipping” of special education funds. (Example: student is making some progress in Title 1, but still discrepant enough to be entitled. Student then stops going to Title 1 where teacher has a Reading endorsement and where students are grouped for instruction and goes to a special education room where the teacher is not highly qualified to teach literacy and students are not grouped for instruction)
  • When the regular education students get to go to the core teacher for MTSS time, the special education students have to get their help (specially designed instruction) from the special education teacher.
  • Instruction in special education classrooms is focused on homework completion.
  • Students in special education classrooms are not grouped for instruction. (Example: Eight students in the room from three different grade levels with various goals areas and needs for specially designed instruction)
  • Students with behavior goals are placed in classrooms with low academic instruction even though they do not have any academic goals.
  • Special education students are referred to as “those” kids and not “our” kids. Once students are entitled, they are owned by the special education teacher. (Example: special education students who are receiving a D or F in a core class are removed to the special education classroom for that class.)
  • Many special education teachers on conditional licenses and many of these teachers will move to a regular education position as soon as it becomes available.
  • Overuse of paraprofessionals, resulting in learned helplessness for students.
  • Haphazard use of co-teaching that is ineffective. (Example: Special education teacher has an open period so assigned to co-teach Science with no training and no collaboration time available)

Special education is part of the larger continuum of services a student receives. Students who are entitled should have access to all of the instruction on the continuum unless data supports that more instruction in the special education room is getting results.

And what results are we talking about? Is it a score on one standardized test? That could be one piece of data, but it can’t be the only thing we look at when we determine if schools are meeting the needs of students. Is it the gap between special education and regular education students? Again, this is a piece of data, but not the only piece. What about student growth? Shouldn’t students in special education be making rigorous growth at least? Yes!! And that growth needs to be measured on regular classroom assessments for the majority of special education students. We need to have the appropriate growth data to show what happens to learning for students after they are entitled to special education. I would bet a lot of money that an alarming number of students make little growth, no growth, or actually lose skills because of the lack of appropriate instruction that they are receiving.

There is a group of folks in Iowa represented by LEA, AEA, DE, and parents who are creating rubrics around what Specially Designed Instruction should look like. The rubrics are being created around diagnosis, design, delivery, and engagement. Can you imagine a site visit process that actually looks at what instruction students in special education are actually receiving and the results of that instruction?

We absolutely cannot continue to monitor the special education system by looking at IEP paper work and we have to figure out a way to measure meaningful results for student learning. It is also imperative that we do not throw money at the current system without requiring significant reforms around results. It will be a travesty if the critically needed reforms for special education become mired in a conversation about testing.

Is There Anything Special about Special Education?

For the last two decades of my career, I spent a significant amount of energy trying to get students into the special education program.  I argued about how difficult the entitlement process was, I moaned about the roadblocks, I didn’t understand why students had to wait to get the help they needed via special education, and I cheered when the new IDEIA appeared to make the process more efficient.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t until about four years ago that I started to really think about what happens to a student once the student was entitled for special education.  What special thing happens when a student gets special education?

My first “aha!” moment came when I was sitting in an entitlement meeting for an elementary student and a parent asked what kind of instruction her child would receive in special education.  When we explained that her student would get help in the special education room, she pushed us to tell her what exactly that help would look like and how it would be better than the Title 1 services her child was currently receiving.  Suddenly, the seas parted and I saw the ocean floor for the first time; you see, I knew exactly what her child was going to receive and it was not only not very special, it was certainly not very effective.  Her child was going to go to a special education room instead of getting help via the regular classroom teacher.  In that classroom, the special education teacher would also be serving six other students who were from different grade levels, had various goal areas from Reading to Writing to Math and did not have the same specially designed instruction needs. The sped teacher was on a temporary certificate with no Reading endorsement.  What were we doing to this child?  Would the child actually make more progress; even if the child remained discrepant from peers; staying where they were at and receiving the services through the general education/Title 1 program?

I know what is supposed to be special about special education.  It’s the specially designed instruction (SDI), the centerpiece of why we entitle a student.  We are supposed to look at the myriad of super-duper assessments we give in special education, reach into our toolbox of targeted instructional interventions, provide the SDI through a highly qualified teacher who has been trained to provide sped services to a roster of students while not only knowing the right SDI to deliver, but also know the content in the core curriculum, and then close the gap so the student can be staffed out of sped and return to the regular classroom.

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room, shall we? In too many instances, we don’t know what Specially Designed Instruction looks like that moves students forward in the grade level core curriculum and reduces the gap.  We have the best picture in the early grades in Literacy, but, even then, I am not convinced that we are providing anything more special during sped time than we are during Title 1 or the tiered interventions under RTI that are provided to all students.  We know less as students get older.  What does SDI look like for an 8th grade student with a Math goal?  An 11th grade student with a Reading goal?  A 6th grade student with a behavior goal? We know where the SDI takes place; either in a sped classroom with a sped teacher or in a co-taught classroom.  We have options with the where; it’s what we do when the kid gets there that is the big question mark.

Part of the problem is that students are not grouped for instruction when they go for their SDI with the sped teacher.  The bigger problem is knowing what the SDI should look like even if students are grouped for instruction, let alone if they are not.  I cannot tell you the number of times I have walked into a secondary sped classroom to see students working on noun worksheets, dividing multi-digit number worksheets, reading a story and answering questions from the Jamestown probes, getting an all-group lesson on social skills, working on homework, the sped teacher co-teaching as a glorified paraprofessional in the back of the room, etc. It is not always because I am observing a teacher who is inept; it is because the teacher does not know what effective instruction looks like within specially designed instruction.

I have seen the flowcharts for RTI on literacy, even attempted to implement this system in the SDI classrooms at a high school.  We gave the BRI, put kids into the four box quadrant, bought the instructional materials such as Rewards, put the kids into groups, and then provided SDI around the narrow skills areas where we assessed the student to be discrepant.  We saw some limited progress; unfortunately the progress was in the narrow skill area and did not generalize to the big picture skills such as comprehension and other grade level standards.  The big question is how do we provide SDI that moves the student forward in the grade level core content standards while, at the same time, recognizing that there are times when providing SDI in a narrow skill area makes sense for a particular student?

We have to decide what is special about special education.  If there isn’t anything special (or effective) about it, we need to stop telling ourselves, and parents, that there child is now entitled to all the special pieces that special education has to offer.

(October, 2013)


Why the Prior Written Notice is Your Best Friend

This form, at the link below, is your best friend. Look at it right now. If you are not from Iowa, you should google “prior written notice” and the name of your state and look at that form. It is required under federal law, so you all have one.


The Prior Written Notice is the notice to parents of the action proposed or refused as a part of the special education IEP process. It is the one thing that really documents the decision you make, or don’t make, for a student. On this form, you describe what is being proposed, all the things that were considered when making the decision, and the decision.

It is vital that you have this form, or forms, when you go to due process. Attorneys look for these, and, if you don’t have them, it didn’t happen. I have had the misfortune of sitting at a table with lawyers while the team described all the meetings they had and all the things they considered and tried and didn’t work and how this child ended up self-contained all day after many serious, serious situations. They met and reviewed the plan multiple times and made adjustments to the child’s schedule and services. AND then there is one on no PWNs for the child. Even though the staff have notes, and the meetings are on their calendar, and everyone agree all this happened, it didn’t happen as far as the documentation is concerned.

It is a PRIOR written notice. So, I do it before the meeting, right? NO! You write the form prior to communicating a decision and it would be very bad for you to fill out a PWN before you meet with the team and consider the decision. So, ignore the word “prior”. You are never wrong to do a PWN, so do one any time you think you should. If a staff person asks me if they should do a PWN in a situation I tell them, “If you are asking the question, the answer is yes”.

Even if you do an amendment to the IEP, it doesn’t give you the information the PWN gives you. And you fill this out when you REFUSE a change as well. For example, parent asks for a para and the team considers it and denies the request. You don’t make a change to the IEP in this situation, but you definitely document the discussion and decision on a PWN.

Make sure you include all the things you considered when making the decision. You didn’t only consider a self-contained classroom. Maybe you considered a para, or more time in the special education setting, or homebound, or a shortened day, or letting the student take a break when needed. This will be critical information to have as new teams work with the student in the future and weren’t present for all these discussions.

Additional information can be found at https://www.educateiowa.gov/pk-12/special-education/iowas-guidance-quality-individualized-education-programs-ieps/prior-written.

To summarize:

  • Fill out a PWN any time you make a decision about a student.
  • Saying no to a request is a decision.
  • Lawyers LOVE a PWN and will eat you alive if you don’t have them




Tips for School Administrators to get a Good Night’s Sleep

One of the most frustrating things about being a school administrator for me is the fact that my work is never done. I know lots of people will say that about their work, but for us, I believe this is true at a completely different level.

This was particularly true when I worked as a building administrator. As a Vice-Principal of a 4A High School who was in charge of discipline for 9th , 10th, and 11th graders as well as being in charge of special education for the entire building, the list of what I failed to accomplish was always much longer than the list of what I actually got done each day.

Most days I didn’t even realize the scope of what I didn’t get done. UNTIL I GOT INTO BED. Then EVERYTHING I didn’t get done immediately rose to the conscious level of my brain. And then the stress would begin. Crap, I have to remember this tomorrow. Are you kidding me? How did I forget to do that! Is it too late to call that person now? (Yes, it is midnight now!) So, not only am I an incompetent can’t-get-anything-done stress ball, I am also now too tired to function.

I had a particularly bad time with this one year; I think it was the year we got the 10% cut in the middle of the year and a major employer announced it was leaving our town. And, truly, it seemed like the adults I worked with got stupider in their decision making with students every day. And any amount of sleep for any amount of time was non-existent for me.

At the same time, I had this idea to give a personal note to every staff person in my building. I had done that when I worked in a previous building and I knew that behavior celebrated is behavior repeated. Since this was something I wasn’t getting done, it ended up being something that I thought about as I went to sleep.

I started mentally going through each staff person in the building one-by-one, thinking of what about them I appreciated so I could start crafting these letters. Well, it didn’t work very well because I kept falling asleep right away. So, I realized that if I make myself think positive things about the adults I work with every day, I fell asleep and stayed asleep. I could sleep if I made myself think differently and all of us control the way we think! I have suggested to some stressed out teachers to do this same activity, but do it with their students in mind. What about each child do I appreciate?

As the years have gone by, I have found this strategy to be hard to maintain because I only have so many people to think about in my life. In the same vein of thinking, I decided to try and fill my brain with mundane thinking that will require my brain to work, but won’t trigger stressful thoughts. I have used things like thinking of every movie Meryl Streep has been in, or all the Academy Award Best Actor winners, or every town I have ever spent the night in, or the top 20 books I have ever read. As soon as my brain is occupied with this task, I fall asleep.

As educators, we tend to be people who take care of others and don’t always make taking care of our own selves a priority. Always remember, if you don’t take care of yourself, you really can’t take care of anyone else. So, get some sleep, it’s important!!

(March, 2016)

Administrators: Setting up the Special Education Program

As the Building Administrator, it is your job to create the best structure possible for special education services that promote effective and purposeful instruction and services for students served by an IEP.  You may delegate some of these responsibilities to another person in the building, but make sure you remain the decision- maker on this one. In the many schools I have visited, I have seen over and over again where someone other than the Building Administrator is in charge of special education and have met Principals who act like they couldn’t change the system in their building if they wanted to, because
“Dorothy, the Guidance Counselor does all that for me and if I try and mess with what she does, I’ll have to do it”. I once saw a system where the regular education teachers determined when students would receive their Specially Designed Instruction (from now on to be referred as SDI). When I asked for more information, I was told that the general education teachers wanted to be in charge of when special education students left their classroom.

For many years, the bulk of my involvement in special education as a Building Administrator was scheduling the special education teachers’ time. I needed to decide when they would be where and what students would be with them during that time. What the students did during that time really wasn’t something I thought about, it was more of makings sure the IEP minutes for each student was covered. And, when the schedule was done and there happened to be a class period where the special education teacher didn’t have any, or hardly any, students? That became the co-teaching time, of course!

So, what do you want to accomplish with your special education services in the building? The following are suggestions, but make sure you involve multiple stakeholders as you build the goals for your program. Bring folks together early in the second semester to start this work and involve both regular and special education teachers, paras, and parents.

  • All IEP services and instructional minutes are delivered
  • Efficient use of your special education teacher or teachers and paras time
  • Ensuring that students in special education have access to the best teachers for instruction for what they need as well as access to core curriculum
  • Allowing flexibility in the structure so students receive what they need according to periodic reviews of data
  • Securing time for collaboration between regular education and special education teachers and paras
  • Providing for time for adequate training for paras before they start serving individual students
  • Creating a system for communication to all teachers who serve individual students
  • Set up regular time to collaborate with your AEA team
  • Develop a structure that is individual services based instead of program based
  • Make sure that special education students have access to everything that general education students have access

When I was teaching in a BD program a thousand years ago in Des Moines, I was so lucky to teach with a group of teachers and had an administrator that was willing to look at special education services differently. At that time, we had a typical structure at our middle school of 750 students, where 125 of those students were entitle to special education services. Students were assigned to teachers in rooms. If you had a behavior goal, you came to me in my classroom. If you were MD you went to the two teachers across the hall. All the other students were considered “resource” and were assigned to a teacher they saw one period a day. My room had the letters “BD” over the door and the room across the hall had “MD” over the door. It pretty much took an act of Congress when the MD teachers and I decided it would make the most sense for us to SHARE a student. That never happened. This sounds like an old model, but this is a model I see frequently in buildings today.

We knew that students weren’t being served in the best structure so we asked if we could change things and our Principal, Mike Zelenovich, said yes.

MAKE NOTE OF THIS! The Principal said yes. If he has said no, nothing would have changed. I know it’s a big risk to say yes. Say it anyway. In fact, say it more times than you say no.

Back to my storyJ Our goal was to make sure all the students in special education got the instruction and services they needed. We met after school got out (no pay, by the way) as an entire department and we put all the things we thought our students needed on big sheets of white paper around the room. Things like social skills instruction, reading instruction, math instruction, self-contained behavior services, in-class support, functional skills, etc. Then we put the students’ names on the pages; we looked at every IEP of every student and determined what each student needed. Then we put our names on the pages. From there, we built a schedule for what our time would look like to make all of this happen. AND IT WORKED. It worked so much better than what we did before!

(Side Note: It was during this time that we realized our BD students didn’t need to be in a classroom all day just because they might need that kind of setting a few hours a week or a few weeks a semester. We also talked about how no one, including ourselves, would learn to behave in a classroom of 17 students who all had behavior issues. We developed a position called a Behavior Interventionist that could serve students with significant behaviors in the regular classroom setting. Another huge success. This model is described in detail in a blog I wrote on October 22nd of 2014.)

Start the development of your structure with the needs of your students at the forefront. Don’t start with services and programs and then fit your students into those services and programs. Start with what your students need and then fit your program and services into that. Will this stress your staff? Probably, but that’s okay. What is not okay is to ask them to do different things and then offer no support. Work with your AEA team as you build your system and ask them for support to coach teachers in new strategies.

When I first took a position that put me in charge of PK-12 Special Education in a 4A district, I noticed a phenomenon I was not aware having worked primarily in secondary schools up to that point. I will call it the Floating Time SDI Model.  Individual special education students would be assigned to the special education teacher for SDI for a set amount of time. Sally comes for Math from 9 to 10 and for Reading from 2:10 to 2:55. Billy comes for Reading from 8:50 to 9:50 and for Writing from 1:45 to 2:15, and so on and so on. These students all go to the same teacher.  Every student technically got their IEP minutes for each goal area with their special education teacher, but the reality was that they really go very little instruction. I would sit in the room and the teacher would continually have 5 to 8 students in the room, but the students would be coming and going all the time. No one was grouped for instruction! When I brought up that this is a big problem, I am told that it is too difficult to get multiple grades of students grouped together for Math or Reading or Writing instruction. I would also question the amount of time that students were receiving for goal areas. Oftentimes it would be 60 minutes per goal area. Then I would be told that Mrs. So and So really likes to have her students for 60 minutes, so that is why the IEP is written this way.

After multiple observations, I realized that the student may be in the classroom for 60 minutes, but they were lucky if they received 5 minutes of any kind of direct instruction. Most students got a few minutes with the teacher at some point and then worked on some sort of worksheet activity the rest of the time.

Here’s the solution to this problem. Keep kids in the regular classroom way more and provide as many services as you can in that environment. When the student needs intensive instruction, make it short bursts of time where they can be grouped with other students who need the same intensive instruction. It might be 15 minutes three times per week. Or 10 minutes every day. It might be with the regular education teacher, if that is what works for you and your schedule. Also, have as much continuity in your regular education schedule as possible. If all students have 120 minutes of Literacy at the same time, it is much easier to group students for Reading SDI from multiple grade levels.

At the MS and HS level, I see time dictated by class periods. Students can only receive SDI from the special education teacher in 42 minutes blocks of time every day or every other day. At the district I used to work in, middle school students received their SDI Learning Skills class every day, but when they went to the HS they had to go every day for 40 minutes because they didn’t have any classes on a half-day schedule. When I pushed back on that I was told that Infinite Campus wouldn’t schedule every-other-day at the high school. They also needed every day in order to earn two credits per year in the Learning Skills Class.

One very big decision you can make as a HS Administrator to help you get out of this particular mess is to not have IEP goal support classes (Learning Skills, Study Skills, etc.) be for credit. Making this a credit class increases the LRE time for students unnecessarily. Have the special education teacher pull the student out of study hall for 30 minutes three times per week. Or have them work with the regular education teachers who may help them to determine that pulling a student the last 15 minutes of their block class makes a lot of sense.

Many of these classes I see as I travel about are really homework support classes, not intensive instruction around goal areas. Make sure you only have students with a special education teacher when they are receiving intensive IEP instruction. Getting that report done for Government class is not SDI.

I know of some places that have an “RTI Time” or “Seminar” or “Homeroom” time at the beginning or end of the day and special education students go to their SDI teacher then. Although this makes things very easy in your schedule, it is not okay. Remember the goal of making sure that special education students have access to all things that regular education students receive? If you make the decision that all special education students are going to miss out on this time, you are saying this time isn’t very valuable to students. This is often time where students get to receive help as needed form their Core teachers or where an entire class gets guided study time for a test, or this is where the students receive their PBIS lessons. Of all the students that need this, I would think students on IEPs would be at the top of the list!

Remember that you don’t have to necessarily follow the IEP that comes with the student. No, you can’t change it all by yourself, but you can certainly contact the special education teacher and suggest some things that could be changed in the IEP to benefit the student. If the IEP team agrees, the changes can be made via an amendment. Don’t just follow an IEP you know is too restrictive for a student. Ask questions, make recommendations, and push for a better IEP!

When it comes to paras, make sure each para’s time is specifically planned out and that they have had training on the needs of the specific students they will be serving. If I have a conversation with one more para that has not seen the student’s IEP or BIP I am going to poke my own eyeballs out!!

The most important piece of your planning is to make sure that students on IEPs have meaningful access to Core Curriculum instruction. When students are pulled out of the regular education classroom for special education services, you need to be sure that they are intensive, purposeful, and effective. This instruction should be in addition to the continuum of supports you offer, not instead of those supports. Although there will be some students who need longer periods of SDI instead of the other supports, this decision should only be made because the data you are gathering shows this to be the case, not because all Level 2 students go to the special education teacher for Science instead of the regular Science class. Special education students have the right to access the full continuum of services; that includes Title 1 and At-Risk and MTSS time. Also, remember that SDI can be provided by a regular education teacher using the collaborative model. Students on IEPs have the right to receive instruction from the most qualified teachers.

Having access to Core Curriculum requires that special education teachers and regular education teachers have time to collaborate. You need to build this time into your schedule. If you just assume they will find time themselves, it is likely not to happen. You also need to make sure you have regular communication with the AEA team assigned to your building. I always had weekly meetings when I was at a large school, but they were monthly when I worked in a small district. Regardless of the size of your school, get that time scheduled and on the calendar for the entire year.

Once you finalize and communicate what this structure will look like, you are the person who is ultimately going to hold the staff in your building accountable for delivering the services. The best way to know what is happening is to do walk-throughs specifically looking at what is happening with special education students. This includes walk-through of general education classrooms. What do you see? If you walk into a special education classroom and you see everyone working on homework completion, or everyone doing worksheets, or instruction that is way below or has no connection to the Core Curriculum, you need to address this immediately!! Look at what paras are doing as well. I’m sure many of you have had the lovely experience of walking into a SDI classroom and finding six students with six paras and a teacher in the room. That’s a good opportunity to change the para schedules to provide support in additional areas of the building.

Whew! This one was much longer than I anticipated. To summarize the big points:

  • YOU are in charge of managing the special education structure in your building.
  • Access to Core Curriculum instruction is a priority for students on IEPs.
  • Paras should be adequately trained and be familiar with IEPs and BIPs of students
  • SDI time should not replace instructional time that regular students receive
  • Special education instructional time does not need to be a class period
  • Make sure students are grouped for instruction
  • SDI is not homework completion
  • Make sure you have allocated time for collaboration
  • Start with what your students need, not with what you have
  • You need to say YES many more times than you say no
  • Do walk-throughs of all classrooms to make sure the structure is being implemented
  • Have a set time to collaborate with your AEA team
  • Students in special education should have access to everything that general education students do; SDI should be in addition to all the other supports on the continuum
  • Have a process of setting expectations and involve others in creating those goals
  • Regular education teachers can provide SDI under the Collaborative Model.
  • You can change an IEP via the amendment process



Administrators: Special Education Rosters, Scheduling, and New Students

I was a building level administrator for 14 years of my career. During that time, it always seemed to me like summer was over once the 4th of July passed, and a lot of the after 4th of July, but still in July, work I did seemed to revolve around the world of special education. These areas included rosters, schedules, and new students. This first blog will be about creating rosters while avoiding the roster monsters.


In almost every situation I have been in, rosters have been a BIG deal to the special education teachers;  I would get many emails asking if the rosters were done and when they could have them in their hands. The last several years I handed out rosters as I knew them at the end of the school year before teachers left, making sure I was very explicit that these were drafts and that they would change some before school started. This appeared to relieve teacher roster-anxiety and kept them out of my hair in the summerJ

I think it is important that a building administrator have the final say on rosters. I have been involved in many variations of the roster creation process and I think you ask for trouble when you delegate this responsibility. I have seen Department Chairs do it, teams of teachers do it, guidance do it, and even a building that has the AEA create the rosters. You should certainly get plenty of input, but the final draft should come from you, the administrator.

As a building administrator, you need to make sure you are familiar with your DDSDP (District Developed Service Delivery Plan) and how that plan says rosters will be managed if a teacher thinks their roster is too heavy. Everything you want to know about the DDSDP can be found at https://www.educateiowa.gov/pk-12/special-education/state-guidance/district-developed-service-delivery-plan Your district’s DDSDP is required to be made public and you should be able to find it on your district website.

The DDSDP often describes a point system for rosters and you need to be aware how points are assigned and what happens if you assign a roster with too many points. I have seen all sorts of things in district’s DDSDPs that don’t always make sense. On several occasions I have seen more points given to a student who has a para, for example. Shouldn’t that be less points if the teacher has a full-time para to help support him or her with that student? The DDSDP has to be done at least every five years, but if you don’t think it makes sense, it can always be revised before the five year deadline. Talk to your Superintendent if you think a revision may be necessary.

There are some dangers to the entire roster monster. This is where the “my students” thing starts and it is good to use this time as an opportunity to remind all teachers that the roster list does not mean the students belong to the special education teacher. It does not mean that the roster teacher is the only one who serves that student. It does not mean that the roster teacher gives all the probes, that is still the responsibility of the teacher who is providing the instruction, which may be another special education teacher or a regular education teacher. It does mean that the roster teacher is responsible for ensuring that all the IEP paperwork for that student is complete and they are the primary contact for parents.

There is a new monster in the room when it comes to special education rosters. In Iowa, the roster teacher for a student on the Alternate Assessment must have the Strategist II licensure. The BOEE cross-referenced all the students on the Alternate Assessment with the licensure of the student’s roster teacher and found that many of those teachers did not have the Strategist II licensure. Those districts and teachers have been notified that the teacher does not have the proper licensure and must have at least a conditional license by the start of school.  Keep in mind that the student on the Alternate Assessment must have a roster teacher with the Strategist II licensure, this does not mean that every teacher that the student has during the day has to have that license. If you have a teacher in your building with the Strategist II licensure, you will want to make sure that they have all the students on Alternate Assessment on their roster.

Rosters will change as the year goes on and new students join special education and other students leave special education. I would periodically look at rosters and make adjustments as students had schedule changes, students moved in, students were staffed out, etc. Although this is has not always been the case in buildings where I have worked or visited, I do think the roster teacher needs to have contact with the students on their rosters. It did not make sense to me for a student to have two classes with two different special education teachers and a third teacher had the student on their roster. In a larger high school I worked in we tried for a period of time to have teachers keep the same students as they progressed through high school. Although this was good for continuity and parent relationships, it just didn’t make sense and didn’t work well for the roster teacher to not see the student at all in their schedule. The costs definitely outweighed the benefits from my perspective.

So, get your rosters done before the teachers leave for the summer but make sure they know it is a draft, make sure your students on the Alternate Assessment have a roster teacher with the Strategist II licensure, be the final say on rosters for your building, emphasize that the roster for a teacher does not make those students “her or his kids”, be aware of what your DDSDP says about rosters, and verify that progress monitoring is done by the teachers that is providing instruction in the goal area.

Next up, special education scheduling!!



Do We Deny Children on IEPs Access to the Best Instruction?

A scary thought has been ruminating in my head for a long time and conversations I have had in the last few weeks make the thought in my head not only clearer, but even scarier.  Does our system actually deny access for students who are disabled even though the purpose of entitling a student to special education is to ensure access?

A couple of scenarios for you to ponder:

3rd grade student receives instruction from a general education teacher who has a Reading endorsement; student does not make progress.  Student then receives supplemental instruction from a Title 1 teacher who has a Reading endorsement and works with students who are grouped for instruction; student makes progress but is still discrepant from peers.  Student is then referred to special education and no longer goes to Title 1 for supplemental services and goes to special education teacher who does not have a Reading endorsement and has 8 students.  The 8 students she has during the time do not have the same instructional needs as this student.  Student no longer receives Title 1 services because that would be double-dipping into federal programs??!!

7th grade student has a Math goal and attends the regular education Math class.  All students who struggle in Math get an every-other-day Math Lab class for remediation.  The regular education students go to a Math Lab taught by a certified Math Teacher while the special education students go to the special education teacher who does not have a Math endorsement and does not spend any time in the regular education Math class.  The special education students go to the special education teacher because otherwise the Math Lab could not be “counted” as their specially designed instruction time on their IEP and the district can pay the special education teacher our of special education funds.

And, the worst case scenario of all…

5th grade student has a Reading goal.  In this school, if you have an academic goal for special education you don’t go to the core curriculum class at all; you go to the special education classroom for the entire Reading class.  The special education teacher does not have a Reading endorsement and the class is comprised of special education students from grades 2 to 5.

I firmly believe that this is happening all over the country, in many more instances than we want to believe.  Because you are entitled  to special education you can no longer have access to the best instructional teacher to advance in the core curriculum.  I had a teacher tell me last week that a student who reads at the 2nd grade level needs to be taught 2nd grade material.  What???  Just because a student reads at a lower grade level does not mean the student cannot access content at grade level.  Does the student need targeted instruction in Reading Comprehension and Fluency?  Yes.  Does this mean the student should have no access to grade level Literacy curriculum until she/he reads at grade level?  Certainly not.

Students who receive special education services should have as much access to the best instruction as regular education students.  This is another case where special education funding gets in the way of giving kids what they need, when they need it, from the best teacher.  We should be able to fund one period a day of a Math teacher’s time to provide supplemental instruction to special education kids; the special education piece can be facilitated through collaboration with the certified special education teacher.  Special education students should be able to receive special education services and Title 1 services at the same time.  Special education students should have access to core curriculum instruction with supplemental SDI instruction from a special education teacher unless they qualify for alternative assessment.  We cannot allow access to an IEP to mean that the student does not have access to the best instruction.

(August 25, 2013)

A Fresh Start

When updating my information for Rapacious Learning, some technical something happened on the other end and I lost my published content. Fortunately, I have some of that saved on my computer. Unfortunately, it’s not right here where you’re reading this. I’ll be working with my team on relaunching previous posts and information along with new content.