If I suspect my child needs help, what’s my first step in getting him/her evaluated?

Any parent can request their child to be evaluated.

First and most important: Put everything in writing. Everything. Request the school to evaluate your child. The school is obligated by law to evaluate your child. Mom’s Advice: Don’t settle for a 504 Plan. The school will make it sound good but most (not all) public school’s do not train their teachers appropriately. This causes gaps in your child’s education. The 504 Plan gives the schools far too much power to make decisions without your knowledge or consent.

Also, there is no requirement in 504 Plans for an annual review of progress.  A 504 Plan is simply a blueprint for how a child will have “access” to services at school.  Unlike an IEP (Individual Education Plan), a 504 Plan doesn’t require a written document, making it impossible for parents to hold the school district accountable for their actions.

An IEP is a blueprint plan for the student’s unique needs, which involves related services. The IEP is the plan you need to get to.  Federal law requires the IEP must be in writing and the school is held accountable to provide the services agreed to in the plan.

How will I know if my child is struggling?

Start by understanding your child’s IEP (Individual Education Plan). If the problem areas haven’t been identified, start by evaluating and analyzing their homework, test assessments, and benchmark. If you haven’t kept these documents, request a copy from their teacher.

You may find yourself wondering, “Why is my student struggling and his/her teacher seem to not be concerned?” If your child scored a high grade but can’t recall the skill that earned him that grade, that is your first red flag. Spend time jogging his/her memory and assume your child has forgotten.

If they continue to forget, ask him questions how could they earn such a high score without knowing how to do it, you will hear your next red flag…”the teacher helped me”. Remember, the goal is for your child to master the skills in question. If a teacher prompts them and/or provides them the answer, the score will improve but your child will still be at the same level of learning.

One of the most important facts to understand when advocating for your student: Higher scores do not necessarily mean improvement. As a parent, you need to be satisfied your child is mastering the skills being taught and not simply receiving an inflated grade. Ask to look at the scope and sequence of the curriculum the school utilizes. Ask if your child is being tested like all the other children. Make sure the entire class is using the same standards.

How can my child struggle so much but still earn a passing grade?

As mentioned earlier, a passing grade and/or an improving grade does not necessarily mean your student is mastering the skills in question.

Also, they can’t fail your child! If your child has been identified with a disability, they must allow them to correct their work. Teachers call this an opportunity to “re-teach”. Sadly, re-teaching is rarely re-teaching. What usually occurs is they prompt your child with clues or tell your child the answer. It makes the score higher, reflecting a better grade. Yet without using the appropriate tools (graphic organizers, etc) how can you know the skill has actually been mastered? Typically, the school NEVER re-assesses your child to see if they have learned or mastered the content. You as the parent are left to see an increased score which, in reality, is nothing more than a false sense of progress.

Check to see if the test being given to your student is modified. From 3rd grade to 12th grade, if the test has only 3 or less answer choices, it’s a modified test. For example, if your child can answer factual questions on a reading comprehension assessment but struggles with inferencing, is the assessment assessing your child using inferencing questions? Then they count that assessment towards mastering the goal! There can only be progress towards learning a skill set if that skill set is assessed! Otherwise, progress will look different and be misleading.

Why is my child getting a modified assessment without my knowledge?

Are you sure the District didn’t add that to the ARD paperwork without your knowledge? They shouldn’t be giving a modified test without telling you.

Make sure there is nothing in the accommodations that allows for a modified assessment. Modifications can include fewer multiple choice selections, eliminating all open end answer questions (fill in the blank), and simplified vocabulary. Don’t let them convince you an accommodated test is different than a modified test. If the standard is different, it’s a modified test.

Modified assessments can give the appearance the student is doing better when in reality he/she may not be. It also makes the teacher/school look better when the student scores higher. Schools have to show progress within two grading cycles or they have to come back to ARD to reevaluate progress and goals.

In the state of Texas what’s in the written IEP is binding.

NEVER sign in agreement to the ARDC decision. NEVER. At the ARD meeting the administrators/teachers will press you to sign it right away, saying things like, “It’s common practice” or “It’s just a formality”. It’s not. Remember, the IEP is a binding document. You have 5 business days to read the IEP before signing/agreeing to it. Use this time to make sure everything that was agreed upon is in the IEP and that the school hasn’t changed or ignored the issues you are concerned about. When you sign, it should only be after you are confident the IEP addresses all your concerns.

If you sign in disagreement, which is absolutely your right, the school by law must come back to the ARD within 10 business days to rectify any unresolved issues.

By law, your letter of disagreement MUST be attached to the ARD file. Make sure that it is. Again, document EVERYTHING.

Why would his teacher do such a thing?

The answers to this question are several and only one of them good.

It could be because someone told him/her to do it. In my case, one of my child’s teachers was threatened by their administrator with the loss of their job if they spoke to me outside normal school hours. Administrators can and do put threatening pressure on teachers to “toe the line”, especially when they sense their improprieties could be exposed.

Another reason is school’s MUST show progress toward goals/objectives in the ARD process. The sad fact is it’s easier to cheat your kid than spend money coming back to ARD (Admissions Review Dismissal Committee) or assessing your child to qualify them for services. As mentioned in previous FAQ’s above, it’s easier for the teacher to prompt or otherwise give your student the answers in order to raise their scores than it is to assess true learning and mastery of a skill set.

Another reason is the teacher thought it would help. When it comes to the complexities of special education, not all teachers are aware of what’s involved. They think they are helping when in reality they are at best clouding the issue at hand or at worst, masking a serious injustice to the student.

Are schools underfunded?

After seeing this video, I don’t believe they are: https://youtu.be/1vqd_g22AMc. WOW!! 10 times as much?!  Don’t fall for that excuse! Especially if your child has Medicaid OR has a child in the state of Texas. Texas offers a Medicaid Waiver program for public schools. Children with a disability qualifies schools to be reimbursed for services under this Medicaid Waiver program. Yes, it’s different from regular Medicaid. Schools bill through School Health And Related Services (SHARS) for services provided to your child when at school. Texas has many Waiver programs that are State and Federally funded. One thing you should know, if your child has Medicaid, school districts are required to get your consent before gaining access to your child’s medical history.

School districts are known for billing Medicaid for “individual instruction” (a higher rate) when the service was actually performed in a small group setting. For example, let’s say the district receives $25 per student for a 30-minute speech therapy group session. Billed correctly, the school would receive $100 for that session. If the teacher documents individual services instead of the group instruction that was actually provided, the school may receive $100 per student.

When dealing with a school district, don’t underestimate their desire to make the most money by way of the easiest path. For more information watch this video: https://vimeo.com/71996032. More than likely, your school pays for MSB Consulting to oversee their SHARS billing.

Did I give consent to bill Medicaid?

Ask for all ARD paperwork through an Open Records Request. They are required by law to give you anything you request if it exists. Don’t assume they can’t alter the results. If your child’s ARD document has a Medicaid number at the top of their paperwork, they are billing Medicaid! If your child qualifies for a State or Federal Waiver, they are billing Medicaid through SHARS.

You talk a lot about documentation. What does that include and why is it so important?

Mark Twain said, “If you always tell the truth, you never have to remember anything.”

Unfortunately, when advocating for your child’s educational needs, you need to assume the school district isn’t being completely honest with you.

Sometimes it will be an innocent oversight with no malice intended. Sometimes it will be a purposeful omission or distortion of information meant to deceive you.

Documenting the entire process can seem overwhelming. Yet it is crucial that every single step and conversation be documented. Once the evaluation process begins you will be dealing with a minimum of five people:

– LSSP – Licensed Specialist in School Psychology
– Educational Diagnostician
– School Administrator
– Teacher
– Special Education Teacher

And, if there is a medical component, a Nurse.

When you are in meetings:

Record the session. Typically, the person facilitating the meeting will ask if anyone is recording. Tell them you are and record the session. Use your smart phone, tape recorder, etc.

Know that child’s privacy rights are protected under FERPA. The school cannot record anything regarding your student without your permission.

You need to record everything because you will be overwhelmed by all the jargon used by the teachers and administrators. There may not be time or opportunity in the meeting to stop and clarify acronyms, abbreviations or terms. Having a recording you can go back to allows you to focus on what’s being said in the moment.

Listen to the recording of the ARD after the meeting. Note the time on the audio.

Don’t worry about what they say. If they try to complicate or overwhelm you with fancy talk, just keep asking your questions until they answer in painfully simple terms. Education law states their answers must be in “layman’s terms”. That means plain and simple.

Keep ALL correspondence. Letters, emails, date and time of phone conversations. ALL means EVERYTHING. It’s much better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.

Keep a notebook on your child. When documenting, include date and time of every conversation/meeting. This includes any debriefing you do with your child/student on a daily basis.