March 2010


The Information is Key

By Naomi Brickel

Annual review season is stressful for everyone. Parents lose sleep, anxious about their child and the upcoming meeting. Administrators’ heads spin as they juggle to fit in meetings, ensure all documentation is available, and coordinate schedules of their teams with parent availability. Teachers have to invent hours to complete testing and attend meetings, all while maintaining a sense of normality and a healthy, productive classroom learning environment. I have heard this season compared to child-birth in my own district’s special education offices and having experienced both several times– I think they are comparably stressful. Alas, the interventions appropriate for reducing the associated stress of childbirth are not appropriate or practical for a CPSE/CSE meeting. So how can we make this easier for everyone?

The CPSE/CSE process is a team-oriented process. As is the case with any sports team, the players positions are defined, and each brings a particular skill to his/her role which requires practice and prep time before the big game. The CPSE/CSE meeting requires the same dedicated preparation. Teachers and support staff put hours into assessing their students throughout the year and preparing comprehensive, thoughtful reports. CPSE/CSE chairpersons and special education directors work overtime scheduling and rescheduling times and dates, overseeing programs, chairing meetings, and becoming knowledgeable about each student in the district before that child’s meeting. Participating activly both in SEPTA and as a Parent Member has increased my awareness and respect in this regard. Every child in every district has an annual review meeting which requires a significant level of coordination and preparation.

Of course the student’s parent is a member of the Committee too, and needs to put in prep time just like his/her teammates. If you are a parent reading this, think about how many times you have gone into your child’s CPSE/CSE meeting and had every thought run out of your head and lost all ability to read or even listen for understanding? (It still happens to me!) As the individual committee member who is most emotionally tied to these proceedings, the parent needs to be even more proactive in their preparation. Since effective IEP’s are developed based on accurate, detailed, and comprehensive information about the student, the most important preparation is all about that information – both getting and sharing – so that thoughtful, informed discussion, problem-solving, and planning can occur.

Parents, get your hands on the reports before your child’s meeting, read them, make notes, and if possible get clarification of things that are not clear. Regulations specify that a parent has a right to access reports of evaluations; however timelines are not defined, so a parent should be proactive in this step. Call your child’s teachers and/or providers and ask if they would be willing to send the report home in your child’s backpack, via email, or even meet with you briefly to discuss. (I have a lot more success going directly to the teachers with this request than I did in the past when I wrote the CSE office. This does not surprise me having witnessed the activity in Special Education offices at this time of year, and I have never had a teacher refuse this request.)

It is equally important for parents to share information with the committee. If there are reports from private doctors or service providers that contain information that might be relevant and assist in identifying student levels of functioning or developing program, give them to the committee for review – preferably before the meeting. Make your own report (Download the new CPSE/CSE Parent-Student Report Worksheet on the WIHDCSN website ). Include concerns about your child’s progress or current program, as well as their strengths and what’s ‘worked’. Get input from your child about the plusses and minuses of this year’s program. Remember that effective programs are built on strengths and previous successes, not solely on identifying what’s wrong. The observations and perspective of the parent – and student- are as important as any other report. Quite frequently here at the Parent Center we hear from parents who are unhappy about a Committee decision, but neglected to share their concerns or other pertinent information during the meeting for any number of reasons. Speak up, or at least write it all out. More information is better than less when you are trying to build an appropriate program for a student.

An effective sports team communicates and works as a cohesive unit. Successful outcomes occur when each player has prepared, recognizes and respects the specific skills of their team mates, and assists them when possible so that they can each be most effective in their position. In the CPSE/CSE, information sharing is really the key to success.

This process is designed and intended to be strength-based, problem-solving, and collaborative. Parents – get and share reports and information about your child. Teachers – provide parents with the reports so that they can participate meaningfully. CPSE/CSE Chairpersons and Special Education Directors – encourage your staff to share the reports and solicit information from parents. Increasing access to information for all committee members goes far towards positive outcomes for students. It can work. I have lived it.

Naomi Brickel is the Project Coordinator for the Hudson Valley Special Education Parent Center at the Westchester Institute for Human Development

A Parents’ Guide to Annual Review

By Heidi McCarthy, Ed.D.

Spring is approaching, and that means it is time for your child’s Annual Review. The Committee on Special Education conducts a meeting annually to review the status of your child for purposes of recommending the continuation, modification or termination of the provision of special education programs and services for the following school year. Part 200.4 (f) of the Regulations of the Commissioner of Education state, “The Individualized Education Program (IEP) of each student with a disability shall be reviewed and, if appropriate, revised, periodically but not less than annually to determine if the annual goals for each student are being achieved.” At the Annual Review, there will be review of your child’s IEP and other current information pertaining to his/her performance. The review will include consideration of: the strengths of the student; the concerns of parents; results of any updated evaluations; the student’s performance on any State or district-wide assessments; the academic, developmental and functional needs of the student; the student’s educational progress and achievement and his/her ability to participate in instructional programs in regular education

You, the student’s parents/guardians, will receive a written invitation to the Annual Review as you are a member of the Committee, and are strongly encouraged to participate in committee decisions. In an effort to assist you in that participation, following are some of the major areas frequently discussed during the Annual Review:

  • Academic Achievement, Functional Performance and Learning Characteristics Levels and Abilities including your child’s knowledge and development in subject and skills areas, activities of daily living, level of intellectual functioning, adaptive behavior, expected rate of progress in acquiring skills and information and learning styles.
  • Social Development as it pertains to the degree and quality of your child’s relationships with peers and adults, his/her feelings about self and social adjustment to school and community environments.
  • The degree or quality of your child’s motor and sensory development, health, vitality and physical skills or limitations as they pertain to his/her learning process.
  • Your child’s unique needs that impede his/her ability to progress in the general curriculum. The Committee will then develop Annual Goals to address each of his/her needs. These goals will include criteria for measuring success, the schedule for when those measurements will occur and the procedure for measuring that progress. The Committee will also develop program modifications and testing accommodations to address the student’s needs.
  • If your child will be turning 15 during the school year in which the IEP is in effect, the Committee will discuss his/her post-high school goals, and develop steps to assist the student in transitioning from high school toward his/her post-secondary goals.
  • For students with highly intensive management meets, severe multiple disabilities, currently receiving home and/or hospital instruction and/or those who would experience substantial regression of skills, the Committee may discuss and consider special education services to be recommended during the summer months.

Many variables go in to the scheduling of Annual Reviews including: students’ schedules, teachers’ schedules, standardized testing dates and availability of related service providers. Districts are also very aware of the importance of taking the parents’ availability into account in this process, as parent participation at CSE meetings is vitally important. You are encouraged to make every effort to attend the Annual Review, and to contact your District’s Special Education Office as soon as possible, if you are unable to attend at the time at which your child’s meeting is scheduled. Input and participation from all Committee members, including the parent(s), is key for the development of an appropriate Individualized Education Program for your child.

Heidi McCarthy, Ed.D., is the Director of Special Programs and Services in the White Plains City School District.

A Parent’s Guide to Understanding the Psychological Evaluation: The CSE Psychology Member’s Perspective

By Daniel Billups, Psy.D.

As you prepare to attend an initial (or annual) meeting of the Committee on Special Education for your child, you will receive a report entitled Psychological Evaluation. One stumbling block for parents in understanding the psychological report is the often unfamiliar terminology used. The purpose of this brief summation is to assist in demystifying the report and explain some of the terms in more friendly language. Lets’ begin with the question, “What is the purpose of the psychological evaluation?”

The psychological evaluation is conducted to look at how students process (or understand) and use information. First and foremost, the psychological evaluation pulls on several domains of functioning and the report should state the reason for referral. It should also include background information about any significant history that might shed light on the presenting area of concern (s), and how the student functions in the learning environment. For example, it would be important to know how the student relates to the examiner and others she may come into contact with during the school day. Observations of the child outside the testing room could shed light here, and might take place in the class, at recess or in the lunch room. These observations are important in answering the question about how the student negotiates the demands of the whole school environment, which includes classroom learning, and social and peer interactions, to present a more global view of adaptive functioning.

Second, the psychological report should speak to the student’s cognitive (intellectual) functioning. What are the student’s verbal and nonverbal abilities that are available for learning; and how does he/she processes (encode) information; and is the student capable of efficiently storing and retrieving information on demand? As psychologists, we would also want to know how well the student can organize information and use it to respond in a useful and meaningful way. The importance of understanding how the student directs his or her intelligence cannot be underestimated. It is critically important to gain insight into how the students’ overarching central management system functions in their brain. So, it is useful to know how efficiently they organize, initiate, sustain and follow through on tasks, both school activities and more personal endeavors.

Third, the psychological report should speak to the students social and emotional functioning and how well the student meets the adaptive demands of the environment. These series of probes include gathering information about how your child negotiates peer and adult interactions, how one feels about self, copes with transitions and frustration, and what they identify as areas of competency. In the adaptive arena, the examiner considers things like age appropriate self-care and the ability to communicate effectively in order to advocate for needs, personal safety and, the use of leisure time.

Last, but by no means the least, is an assessment of intellectual skills the student brings to the learning environment. While the relevance of IQ to school learning has been a controversial notion, intelligence test scores have been shown to have a positive correlation with school performance. This in no way diminishes the recognition that successful school learning also depends on many personal characteristics other than intelligence.

In closing, the psychological report, from my perspective as the psychology member of the CSE, is a comprehensive look at how the student functions across many domains. As Neisser et al., (1996) noted in an article about intelligence, we have known for years that students “differ in their ability to understand complex ideas, adapt effectively to the environment, learn from experience, engage in various forms of reasoning, and overcome obstacles by taking thought.”

The intelligence test, as part of the comprehensive psychological evaluation, attempts to capture these differences in order to better understand the whole student, and how we as educators can facilitate their learning and adaptation during the elementary and secondary school years. These differences vary over time and are influenced by schooling, support, experience, enrichment, persistence and motivation, in addition to innate ability. As you listen to the presentation of the psychological report and attempt to understand the use of various terms, be prepared to ask, “What does that look like in the classroom (learning environment) for my child?”

What follows below is a brief glossary of frequently used terms which a parent might hear at the Committee on Special Education meeting:

  • Oral comprehension – does the student understand what is going on around him? Is auditory processing (social perception) adequate for the demands of the environment?
  • Auditory Memory (working memory) – ability to remember sounds in correct order. Ability to hold a certain number of items in memory. Includes different aspects of memory, including immediate, delayed and remote.
  • Visual Memory – important skill for acquisition of basic sight vocabulary in first grade. Important in remembering math equations.
  • Verbal reasoning – ability to think from what is heard, and put facts together in order to derive meaning form disparate pieces of information.
  • Visual reception (perception) – ability to see visual detail. Can one differentiate between two similar symbols or words? Can student think and reason and problem solve nonverbally. Requires input of information through visual and sensory channels.
  • Visual associative thinking – can the student think from mental pictures or images?
  • Verbal expression – can student put what she knows into words?
  • Auditory discrimination – ability to differentiate and recognize sounds. Does the student often seem to misunderstand subtle in language?
  • Visual sequencing – Tracking ability. Does student loose place easily when reading? Does she reverses or misread numbers or letters, or have problems using a separate answer sheet?
  • Grapho motor skills – visual motor integration and coordination. Ability to express thinking in writing; efficient copying of notes from board or during class lectures. What is the quality of student’s written work?
  • Attention/Concentration – ability to focus on a given task for an appropriate period of time (Ben-Yshay, 1983) and includes arousal and initiation, length of attention, and ability to sustain attention through task completion.

Daniel Billups, Psy.D. is a CSE School Psychologist in the City School District of New Rochelle.

Your Transitioning Teenager:

By Joyce M. Hawk

As spring approaches parents of students with disabilities are preparing for their child’s annual review. If the student is approaching the teenage years there are some additional components of the IEP that you should consider as you get ready for the CSE meeting.

New York State regulations require that all students age 12 shall undergo an assessment that to determine vocational skills, aptitudes and interests. This process is known as the Level One Vocational (Career) Assessment and includes a review of school records and teacher assessments, parent, and student interviews. The student and parents share their hopes and ideas for the future and teachers provide feedback about the child’s strengths and aptitudes in different areas. This information incorporates the student’s interests and abilities into the career decision making process and is included in the development of the student’s IEP for the following school year. At age 12 the student will likely not yet have a clear idea of the future, and may perhaps be a bit unrealistic, but this begins the conversation and gets the student thinking. Changes in student goals and preferences are normal and expected so the process is dynamic and ongoing goals tend to become more specific and realistic as the student ages. The process examines educational programs and career options and focuses the student, parents, and staff on realistic outcomes available to the student upon completion of his/her secondary education.

Additionally, for those students (in NYS) beginning not later than the first IEP to be in effect when the student is age 15 (and at a younger age, if determined appropriate), the IEP must include recommendations for special education programs and services and transition activities that are coordinated, and will reasonably enable students to meet their measurable post-secondary goals and annual goals relating to transition. This information is updated each year at the annual review meeting.

Planning while in school must look at the future, beyond high school. The purpose of transition planning and services is to incrementally prepare students with disabilities to live, learn, and work within the community by providing them with career and life skills, knowledge, and life experiences. Transition services should be based on the individual’s strengths, preferences, and interests; and include instruction, related services, community experiences, the development of employment and other post-school adult living objectives, and if necessary, acquisition of daily living skills. The IEP will spell out what will occur in school, including skill development and real-life experiences, to help the student achieve his goals and be prepared for adult life.

Enter your teenager. In daily life it’s all about them right? Surprisingly, while it is clear that the intent is to focus on the student while considering transition services, too often the student does not actively participate in their own IEP meeting. For any variety of reasons the student may not be there to participate in this critical planning process: He/she may not ‘be into it.’ A parent may feel reluctant to include their child because they feel the discussion will make them uncomfortable. Adults may feel the student would be intimidated by being the focus of the meeting or by the ‘authority figures’ in the room, or even the possibility of negative comments. I think we need to give these maturing youth more credit. Having the young adult at the IEP meeting often helps to keep it positive and focused on the student’s needs. The perfect transition plan can fall apart quickly if the student is not directly involved in the planning.

I have witnessed the relief on the faces of freshman college students with learning disabilities, when their disability was fully explained to them and they understood for the first time that they are not “dumb or stupid” but that their brain simply processes information in a unique way. Seeing their educational struggles from that perspective can improve a student’s self esteem, make using academic accommodations more appealing, and encourage a student to identify alternative ways in which they can learn and invest themselves in their own academic success. Waiting until college to understand their disability and how it impacts their learning, however, is not the optimal way to make this transition.

Teenagers also need to be engaged in the transition process to practice self-advocacy skills. Developing self-knowledge is the first step. Learning about one’s self involves the identification of learning styles, strengths and weakness, interests, and preferences. Helping the student to identify future goals or desired outcomes in transition planning areas is a good place to begin. Participation in transition planning enables and empowers the student to direct his/her own life. This empowerment can serve as a motivational strategy to encourage the student to be active in the IEP process and other decision-making situations. It is helpful for the student to practice self advocating while in high school, with mentoring and/or supervision, before being expected to do so independently at college or in employment situations. The acquisition of self- advocacy skills is a critical component of transition planning if successful outcomes and independence are to be achieved.

Annual reviews are a good time to assess what transition related services or activities are needed for the student. Annual revision should reflect the student’s current goals as well as their ability to narrow general interests to specific directions concerning post-school plans. The transition planning process is the beginning of a parent’s transition as well. Your role will change. You will need to prepare to pass the baton onto your child, start letting go with love, encourage independence, if necessary allow your child to fail and listen more closely. Start early. Think long-term.

Joyce Hawk is an Outreach Coordinator for the Hudson Valley Special Education Parent Center at the Westchester Institute for Human Development

Get Organized for Annual Review

By Chrisanne Petrone

It is time for your child’s annual review meeting. What can you do to be better prepared? Get organized! A CSE meeting can be overwhelming, stressful, and anxiety producing. One way to effectively participate in the meeting is to get organized beforehand. So, where do you begin? First, take a deep breath and pull out all of those wonderful pieces of paper you have received over the course of the year from school. Locate your child’s current IEP, report cards, state testing results, evaluations, teacher progress reports, and other school communications that might have relevance at your child’s meeting. If you can’t locate your child’s IEP, call the district and request an additional copy. Put everything in a folder or a binder so it can be easily accessed when the meeting date arrives.

Next, try to obtain reports and evaluations from your child’s teachers, service providers or evaluators ahead of time. Any reports or evaluations you obtain should be put with the rest of the documents you’ve collected and placed in a folder or binder.

Next, collect your thoughts. You are a partner in the process so your input is not only important but critical. What type of information do you need to provide? Parents should report their child’s strengths, the goals they envision for their child in the upcoming year, their concerns about their child’s school program, any medical updates, any information or reports about activities or therapies their child is involved in outside of the school setting, as well as any other questions or concerns they may have. The Hudson Valley Special Education Parent Center has designed a worksheet to help you organize your thoughts and create a ‘Parent Report’. Take the time to fill it out and bring it with you to your child’s meeting. Consider providing a copy of your worksheet to the CSE committee before the meeting. You know your child best and it is your responsibility to help the committee create a complete and clear picture of your child.

So, how do you organize all your information so that you can review and refer to it before and during the meeting? My suggestion is to put it in a binder or folder, group the papers in the order suggested below, and organize the individual sections chronologically.

Section 1:
Parent reports (i.e. CPSE/CSE Parent – Student Report Worksheet, listing of services your child receives outside of school, etc.), list of additional questions, your child’s IEP, your child’s behavior intervention plan, if applicable, meeting notices, and the Procedural Safeguards Notice.

Section 2:
School district evaluations (i.e. current psychological evaluation, educational evaluation, etc.), or updates about your child’s performance in the current school year (i.e. teacher’s annual update, or other provider’s update, etc.)

Section 3:
Privately obtained evaluations, updates, or notes, current medical documents (i.e. copy of your child’s latest annual physical)

Section 4:
Report cards, teacher progress notes, state testing results, other important school documents that the committee may not have readily available (i.e. letter of disciplinary action, etc.)

Now that you are organized, remember that you need to review all these documents, ask questions, and speak up. Being organized will provide you with the information you need to participate in your child’s meeting but it should never replace you vocalizing your concerns. You are your child’s strongest voice.

Chrisanne Petrone is an Outreach Coordinator for the Hudson Valley Special Education Parent Center at the Westchester Institute for Human Development