February 26, 2014

Dyslexia Webinar: How to Make Sure the IEP is in Tip-Top Shape

Kelli Sandman-Hurley and Tracey Block-Zaretsky of Dyslexia Training Institute joined Learning Ally on 2/25/14 in a webinar focused on helping parents ensure that their child’s Individual Education Plan (IEP) is optimized for success.  Over 1600 people registered for the live and on-demand presentations.

During his introduction, moderator Doug Sprei shared a brief update on Learning Ally’s new Professional Development initiatives in New Jersey, following the recent groundbreaking legislation passed in that state to mandate teacher training, early testing and support for students with dyslexia.

“Needs drive goals and goals drive services,” was Kelli’s motto as she outlined how to write measurable and appropriate present levels and goals for the IEP. She also suggested which accommodations are appropriate for students with dyslexia. Watch the 60-minute webinar on-demand (above) to discover:

  • What information should be included in the IEP
  • Where information for an IEP document should come from
  • How to read the offer of FAPE
  • How to determine the level of services
  • How to determine which and how many goals to include
  • What should be included in the accommodations section
  • State testing requirements
  • Modifications versus accommodations
  • How to avoid and catch the most common mistakes in an IEP

Download the presentation slides.

Dozens of questions were sent in by audience members and some were addressed during the live session. Here are Kelli and Tracey’s answers to the questions we didn’t have time for:

What can I do if the school says my child is not 2 years behind grade level, and therefore doesn’t qualify for assistance?

This is the old standby that is used in countless IEPs across this beautiful country. There is no place in IDEA that states a student has to be two years behind. So, when you receive this response, simply take a deep breathe, smirk, and ask, “That is fascinating. Can you please show me where it states that in IDEA or our state’s educational code?” You will not receive anything, because it does not exist. Hold them accountable for backing up their claim.

The school is also not held solely to determining eligibility via the discrepancy definition. In fact, the reauthorization of IDEA in 2004 allows schools to determine eligibility by, “…permitting the use of other alternative research-based procedures for determining eligibility.”

The school can also use the two-pronged approach to determine eligibility. First, the student needs to have a disability– in the case of dyslexia, that is a Specific Learning Disability (SLD). Secondly, that disability has to affect their academic performance. This may be where they get the idea for a two-year gap, but there is not a quantitative measure attached to the “affecting their performance” terminology.

Students with dyslexia can make this a bit more complicated by performing at an average to above average level in school. So, it may look to the IEP team like they are not failing due to their disability. When this happens you need to begin documenting the time it takes to complete homework, how much time was used to study for a test, determine if the assignments they perform well on are timed or not. You can bring that information to the IEP and submit it for consideration. A student who is simply doing well could thrive with accommodations.

So, in short, ask for the evidence to back up their statement. They are wrong.

Do laws differ in how private versus public schools need to accommodate learning disabilities?

The word accommodate in this question can be confusing so let’s start with what the word accommodate means in the education world. An accommodation is something that is put in place to even the playing field and allow the student to access the curriculum. For example, a student with dyslexia would benefit greatly by having the books on audio to learn the grade level material. This is not a modification, because they are learning the same material in a different way. If they were learning a different curriculum, it would be a modification.

Now I will answer the question of private versus public schools. All students who have a suspected area of disability are entitled to an assessment to determine eligibility for special education. It does not matter if they are in a public, private or charter school. If a child is in a private school and you suspect dyslexia or a reading problem, you need to contact your local public school district, also known as your home school district, and request an evaluation in writing. If your student qualifies for services, your home school offers those to you, but it will be at the home school district. They are not required to provide those services at the private school. However, if the student qualifies for services and you opt for a 504, if the private school takes one penny of federal money for anything, they are required to honor the 504. Other than that, you are on your own at private schools. Now that I have broken the bad news to you, I will say that I have found that private schools are more willing than public schools to try to meet the students’ needs.

I requested Orton-Gillingham for my child, but our school does not have anyone trained for it. There is another school in our district that has a trial program featuring O-G instruction, but my child was not selected for it. Is there anything I can do to get my child in the program?

This is one of those situations where the answer is, “it depends.” It depends on whether or not the school agreed that Orton-Gillingham is what your child needs to succeed academically, or if you just requested it. So, if the school agreed that O-G was the most appropriate intervention for your child, then they are responsible for making it happen during school hours and in the least restrictive environment. Now if you just requested O-G as the “best” intervention for your child, then no, there isn’t really anything you can do except ask nicely. But again, it is hard to answer without all those persnickety details.

However, the school is still obligated to provide instruction via an evidence-based program. You can request the name of the program they intend to use so that you can investigate its appropriateness. If they tell you they don’t name curricula, you can respond that they need to so that you, the parent, are involved in the process.

Lastly, sometimes it helps to drop the term O-G and just use the words to describe O-G. For example, instead of requesting O-G by name, request a program that is explicit, multisensory, and systematic –  you can get that into an IEP and then they are held to that standard. They will be hard-pressed to find a program other than O-G to fit the bill.

In determining whether a child needs accommodations, who decides if/what they need? We had a private assessment and got an accommodation list, but the school is re-assessing and doesn’t think help is warranted due to passing grades. 

Remember this mantra: needs drive goals and goals drive services. The decision about eligibility and services needs to be a team decision. The accommodations need to be related to the areas that the student is struggling with and it is usually easy to identify those through testing. The most effective thing you can do in this situation is invite the private assessor to the meeting to discuss the results. The next thing you need to do is hire an advocate. It is a sad statement to make, but sometimes just having an advocate sitting at the table will change everything.

Additionally, a student cannot be denied accommodations, services, or qualification for Special Ed services (IEP or 504) because they have passing grades.

Kelli and TraceyKelli Sandman-Hurley and Tracey Block-Zaretsky are co-founders of Dyslexia Training Institute (DTI). The organization offers quality online training courses and certificate (Advocacy and Orton-Gillingham) programs for parents and education professionals about dyslexia, effective remediation and advocacy. DTI also has three learning centers in the San Diego area.

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– Jenny Falke


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