A few weeks ago, a parent in a support group I attend dejectedly said to me “we have an attorney and my son is receiving all the services we asked for but he’s still not making progress”. Same question with the 14 y/o kid I wrote about Feb 1st who did not know the alphabet despite being in school since age 3. How could that be? Of course it all has to do with “how” the kids are taught. Here are some of the reasons why this happens:
1) Low expectation of kids in SDC classrooms. In 5 years of dealing with the SpEd system, I’ve only come across one educator (an Occupational Therapist) who truly had high expectations of my son and was bold about setting challenging goals for him even despite my own trepidation. Guess what? He met the goals she set for him!
2) Failure to break down annual goals to monthly & weekly goals. There is a tendency to impart the entire annual goal to the student all at once and just keep regurgitating the same thing throughout the year. Nobody learns that way, not kids in General Ed or even adults in college. Imagine if a professor told you to study the whole year’s material (a textbook) in a week or two then keep repeating it throughout the year. Ridiculous! Our minds cannot take in that much new material at once. Yet, that is what is expected of special needs kids. The teacher simply uses the IEP as one lesson plan for the entire year instead of creating weekly or at least monthly lesson plans. So when the child doesn’t meet the goal, it’s implicit that the child is at fault when it’s actually the instructional strategy that is faulty.
Example: two years ago, Mars had this goal: “receptively and expressively ID 50 new vocabulary of common objects”. A month into the school year I asked for homework & the teacher sent me a list of 50 words. Instead of working on 5-10 new words every week (or until mastered), she was randomly rotating all 50 words each week beginning the first week of the school year. Defies common sense. Even the way benchmark or quarterly goals are written is often the exact same goal as the annual goal but the accuracy or mastery level will be 40% or 60% instead of 80% or 90%. So in this example, that would mean Mars should know “all 50 vocab with 40% accuracy” instead of simply stating “20 new vocabulary with 90% accuracy” which is far more effective – you see the difference?
3) Absence of homework – kids in GenEd get homework, therefore get plenty of opportunity to practice the new skills they acquire in school. But God forbid that SpEd students are given that same opportunity. Every year, I’ve had to ask for homework and even then I get random copies out of workbooks rather than something thoughtfully put together by the teacher.
4) Insufficient intensity i.e. repetition or drills – since the material is not broken down into small batches & then presented to the students with sufficient repetition until mastered before moving to the next batch, kids do not retain new material and concepts. They are inundated with all the material at once, over and over again. Wide and shallow instead of narrow and deep.
5) Poor data collection, data analysis. Two years ago, I asked for copies of Mars’ teacher file on him. I was shocked. I got 2 pages of with maybe a total of 6 or 7 lines per page after 6 months into the school year. It was evident the teacher did very little written preparation. No data means you don’t really know exactly where the student is in his progress.
6) Failure to regularly evaluate what’s not working and change teaching methods or strategies. This is really essential, yet it is not done routinely as it should be. If this was being done, teachers would be working hard to make sure the student “got it” and you would have far fewer IEP goals that are not met. I will repeat this quote again because it is soooo important…
“If a child cannot learn in the way we teach, we must teach in a way the child can learn” Dr Ivar Lovaas
7) Parents leaving their child’s education up to schools. There is a mistaken assumption by parents that the professionals i.e. teachers and other schools staff are truly teaching their child in the most effective teaching method. Unfortunately, very often not true! Parents of special needs kids have to be forever vigilant about not only “what” but also “how” schools teach our kids.
Next post: Evidence-based teaching strategies.