A Change of Approach versus A Change In Placement

A Change of Approach versus A Change In Placement

The number one reason that students with disabilities are moved to more restrictive environments is due to BEHAVIORS that are interfering with their learning or the learning of others in the classroom. Interestingly enough, what has been shown to be most impactful in changing the behavior of students with disabilities during instructional time doesn’t require a separate space to achieve. It’s some of the most simple things that can be done in any classroom. Finding a different instructional approach can negate the need to find a different instructional setting.

Instructional strategies are discrete teaching behaviors that can be used across instructional activities and formats and they do not require a specific setting to be successfully implemented. When a student with a disability is having a hard time progressing in a general education classroom, most IEP teams determine that the next course of action should be a more restrictive environment. I would beg to differ. I think that we need to exhaust the supports available in a general education setting before even considering a more restrictive environment. Some simple changes can make a difference in students who would otherwise be moved to another environment.

The following instructional strategies when done purposefully and with consistency, have been shown to increase academic participation and decrease disruptive classroom behaviors of students with disabilities…

1. Opportunities to Respond (OTR): Numerous studies have shown that low performing students are given less OTR than their higher performing peers. As a result, students with the most needs are given less opportunities for practice and feedback. With less curriculum-based teacher engagement, it is easier for SWD and lower performing students to remain off task and thus increase the problem behaviors. It’s only natural for a struggling student to think to themselves, “if I can’t participate meaningfully, what else can I do?” And thus the cycle of difficult behavior continues.

2. Praise: Lower performing students are less likely to receive praise as compared with their on level and above level peers. Teacher praise has a long history of being recognized as an effective teaching strategy. The more that students are praised, the more that they are engaged. The more OTR, the more chances to be praised.

3. Active Instruction: Active Instruction includes the presentation of academic material via lectures, discussion, demonstration, elaboration on student ideas (Stichter et.al.,2009). The more academic instruction provided, the higher student academic progress. Active instruction is most effectively achieved with students with behavioral/academic difficulties in a small group setting where there are more opportunities to respond than in a whole group setting, which is one of the major arguments for self contained settings. With that being said, we don’t need to move students to another space to achieve a small group setting. Small group settings can be achieved in regular education classrooms through support facilitation, paraprofessional support and increasing active instruction in teacher led centers.

(Good, 1970; Greenwood, Delquardri & Hall, 1984)

Here are some other considerations:

1. Ensure that a student who has behavioral difficulties has a recent Functional Assessment of Behavior and subsequent Behavior Intervention Plan. The parent can request a FBA as a part of a comprehensive evaluation. If there is a BIP in place and it’s not working, the team should reconvene to revise what they are doing. Just like the IEP, the BIP is a workable document. It’s not enough to create a BIP, say it’s not working and then move a child directly to a more restrictive environment.

2. Make sure that accommodations and modifications (as appropriate) are being made to allow access to the curriculum. If a student cannot read the text, it is likely they will misbehave. Increasing meaningful participation decreases unnecessary disruptions. In the example of not being able to read the text, providing the student with the text on tape could be a simple solution.

3. Consider Assistive Technology. Don’t just check a box that says it’s been considered and isn’t necessary. If a student is struggling, there is a good chance that an AT evaluation will reveal technology that could be helpful to increase meaningful participation. Don’t assume nothing will help, you aren’t an AT Specialist! Please be especially proactive in requesting an AT Evaluation with students who have limited communication/language and students who demonstrate difficulty writing or copying from the board. I am learning about new technology everyday and I have been to over 200 IEP Meetings.

4. Universal Design is setting up the classroom in a way that naturally accommodates and gives access to all students. “At its core, UDL encompasses three principles—that instructors should provide students with multiple means of representation, expression, and engagement. In lay terms, this means that, to the extent possible, instructors should (a) provide content or materials in multiple formats, (b) give learners multiple ways to show what they know, and (c) use multiple methods of motivating learners. The concept of UDL originated in 1984, when the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) first focused on how computer technology could enhance learning for students with learning disabilities.” (Kelly, 2014, Association of Colleges and Universities)

In summation, as educators and supporters of inclusive education, we can choose to be creative and think outside of the box in order to keep students with disabilities in their least restrictive environment and to the maximum extent possible learning alongside their non-disabled peers. We need to move away from an all or nothing approach to inclusion and reject this idea that either the student sinks or swims. This is not fair. By being cognizant of the frequency with which we are implementing proven teaching strategies, we can make a difference. No, not every case is so simple as paying attention to how often we are facilitating the above, and yes there are some cases that require a more tailored and multifaceted approach. BUT truly we underestimate how a change in approach and awareness in our practices can be the difference in individuals students lives and ultimately shift the perception that they require another setting to meet their needs.

We hope this article has helped.

If you have any further questions about the content presented in this article, please contact [email protected] or Krista Barth directly at [email protected]. Blog posts are intended to provide general information on a topic. For more individualized information please fill out our contact us form and/or book a consultation.

Krista Barth, Special Needs Advocate

[email protected]

305-510-6739

What Martin Luther King Junior’s Mission Meant for Students with Disabilities

 

The Civil Rights Movement paved the way for the simple consideration that individuals with disabilities are entitled to equal access and that separate is inherently unequal, when the basis of separation is a characteristic or condition that one is born with (being a woman, being a certain ethnicity/color, being disabled, medically fragile, etc). This is what leaders during the civil rights movement, most notably Martin Luther King Jr., fought to make a reality for not only people of color, but for all oppressed, ignored and marginalized people. As Dr. King said so eloquently,  “It is not possible to be in favor of justice for some people and not be in favor of justice for all people.”

One of the most important pieces of legislature in the long battle of fighting segregation of African Americans in our schools was Brown versus the Board of Education. The supreme court decision that separate schools for blacks and whites were inherently unequal and therefore unconstitutional  became an important case decision for later fights for students with disabilities and have been referenced over and over again by special education attorneys to “win” a place in the public school classroom for their clients. Brown versus the Board of Education truly is the strongest case decision in support for integrating students with disabilities in our public school classrooms. It builds a historical context for the current inclusion efforts nationwide, the Least Restrictive Environment mandate in IDEA and the general principles of fairness that most Americans, at least superficially, subscribe to today.

The Civil Rights Movement accomplished much; Jim Crow practices were outlawed and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was put into effect, arguably the most comprehensive civil rights document in our nation’s history. In Martin Luther King’s lifetime he was able to see the positive outcomes of the movement that he led, his life was not in vain.  

The impact of MLK’s voice and strong stance extended beyond his years of protest and far beyond his lifetime, he was an inspiration to all underrepresented groups. He was and is, an inspiration to Americans with disabilities who fought for their place in society in a similar fashion and drew on the courage and verbage of the African American Civil Rights Movement to fuel their way and to influence legislature that came over thirty years later with the Americans with Disabilities Act. One could say that the efforts of Martin Luther King Junior and the Civil Rights Movement at large, gave a legitimacy and a point of reference to the disability movement. This positive outcome wasn’t on accident and it doesn’t take away from the focus of the black movement, but rather it strengthens it and furthermore solidifies what Dr. King cared about most, justice for all people.  

While the legal overt discrimination of blacks and other minority ethnic groups was outlawed through the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it wasn’t until 1990 that the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed and that the overt discrimination of persons with disabilities was outlawed. People with disabilities have Dr. King and other civil rights leaders to thank for setting a benchmark for them in the fight for civil rights.

One does not choose to be a certain race, just as one does not elect to be disabled or nondisabled, and neither fact of birth should determine one’s ability to be counted in society. This basic concept has been accounted for in both pieces of civil rights legislature, but we know that the fight for equal opportunity continues in 2018. Though we have come a long way, we still have a long way to go. AND though direct acts of discrimination are less widespread and widely accepted than in the 1950’s, indirect acts take place everyday and in every community. Though not as “in your face”, indirect acts of discrimination can be as impactful to a person’s life outcomes as direct.

Segregated environments still exists today in many of our public schools and most teachers, administrators, parents and citizens don’t seem to relate to self contained special needs environments as a practice of segregation, when it fact it is. While most would consider it inherently discriminatory for a black or hispanic student to be placed in a separate school based on their race alone, many would not flinch to see this done to a student with a disability, as it is commonplace and largely seen as an “unavoidable” practice.  

While we no longer live in a society where separate but “equal” is justifiable or legal for students of color in a direct context, we see our neighborhood public schools largely color coded based, instead, on a student’s zip code. Socioeconomic status makes changing zip codes out of reach for many low income minority families, thus maintaining the status quo of majority minority public schools and the concept that separate is inherently unequal. The increase in charter schools, magnet schools and state private school scholarship funds has paved a way for more diverse schooling options for students that live in majority minority neighborhoods and in some cases attempts to do so for students with disabilities (i.e. in FL the McKay Scholarship Fund), however those same schools continue to discriminate against students with disabilities, accepting them when they apply to meet anti discrimination law requirements, but shortly into the school year suggesting transfer to a school that will “better meet their needs”.  

The purpose of schooling is to prepare students for the working world, aka “the real world”. Jobs, schools, organizations, hospitals, everywhere we go to work and learn we will be exposed to and mandated to collaborate will all kinds of people. The diversity that students will one day meet is endless- diversity of learners, diversity of races, diversity of thinking, diversity of sexuality, religious diversity, just to name a few. Yet our schools are largely NOT preparing students for what will come. Self contained schools and classrooms fail to prepare students with disabilities for any life after school, except for one that continues to be segregated, which will in turn prevent participation in the fabric of our society which is integrated. Change that we wish to see must begin in our schools. We must hold our schools accountable to the principles and ideology of IDEA 2004 that states, “Disability is a natural part of the human experience and in no way diminishes the right of individuals to participate in or contribute to society. Improving educational results for children with disabilities is an essential element of our national policy of ensuring equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living and economic self sufficiency for individuals with disabilities.”

 

So what has Dr. King’s message meant to people with disabilities?

 

  • It means hope, it means life, it means motivation to fight, it means commonality
  • His words give hope for true inclusion
  • His words create connection
  • His speeches are relatable
  • His life and his death were worthwhile then and now
  • His fight continues to be fought through parents, children, school district professionals,  educational advocates and attorneys

 

And our greatest fight is for students with disabilities of color in the most segregated of schooling environments, segregated based on race/zip code and segregated further because of disability

 

“People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.”

 

-Martin Luther King Junior

 

Krista Barth, Special Needs Advocate

[email protected]

305-510-6739

It’s Your Child’s Right to Be Included

Least Restrictive Environment

When it comes to addressing your child’s needs, there are several ways in which the law requires schools to provide these necessary educational services. They do so through a federal law that was established in 2004, known as IDEA, or Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

The IDEA provides rights and protections to children with disabilities, gives parents a voice, and ultimately requires school districts to provide each student with a free appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE) to the maximum extent appropriate.

Student to student what the least restrictive environment is can vary based on individual needs and special considerations. The setting must be educationally sound, meaning the structure, student to teacher ratio and specialized services or lack thereof,  are designed to enable the student to continue to progress within their curriculum.

What does the Least Restrictive Environment mean?

The IDEA ensures that students with disabilities will be provided with an education in the regular classroom given appropriate aids and supports alongside nondisabled peers to the maximum extent appropriate and in so long as it’s educationally appropriate. In doing so, students with disabilities are not only given an individualized plan (IEP) fit to meet their unique educational needs, which ultimately facilitates and creates an environment where the student can thrive, but also the IEP should ideally provide opportunities for inclusion, even to students with moderate to severe disabilities. The benefits of inclusions apply not only to children with mild challenges, but also to those with moderate to severe, contrary to popular opinion.  Inclusion is a vital part of a child’s educational process as it gives the child the right social and emotional tools to use in their journey within and outside their schooling years. We live in an inclusive world. There aren’t self contained “special” classrooms in higher education and I haven’t seen any companies that exclusively hire persons with special needs. We must all, disabled and nondisabled, learn to work together and effectively utilize one another’s unique skill sets, strengths and weaknesses. This is a vital part of coexisting as a diverse and strong country.

What does the acronym FAPE mean?

  • Free– eligible students with disabilities will be educated at public expense and there will be no cost to the parent.
  • Appropriate refers to the concept behind tailoring an individualized educational plan (IEP) to the needs of a child with a disability. Certain accommodations and modifications will have to be made through the IEP to ensure the child’s success within their respective curriculum.
  • Public, meaning public school system; a child with a disability has the right to be educated in a public school.
  • Education, which is what a child with a disability, must be rightfully provided within their least restrictive environment.

 

The IDEA deems it important that the parents of children with disabilities are provided with procedural safeguards to allow them to advocate for the educational rights of their child. This involvement of meetings, examination of records, and participation in the decisions of setting and placement for their child helps ensure that the parent has a voice. These concepts are applied through the development of an IEP, where the parents and a school team work together to outline the services necessary for the child to benefit from their educational program and beyond. They must be reviewed and updated every year. The IEP is not a static document, it should evolve over the course of a child’s educational journey, and hopefully tells a story of progress.

To learn more about LRE and Inclusion, please contact:

Krista Barth, Special Needs Advocate

[email protected]

305-510-6739