Saturday, November 6, 2010

Why are there so many IEP's?

Look closely, and you'll find more and more seemingly typical children going to school with legally-binding Individualized Education Plans that cost both their parents and their school districts significant time and resources to secure and implement. Are today's parents more demanding than they used to be, or might certain trends in education be responsible? Consider the following possibilities:

1. Instructional Failures:

In particular, the failure to teach phonics intensively and systematically, and the failure to teach penmanship at all. Many children (enough to camouflage the problem) still muddle through, figuring out how to decode words with minimal formal instruction or with parental tutoring, and managing to write fluently and legibly enough for today's classrooms. But many others don't. Some of the people I've talked to who work with children identified as dyslexic or dysgraphic say they suspect that many of these kids are actually victims of dysteachia.

Incidentally, instructional failures in mathematics haven't yielded a similar proliferation of disability labels, but only because the cognitive standards for math disability (dyscalculia) are low enough that most children, however deficient their math instruction is, don't qualify.

2. Holding students back:

First, there's the decline of ability-based groupings and opportunities for students to work independently and at their own rates, and the rise of mixed-ability group-based assignments and the same curriculum for all students at a given grade level. Some teachers have even eliminated the free choice of independent, take-home reading books, requiring advanced readers to read at the same level as their classmates. Second, there's the dumbing down of that one-size-fits-all curriculum, and of those one-size-fits-all books, so that No Child is Left Behind.

More and more parents, seeing their kids held back relative to their academic potentials, are finding that the only way out of this is a legally-binding gifted IEP.

3. Developmentally inappropriate requirements:

For all the dumbing down of the curriculum, the organizational and attentional demands of today's classrooms are much greater than they use to be. Back in my day, what homework we had in grade school was handed directly to us to put in our backpacks, along with all the information and materials (e.g. textbooks) we needed to get it done. The assignments were short and straightforward and required no prompting, directions-explaining, breaking down into subtasks, or assistance looking things up over the Internet because the information isn't in our backpacks, by our parents. It came home with us automatically, and we got it done on our own and our teachers collected it from us the next day. The tests were based on material in our textbooks, not on material covered only in class.

Today's grade schoolers receive large, complex, multi-day assignments, often based on material covered only in class or that must be searched for online, that they are expected to record in their planners and pick up and hand in on their own. And they are often tested on material covered only in class, the absorption of which requires careful attention and note taking. While the more attentive and organizationally mature students can handle these demands independently, many others require constant assistance from their parents. In areas where parents can't assist their children--e.g., in paying attention and taking notes in class (notes that are legible enough to read later), and in remembering to pick things up and hand things in--these children flounder so much that parents often feel they have no choice but to seek legally binding accommodations.


So here's my question: Wouldn't it be more cost effective, less of a waste of everyone's time, and less of a squandering of our country's intellectual capital, if our public schools would teach our children how to read and write, and would give them work that is both academically challenging and developmentally appropriate?


Anonymous said...

Very good point, Katherine. One could argue that take-home homework in K-5 is far more about executive function (which develops slowly in some perfectly bright children) than about content learning. And I totally agree with you about the multi-step, project-oriented homework; very inappropriate for most children.

TherExtras said...

I've seen little agreement on "academically challenging and developmentally appropriate" - separately or together on many particular children leading to many more IEPs. Barbara

Liz Ditz said...

The more I work with kids who struggle, the more I think the big culprits are:

1. Developmentally inappropriate expectations beginning in kindergarten
2. Failing to teach handwriting to mastery in k-3
3. Failing to use evidence-based instruction in reading and mathematics.

Some of this may be classified as "dysteachia" but you cannot teach what you do not know -- our teacher preparation programs are deeply at fault.

Anonymous said...

I got a 504 for one of my child because
1. she is bright
2. she can't handle the endless repetition in mixed ability classroom
3. She will cause trouble if she has no work to do in class.

I would have gotten a 504 for my older child if I had known about them early enough.

I have an IEP for my youngest.

They likely have no learning disabilities aside from dysteachia. However, the only tools I had to use to get appropriate schooling was a 504/IEP. When all you have is a hammer, everything becomes a nail.

If I could have gotten my kids into a homogenous class, I/they woud not have needed a diagnosis.

LEX said...

And in order for schools to teach literate, critical thinkers (who can read, write, do math), teachers need to be trained. Teacher training institutions need to be changed. SO much professional development for teachers is so poor, and they aren't equipped to teach effectively. And for bright kids, IEPs end up too often removing them from even more valuable content, and the instruction they get doesn't help them close whatever gap with their peers.

Keri Webb said...

It's ironic how "individualized" programs have become so cookie cutter and rote that it's now a bureaucratic process for any child deemed "special". I wish every child could be seen as special, just not in this particular way. There's a simliar movement with 504s as well, since they are less resource-intensive (cheaper).

Anonymous said...

Class/school size doesn't help either. My HFA kindergartner spent two years in a pre-K mixed SpEd/regular classroom with about 20 kids (7 or so of them SpEd), with a regular teacher, a SpEd teacher, and a SpEd aide (for the SpEd kids, not 1-on-1). Then, when he started K, he went to regular K, with a regular teacher, 13 other kids, and a 1-on-1 aide 1 hour/day (which in reality, was an aide shared among 3 kids 3 hours/day). He was on the regular school bus. He was doing quite well that way.

Then we moved over winter break. In his new class he had 23 classmates instead of 13. They increased his 1-on-1 aide from 1 hour per day to 3 hours per day to help with the transition. After 2 days his teacher called me and said she wanted him on the SpEd bus because waiting for the regular bus in the hallway with hundreds of kids was too overwhelming for him. Soon thereafter, they increased his 1-on-1 aide from 3 hours per day to 6 hours per day (or, basically, all day every day). This school district spends 2 or 3 times as much per student as his previous school district. I really don't think my son needs a 1-on-1 aide *all the time*. I think he'd be much better off with less aide time and a smaller classroom. But hey, I can't do anything about that, so we'll take the aide.