BY DR. MICHAEL BERG, ED.D.
Parents of children with disabilities need to be proactive and make sure all the time schools are devoting to the preparation and implementation of standardized tests does not swallow up the time that is supposed to be devoted to the implementation of their children’s IEP.
High stakes standardized testing in our nation’s public schools makes regular headlines in newspapers and is often the buzz on social media. The accountability level for teachers and administrators is at an all-time high. Teachers’ salaries and contract renewals are often tied to students’ test results. Schools are being graded based on test scores and often funding is tied to these grades. Parents across the country are participating in “opt-out movements” refusing to allow their children to participate in these high stakes tests because of the huge amounts of pressure being put upon their shoulders. However, regardless of whether or not a student participates in high stakes assessments, with so much riding on the results of these tests it is very likely all students will be affected by them in some manner. It is a good idea for parents of children with disabilities to be proactive and make sure all the time schools are devoting to the preparation and implementation of these standardized tests does not swallow up the time that is supposed to be devoted to the implementation of their children’s IEP (Individualized Education Program).
As a parent of a child with a disability, you send your student off to school each day with an assumption that the special education teacher is providing specialized instructional services for the prescribed amount of times listed in the IEP. The IEP you meticulously helped develop includes clearly defined learning goals and objectives that your student is working toward. In addition, prescribed service time usually spelled out in minutes per week, to meet these goals and objectives is clearly stated on the services page of the IEP. Parents expect that their child’s IEP is being implemented without interruption of services. Of course, it is unrealistic to think that instructional time for students will never be disturbed. Field trips, fire drills, special assemblies, birthday celebrations, just to name a few, are all typical events that might cause a minor hiccup in the daily schedule. These typical disruptions should be expected and usually do not significantly impact special education services.
The vast majority of students with disabilities are required to participate in standardized testing. However, even if the IEP specifies exemption of these tests, do not assume special education services will not be impacted. Schools are almost always short-staffed when it comes to having enough test administrators and special education teachers are often required to administer standardized tests. Most special education teachers administer tests to students with disabilities who require testing accommodations. The odds are your child’s special education teacher will be involved in testing and will not be able to teach to their normal schedule during testing times. Special education teachers can be tied up for several hours per day for several weeks administering standardized tests throughout the school year. So, what do you do to protect your child’s IEP services from being drastically reduced or not provided at all for significant periods of time due to this nationwide testing craze?
1. KNOW THE INS AND OUTS OF YOUR CHILD’S IEP
Knowing what is in your child’s IEP is the most important thing you can do as a parent in order to make sure your student is consistently receiving the services he or she is entitled to. An IEP is a yearly prescription of educational services that is tailored to meet the needs of students with disabilities and assist them in reaching designated goals and objectives. It is important to know exactly what services are prescribed in the IEP and how much service time your child is supposed to receive. The IEP will clearly spell out which standardized tests your child will participate in and any required accommodations. If your child is participating in standardized tests, there should be an expectation that some of their instructional services might be interrupted during testing administration times throughout the school year. Often these tests last for two to three hours a day for testing windows of approximately five to 10 days and will naturally cause a disruption to the daily schedule. What is an acceptable amount of lost instructional time? The answer to this question varies depending on the disability of the student and what is considered acceptable by you, the parent. If the testing window is one week, then a few hours each day for that week of instructional interference might be acceptable. However, if your child does not participate in any standardized testing because of the severity of the disability, then it is perfectly reasonable to expect that testing will not interfere with your child’s schedule at all. By knowing what is in the IEP and holding all stakeholders accountable to its implementation you are taking the first step in making sure the nation’s testing craze does not override your child’s daily instruction.
2. KEEP TRACK OF YOUR CHILD’S DAILY SCHEDULE AT SCHOOL
There is an assumption that high stakes testing only takes place the last quarter of the school year for one week. This is not true! Almost all districts start benchmarking their students the first few weeks of school and continue at regular intervals throughout the year. Benchmark assessments are tests designed to predict future scores on high stakes standardized tests and monitor students’ academic progress. They can habitually wreak havoc on special education teachers’ daily schedules. Special education teachers are responsible for implementing these benchmark assessments to their students and often the administration is done during times when they would normally be teaching students. Therefore, as a parent, one thing you can do is know your child’s daily schedule. When do they participate in their specialized services? If they are pulled into a resource classroom to work on reading fluency, what time does that group meet each day? If related services such as occupational or speech therapy are prescribed, what days and times are these therapies administered?
Once you know the daily schedule, check in often with your child to make sure it is being followed or hasn’t suddenly changed. Answers to questions such as, “Did you go see Mrs. Smith today for reading?” or “How was your speech therapy session today?,” can shed much light on whether or not special education services are happening according to schedule. If your child is not able to verbalize or communicate this information to you, email or call the special education teacher and ask similar questions. Most districts will post their high stakes testing and benchmark dates on their calendars and during these testing times it would be most appropriate to keep an extra careful eye on daily routines at school. Another way to keep track of your child’s daily schedule is to subscribe to class newsletters, where teachers will often list dates of upcoming tests. Keep a calendar noting the types of tests being administered and their days and times of administration. If you become aware of any missed instructional times that have not been made up, note them on a calendar or on a spreadsheet for later reference.
3. ASK QUESTIONS AND GET ANSWERS
Ask the special education teacher and any other support staff and related service providers that work with your child if they will be involved in standardized testing. If they reply that they are, ask for specifics about their involvement while trying to remain empathetic. Most special education teachers must partake in the administration of these tests, but are not happy about it. They would much rather be following their normal schedule and teaching their students. The majority of special education teachers welcome inquiries from parents about standardized testing. Do not feel like you are being an overbearing parent by asking, “I understand you are swamped with testing this week, but did you conduct the reading intervention with my child today?,” or “I understand how busy you are with testing this week, but did my child get all 225 minutes of math resource class this week as stated in the IEP?” If you are told your child did not receive services due to testing conflicts, ask if and when the missed time will be made up. Also direct these questions to your school’s principal. Often, the special education teacher’s hands are tied when it comes to changes made to their daily teaching schedules and would be very happy to have parents take their concerns to building level administrators. If you do not get suitable responses from your school building level administrators, take it a step higher and ask the same questions to the district level special education administrator. Additionally, keep a log of each time you make contact, noting the date, time, the person you spoke with, and the outcome of the contact.
4. KNOW THE LAW AND ADVOCATE
So you tried to take preventive measures and not let the high stakes testing craze negatively impact your child’s educational services, but try as you might, you find your child has missed significant amounts of instructional time. It is now time to fall back on the law! Advocating for your child’s education is often an uncomfortable process, but is a necessity. Think of it as being equally important as demanding the best course of medical treatment from your pediatrician for an illness your child might have. Some parents are comfortable advocating on their own. Others prefer to bring a friend or family member to the IEP meeting for moral support. Some parents may even choose to hire a professional special education advocate. All are viable options when advocating for your child to ensure they are not missing services due to standardized testing.
In compliance with IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), you may be entitled to compensatory make up time of special education services if your child’s FAPE (Free and Appropriate Public Education) has been violated. Compensatory time is a term that refers to getting back lost IEP service time. Often compensatory time is provided during the regular school day. Sometimes it is provided during summer months if there was an excessive amount of instructional time lost during the school year. If this is the case, a certified special education teacher will either travel to your home, or meet your child at a designated location to make up lost instructional time. If you believe your child’s progress on IEP goals or objectives has been compromised due to the reduction or temporary elimination of prescribed services, you are well within your rights to ask for and receive compensatory educational services from the school district. Students may miss several days or possibly up to several weeks of instructional time due to the implementation of district and state mandated assessments and never get that missed time made up. Depending on the nature of the disability, an absence of special education services for such lengthy amounts of time, could prove detrimental to meeting goals and objectives set forth in the IEP. This is why keeping track of missed time is so important.
STEPS TO REQUEST COMPENSATORY TIME
Providing compensatory make-up time is expensive and school districts are reluctant to do this willingly. Often, before granting compensatory time, district level administrators will ask for specific dates and times that you are claiming your child did not receive prescribed special education services. There are several key steps to take when requesting compensatory time for your student.
• Step 1: Gather your information. Have a list of dates and times your child missed services due to testing. Make
sure this list is detailed and clearly shows which services were missed and for how long they were not provided.
• Step 2: Contact your child’s special education teacher and request an IEP meeting. Specify that you want the district level special education administrator to be present at this meeting because you will be making a request for compensatory time. At this IEP meeting, you will present your concerns about missed services due to testing and explain how the missed instructional time has negatively impacted your child’s progress toward meeting the goals of the IEP.
• Step 3: If compensatory services are not granted immediately at the IEP meeting, ask for a specific date when a decision would be made before letting the meeting come to an end.
• Step 4: If compensatory time is denied, parents can choose to file due process proceedings. Due process is a right parents have in order to solve disputes with a school district. Disputes are usually resolved through a hearing or through mediation. However, it is important to note, that most districts will not have a case to deny compensatory time if the data shows that your child has not made satisfactory progress toward goal(s) on the IEP and that significant amounts of services have been withheld from your child.
Remember, you are your child’s best advocate! Often the stakeholders responsible for the creation and implementation of high stakes testing occurring in our public schools have little knowledge of the needs of students with disabilities and minimalize the impact that testing mandates will have on our children. Loss of instructional time for any reason can negatively impact a student’s progress toward academic and social goals. Testing has its place in public education. However, the high stakes testing craze that is currently sweeping through our public schools should never take priority over the prescribed services in a student’s IEP. •
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Dr. Michael Berg is an Associate Professor of Special Education at Augusta University in Augusta, Georgia. He earned his Ed.D in School Improvement with a concentration in Special Education from the University of West Georgia. He is a Nationally Board Certified Special Education Teacher and has taught students with mild and moderate disabilities for 24 years at the elementary and middle school levels. He is married to Amanda Berg who is an art teacher.