Determining a student’s need for additional educational services should not depend solely on grades. We need to recognize and consider all aspects as indicators of need for some type of intervention. Parents and educators should take a more active approach in early recognition and prevention, instead of waiting for an educational train crash to happen.
The laws that govern special education recognize the importance of all factors in determining a child’s need for special education services. This is not by accident. This is thought out, meaningful, specific detail, based on the advise of countless professionals, studies, and research.
Let’s look at how IDEA defines a child with a disability:
* First, they include not only children with such disabilities as mental retardation, blindness, or deafness, but also emotional disturbance, autism, other health impairments, and specific learning disabilities.
* They continue by saying that a child with any of those impairments who is experiencing delays not only in academic achievement or cognitive development, but in areas such as social, emotional and adaptive development as well is eligible for special education services.
* The expand on this even farther by specifically stating that the “local education agency” must “use a variety of assessment tools” while conduction an evaluation “to gather relevant functional and developmental information” and shall “not use any single measure or assessment as the sole criterion for determining whether a child is a child with a disability.
* The law also says that they must use “technically sound instruments that may assess” not just “the contribution of cognitive” factors for its determination, but behavioral factors as well.
The law is clear in identifying much more than academic achievement as relevant factors while determining a child’s need for services. There is very little left open to interpretation. To base eligibility solely on grade performance is a violation of the law.
Now, let’s understand why the laws specifically include these other aspects in determining a child’s need for services:
There are many times that these characteristics are overlooked because the grades have not suffered. By the time the show decline, the child is already in a full downward spiral.
I see the same scenario that happened with my son, happen to other’s over and over again: The parents are spending an excessive amount of time behind the scenes, supplementing the child's needs enough to maintain their grades. They are able to maintain average or better grades through 2nd or 3rd grade. Since the required time for homework completion in 2nd grade is low, the fact that it takes 2-3 times the expected time can easily go unnoticed; instead of spending the 10 – 15 minutes for the assignment, the child takes 20 – 60. However, the demand’s increase as the child progresses to higher grades. By the time he enters the 4th grade, the 30 – 45 minutes needed by most, is a 2 – 4 hour battle for him. The parents can no longer maintain the extra time, and eventually, the train will crash.
Meanwhile, by the time they discover that they are knee deep in the wreckage; the child has already struggled over the past years. He has put in more time than is appropriate for his age level, and in spite of the extra effort, his grades are now slipping. His frustration is spiraling out of control as he is suddenly weighed down with the burden of falling grades, hours of homework, and disappointed parents. By the time they reach the 5th grade, they are at high risk for behavioral and mood disorders, and learned helplessness. Unfortunately, this is also about the same time when teachers have higher expectations and lower tolerance for inappropriate behavior. In addition, their peers have also become very aware of any differences, and respond with harassment, bullying, and isolation. At this point, the speed of descent escalates to a level that is extremely difficult to get ahead of.
The refusal to provide services to these children only compounds the problem and increases the amount of services that will eventually be required. Instead of providing early detection and effective services, these children go untreated or are dealt with in ways that only exacerbate the problem. They are often isolated, belittled, bullied and harassed. It should not be surprising that the result is a downward spiral.
Educators need to be aware of all indicators of possible disability. Inform parents what amount of time is appropriate to spend doing homework with their child. Look at all aspects of development and performance of students. Analyze their significance and know how they are all significant for a successful outcome. Don’t rely on academic achievement as a sole measure for a student’s success or failure. In terms of education, when you consider the outcome, an ounce of prevention really is worth an immeasurable amount in the end.
For more information on signs of educational problems and what they may indicate, I recommend the book “Smart Kids with School Problems: Things to Know & Ways to Help” by Priscilla L. Vail.