A recent delivered to the Board of Education by Michael Regan, director of pupil services.
Twelve comments later it became apparent to me that there are those who do not have a very good grasp of the process. I am confident that the same can be said of many more people across town.
It’s an emotionally charged issue because not only does it involve significant sums of money but it also involves children — not "regular education" children but those who are experiencing learning problems of one kind or another.
The parents of those children, therefore, approach this issue with a heightened level of concern.
I know things have changed a great deal since my retirement nearly seven years ago so in an effort to get caught up I did two things.
First, I interviewed school personnel who were intimately involved in the process. Second, I did a great deal of research part of which I have attached as a .pdf file for your perusal.
So, what did I learn?
First, if you’re inclined to blame school officials in Newtown for the complexity of this issue you would be dead wrong. If you must point fingers, point to the state of Connecticut and the federal government.
It all began with No Child Left Behind and continued to 2009 at which time the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) was amended.
Well, you know what they say about "stuff" running downhill. This is a case in point.
From there it went to the states. Connecticut’s response to IDEA is Response to Intervention (RTI) and Scientific Research-Based Intervention (SRBI).
SRBI consists of three tiers — each one of which involves an increasing level of instructional intensity.
Teachers (or parents) can include any child of concern into this system. If a child fails to meet certain specific academic goals, they progress to the next level. Keep in mind that this whole thing is NOT special education. We’re still talking about regular education kids, but they’re considered to be "at risk."
It’s only after a child reaches tier three having made no measurable progress that they would be considered for special education.
I was told that when, and if a child reaches tier three, the level of services they receive are pretty much what they would get if they were identified as special education.
So what then is the difference between special education and tier three of SRBI? The answer is ancillary services, such as occupational therapy, speech pathology or certain kinds of physical therapy.
Every special education child has an Individual Education Plan and a Planning and Placement Team outlines a specific course of action for that child.
At this point you might reasonably ask what does the district use to measure academic progress?
The answer is a nationally standardized system of assessment called AIMSWEB.
Each child involved in the process is assessed on a regular basis and the results are carefully monitored. The key here is progress. It’s when progress stops that students advance to the next tier.
Some people are of the opinion that unless a child is identified as special education, they will be deprived of services. That’s only true in the case of speech therapy and occupational therapy. Otherwise, every child gets the services they need — including, by the way, psychological counseling.
I’ve also heard (and read) that some people believe teachers are discouraged from making special education referrals. That’s completely false. There would be absolutely no reason to do that.
It’s important to realize that parents are an integral part of this process and they have the right to make referrals whenever they deem necessary.
So now I have a question.
Why am I the one who has to explain all of this? Why isn’t the district doing a better job of helping parents maneuver their way through this process?
Take heed, Board of Education and administrators. Effective communications will pay for itself over and over again!