Friday, December 05, 2008

A whole pile of check boxes

The most stunning thing happened today.  Over the last couple of weeks, I'd been online, researching the alignment of NCLB and IDEA of 2004.  In reading a summary and digest of the major points of this statutory alignment, I began to get a handle on things I'd never before understood in the IEP process.  Let me tell you, if you don't know, that an Individualized Education Plan is a very lengthy document that has numerous gibberish-like acronyms scattered through it, numeric and alphabetic designation codes, oodles of check-boxes, and disturbingly identical looking pages with columns in which are listed specific skills and objectives under different subject-style headings that may or may not correspond with academic areas (and for each, your child is ranked using a 1-5 code with 1 meaning 'making minimal progress, do not expect to achieve goal, to 5 meaning 'achieved goal').  

The whole thing appears to make sense while you are being guided through it, making your choices or being emotionally tortured and blackmailed into 'choosing' the lesser of several unpalatable options, being led to believe that procedure and process matter more than producing a whole child out of this--and then you look at it a few weeks later, and, like a Marine recruit, have no idea of what you just signed yourself up for.  As though you were drinking with your buddies in a bar one moment, and then the next, in this awfully bright room, someone is telling you it's in your best interest to sign this document, it will be the best thing, and you just can't remember how you got there or whose idea it was to go by the recruiting office.   

I believe in IDEA, but the IEP form is essentially a pile of gibberish.  It's one thing to break something down into its constituent parts--which is what the IEP does, focusing, one hopes on meaningful skill sets and the solutions to real educational problems--but it doesn't mean anything unless you can put the toaster back together again without leaving parts on the table.  

At its worst, the IEP document becomes a series of well-meaning suggestions about your kid, or a therapist's wish list, or a paradigm you feel compelled to fulfill because someone tells you that you can't leave out certain steps or areas or something.  The typical IEP team for a child who is severely involved can include 8-10 people, not including the parents.  Each of these people has some kind of specialty and sense for what needs to be done in their area so that your child can meet their expectations of what a child should be.  Let me reiterate that: THEIR expectation of how YOUR child SHOULD look, be, or act. 

And, unfortunately, your child might just not cooperate with their expectations--especially if he or she is dragged in 8 different directions.  Because that's the basic problem of an IEP: all the grown-ups are running in different directions, without giving much thought to how they could put together a whole child.  They've got lists, you see.  Agendas. Objectives.  What is in the best interest of the child as a whole is rarely really considered.  Everyone needs to fulfill their own individual work plans.

But, for example, if the team was forced to write up a narrative explanation of what they were doing, collaboratively, then what's best for the child might actually emerge.  And parents would be less confused, and there would be less room for error.  Sure, have the bizarre quantitative analysis form with a gazillion pages, but then write an essay as a team.  See, then you'd have to have a thesis statement and supporting arguments.  In my kingdom, you wouldn't be able to each write up your piece and cut and paste 'em into a list. 

But the most stunning thing happened today.  In the process of this research, I discovered the outcome of the National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standards (NIMAS) NPRMs I'd come across a few years ago.  Digital textbooks should not only be available to Robert for free, he should have the digital version of whichever print materials the class is using.  And, of course, he doesn't.  This provision went into effect two and a half years ago.  Yeah, it's kind of the law, or so it would appear.  There is, of course, that killer federal phrase "available in a timely fashion."  

So I started trying to email and otherwise inquire with the dreaded ogres of the County.  And I waited patiently for about 48 hours.  And then I decided to have Roger call.  Because a dad's voice is always so much more convincing.  And he talked to the New Person who is the liaison for our school/cluster.  And she didn't understand why Robert didn't have certain things that were already available, and certain evidence-based tools, such as the Kurzweil Reader, that are also standard practice.  And, gosh darn it, we've been asking for those things or things like them and being put off.  

So we'll see.  It could be we caught the princess right before the wicked witch turns her back into a frog.


Elizabeth said...

Another piece I'd like to print out and laminate.

I don't know where you get the energy to research all of this -- there's something about the IEP that turns my ordinary fierce and formidable self into a suicidal mess.

Special Needs Mama said...

Wow. Isn't it amazing when we see the detail we've been missing for so long. I hope the Kurzweil materializes. Dang.