Accommodations – Document Any Limitations
Often an IEP will list an accommodation without explaining whether or not there will be any limitation on that accommodation. Is that accommodation needed all day in all of a student’s classes or subject areas? Is that accommodation needed in all activities, or only in some?
Suggestion: The IEP team should have a careful discussion about accommodations at every IEP meeting, and the IEP should include sufficient explanation of any limitation for an accommodation, for without an explanation of limitation, the expectation is that the accommodation is made available all the time in every circumstance.
Accommodations – Review Them Carefully
It is not uncommon that at an annual IEP review there will be only a short time devoted to accommodations, and typically all accommodations are rolled over from the old to the new IEP without discussion. The discussion of accommodations should be a thoughtful process, not an automatic one. One purpose of the IDEA is to move students with disabilities to independence, and simply rolling over accommodations year after year can result in learned helplessness and dependence.
Suggestion: Part of any discussion of accommodations should be about whether or not the student continues to need an accommodation and if it is time to try to wean the student off that accommodation. If the team decides the time is right to wean a student off an accommodation, the IEP and PWN should reflect how, when and for how long the experiment will last, and the documentation should include how data will be collected, who will gather the data, and when and how the IEP team will receive and review that information.
Accommodations – Avoid Laundry List Mentality
Often an IEP team will add accommodation after accommodation because the team thinks the more, the better, or that additional accommodations would be nice. Accommodations should be carefully considered, and only those accommodations that are necessary to ensure equal access should be added to an IEP. If an IEP has dozens of accommodations, it is unlikely that school personnel will remember all of them or ensure that they are made available.
Suggestion: The IEP team should have a careful and deliberate discussion about each proposed accommodation, and only those that are determined necessary to ensure equal access should be included in the finalized IEP.
Modifications – Implications for Graduation Credits
“Modifications means substantial changes in what a student is expected to learn and to demonstrate. Changes may be made in the instructional level, the content or the performance criteria. Such changes are made to provide a student with meaningful and productive learning experiences, environments, and assessments based on individual needs and abilities.” [A.A.C. R7-2-401(B)(13)] If a student passes a general education class but has a lower performance standard and a different grading standard, then the student should not receive a regular graduation credit.
Suggestion: Sufficient time should be taken at IEP meetings to explain how modifications might prevent a student from receiving a graduation credit for that particular class or subject so that everyone understands and so that parents will not be surprised. Make sure that the IEP team has a clear understanding of the differences between accommodations and modifications.
Specially Designed Instruction – IEP Meeting Preparation
It is not uncommon even among special education teachers and administrators that there is a misunderstanding about exactly what special education is. Specially designed instruction is by definition different from the education provided to general education students, and it is not academic support (helping a student with assignments) and providing accommodations. Special education is defined in the federal regulations as specially designed instruction, which means adapting as appropriate to the child, the content, methodology or delivery of instruction. [34 C.F.R. § 300.39(b)(3)]
Suggestion: Train your staff so that they know what specially designed instruction is. Have each special education teacher prepare for each IEP meeting by having him/her write a short paragraph describing the specially designed instruction that will be made available to the student. This information should be shared at the meeting and documented in the IEP.
Specially Designed Instruction – Document in the IEP
It is not uncommon that service times written in the IEP are written according to the bell schedule instead of the needs of the student. For example, if a class period is 55 minutes, then the IEP will often say that the student will have 55 minutes of special education service. It is not the length of a class period or the mere presence of a special education teacher that equates with specially designed instruction. If a student is in a special education resource class for 55 minutes/day, he/she may receive academic support (assistance with assignments or practice and reinforcement) from a paraprofessional or another student for 15 minutes, he/she may work independently for 15 minutes, he/she may be involved in the general curriculum for 15 minutes, and may receive specially designed instruction for only 10 minutes.
Suggestion: Carefully and clearly document in the IEP the anticipated amount of time the student will actually receive specially designed instruction, not just the amount of time he/she is in a special education environment. The information on the IEP service page and in the LRE statement should make clear the anticipated amount of specially designed instruction the student will receive and also lay out the anticipated breakdown of time the student will be in a special education environment and how that time will be devoted.