Response to Intervention (RTI) – Support for Struggling Students

Brief overview

  • Students struggle in school for different reasons.
  • RTI is an acceptable way of identifying students with learning disabilities.
  • RTI isn’t a specific program or type of teaching.
  • RTI works on a tier system with three levels of intervention.

Full Article

Students struggle in school for different reasons. Response to Intervention (RTI)  can help by combining high quality, culturally responsive instructions with assessments and interventions that are proven to work by evidence from research.

RTI was originally recognized in the 1970s as a system for helping students with potential learning problems early, instead of waiting until they fail. With the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 2004, RTI was noted as an acceptable way to identify students with learning disabilities. RTI can help students who haven’t yet been identified as eligible for special education or those who struggle but don’t qualify for special education services.

At any time during the RTI process, parents or teachers can request an evaluation for special education services.  The evaluation can determine whether a student qualifies for an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or accommodations through a Section 504 Plan. RTI does not replace a school’s responsibility to evaluate students who might qualify for special education services. See PAVE’s article on Child Find, a mandate of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

RTI’s goal is for schools to intervene before a student falls too far behind. RTI is not a specific program or type of teaching, but rather a proactive way to check in with a student to see how things are going. Data help school staff decide which types of targeted teaching would work best for the student. If a student’s progress is slow or stagnant, then teachers adjust based on the student’s needs. 

RTI has three levels, or tiers, for intervention:

  • In the general education classroom
  • In a special education classroom, resource room, or small group
  • For an individual student

RTI works best when parents are involved

Parents can monitor their child’s progress and participate in the process. Parents can talk to the school about which instructions or reinforcements are working and boost the benefit by being consistent with the same strategies at home.

As military families move from one location to another, they may notice that each school uses different techniques to implement RTI programs.  Schools will format their programs to best fit the needs of their students by using a variety of tools to improve learning for all students. Keeping up with what’s happening at school might be challenging but can help the student find success.

RTI is part of a Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) framework.  MTSS provides a method for intervention in academic and non-academic areas, including Social Emotional Learning or behavior support. MTSS is used to support adult students and professionals as well. In this video, a researcher from the American Institutes for Research, Rebecca Zumeta Edmonds, Ph.D., discusses differences between MTSS and RTI.

PAVE has an article that describes MTSS and how it can provide a larger framework for Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS), when a child’s behavior becomes a barrier to learning.

For more information on RTI, MTSS, and PBIS:

The Three RTI Tiers

Center on Response to Intervention

Response to Intervention (RTI)

 What is the Difference Between RTI and MTSS?

MTSS: What You Need to Know

Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports (PBIS) in Schools

What Parents Need to Know when Disability Impacts Behavior and Discipline at School

A Brief Overview

  • Students with disabilities are disciplined twice as often as non-disabled peers. Washington is taking actions to remedy the inequities. Read on for examples of the new state rules and where to go for more information.  
  • Schools are required to provide education and support before resorting to discipline. This article includes resources and information to help families ensure that students are receiving the best-practice services they need and that disciplinary actions are non-discriminatory.
  • Chris Reykdal, Superintendent of Public Instruction, says, “We should do what we can to make suspensions and expulsions the last option while ensuring our schools are safe. The numbers are clear: This is an equity issue, and some groups of students are impacted much more than others.”
  • Concern is nationwide. The Center for Civil Rights Remedies in 2018 issued a state-by-state estimate of lost instruction due to discipline for students with disabilities: “Schools once routinely denied students with disabilities access to public education. Federal law makes it clear that such denial is unlawful, yet some schools may still be meting out discipline in a manner that has the same effect.”
  • If the school calls to send a child home, parents can ask whether the student is being suspended. If the school is not taking formal disciplinary action, parents are not required to take a child home. If the action is a formal suspension, specific rules apply. Read on for more detail.

Full Article

Some disabilities make it difficult for students to communicate distress or manage their behavior in ways that schools expect or require from typically developing students. Data clearly show that students with disabilities are disciplined more frequently than their non-disabled peers. By learning about state and federal guidelines, parents can advocate to ensure that students with disabilities are receiving the services they need to successfully access school and that disciplinary actions are non-discriminatory.

Parents can empower themselves by learning the federal framework for special education protections. Students who receive services or accommodations through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) or through Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 are guaranteed access to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). Disciplinary actions that deny access to FAPE may be discriminatory. Schools follow specific procedures when they discipline students with special needs to avoid violations of FAPE.

For example, a student with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) cannot be excluded from school because of behavior that results from a disability: Read on for further information about Manifestation Determination Hearings. Also, schools are required to provide education and support before resorting to discipline for children who struggle with behavior because of their impairments.

Unexpected behavior may indicate that a student has a disability and needs services

Federal laws also can protect students who haven’t yet been identified as having disabilities. School districts have a duty to evaluate students to determine eligibility for special education if they exhibit behavior that may indicate a disability. Under IDEA, this responsibility is called the Child Find mandate. Suspension, expulsion, isolation or restraint due to unexpected behavior can initiate an evaluation process, and students who qualify for services can retroactively be afforded protections from the IDEA or Section 504.

The Office for Civil Rights within the United States Department of Education in December 2016 issued a two-page Fact Sheet on Restraint and Seclusion that succinctly describes some federal guidelines related to disciplinary action and disability:

“A student’s behavioral challenges, such as those that lead to an emergency situation in which a school believes restraint or seclusion is a justified response could be a sign that the student actually has a disability and needs special education or related aids and services in order to receive FAPE.”

Washington State has new rules for schools

The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), which oversees all Washington school districts, in July 2018 adopted new state guidelines related to discipline. Priority is placed on positive interventions to avoid disciplinary actions that disrupt learning. A four-page Parent Guide is available from OSPI.

Also available is a Menu of Best Practices and Strategies. Restorative justice, behavioral health support and social skills instruction are on the menu for a more proactive, student-centered approach. The state includes requirements for parent notification and family engagement in the new rules, which are being implemented over two years, 2018-2020.

“The state discipline rules were created four decades ago,” says Chris Reykdal, Superintendent of Public Instruction. “Our students and schools are vastly different today. The new rules provide more clarity and they allow for student, family, and community input in developing local discipline policies.

“While some students do occasionally need discipline, our approach must be different. We should do what we can to make suspensions and expulsions the last option while ensuring our schools are safe. The numbers are clear: This is an equity issue, and some groups of students are impacted much more than others.”

Students with disabilities and students of color are disciplined more frequently

OSPI reports that 3.5 percent of all students were suspended or expelled during the 2016–17 school year. Among students receiving special education services, the percentage was 7.1 percent. For African-American students, the percentage was 7.4 percent. For Latino students, the rate was 4.1 percent. Students of color who also have disabilities are impacted at the highest rates. Seattle’s King 5 News on Oct. 25, 2018, broadcast a news report about the disparities in discipline for students with disabilities.

In 2016, the Washington Legislature passed House Bill 1541 to help close opportunity gaps in learning. OSPI spent two years researching the statutes and guidance. In rewriting the rules that were adopted in July 2018, the agency gathered feedback from families, students, educators, and community members through three public comment periods and eight public hearings.

New state policies are designed to discourage disciplinary actions that take a child out of the learning environment and encourage family engagement and positive behavior supports and other evidence-based practices. OSPI’s one-page introductory handout for parents outlines the new guidance.

According to OSPI, the new rules aim to make policies fair statewide. They require districts to include parents and guardians when updating discipline policies. The overarching goal is to keep children in school and learning and avoid severe or exclusionary disciplinary measures. 

In general, Washington’s new state rules:

Encourage schools to minimize the use of suspensions and expulsions and focus instead on evidence-based, best-practice educational strategies

Prohibit schools from excluding students from school for absences or tardiness

Further limit use of exclusionary discipline (suspension, expulsion) for behaviors that do not present a safety threat

Prohibit the use of expulsion for students in kindergarten through grade four (children in that age range already cannot be excluded from their classroom placements for more than 10 cumulative days per academic term)

Clarify expectations for how school districts must provide students access to educational services during a suspension or expulsion

When are students entitled to a Manifestation Determination Hearing?

In Washington, a student with an identified disability may be suspended for a short period of time if there are safety concerns or if other interventions are failing to control behaviors that cause a significant disruption. However, if a suspension or an accumulation of in- or out-of-school suspensions within a semester or trimester totals 10 days, the school holds a Manifestation Determination Hearing to determine whether the behavior resulted—or “manifested”—from the disability. This hearing is a distinct process for students with IEPS or Section 504 accommodation plans and is separate from any other general education disciplinary hearings or procedures. Removal for more than 10 days is considered a change in placement and could violate the school district’s responsibility to provide the special education student with FAPE.

If a student’s behavior manifested from disability, the school and parents meet to discuss program or placement changes likely to help. A Manifestation Determination hearing can also initiate an evaluation process for students not yet identified as needing special education services or disability-related accommodations. Regardless of whether the student has qualified for services, the hearing can trigger a Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA), which can be done for students with or without IEPs or Section 504 plans. Keep reading for more detail about the FBA and how it’s used to generate positive behavior interventions and supports.

The IDEA guarantees parent participation in the IEP process, which includes disciplinary hearings and any other formal meetings in which a student’s educational program or placement is reviewed or amended.  

If the conduct is determined to be unrelated to a disability, then school personnel may use general education discipline procedures. In that case, the school must still provide any special education services that the student has already been found to need. The IEP team decides the appropriate alternative setting and special education services to meet the student’s needs during the suspension.

The school district is required to provide educational services during a suspension

State law requires that all suspended and expelled students have an opportunity to receive educational services (RCW 28A.600.015). OSPI issued a bulletin September 8, 2016, that states, “When educational services are provided in an alternative setting, the alternative setting should be comparable, equitable and appropriate to the regular education services a student would have received without the exclusionary discipline.” The bulletin mentions alternative schools, 1:1 tutoring and online learning as examples of alternative settings.

Note: If a student’s conduct involves Special Circumstances – weapons, illegal drugs, or serious bodily injury—a student may be removed for up to 45 school days regardless of whether the student’s behavior was a manifestation of disability. However, a manifestation determination hearing still is required within the first 10 days of removal from school and educational services still are provided.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington provides a free, downloadable Parents’ Guide to Public School Discipline in Washington. Part III includes information about laws and procedures that are specific to students in special education. The ACLU guidebook encourages parents to gather as much information as possible when a student is disciplined:

“It is important to fully understand the type of proposed discipline, the underlying behavior, how the behavior relates to the student’s disability, and what additional supports may be available in order to fully advocate for your student.”

Do you need to pick up your student every time the school calls?

The ACLU booklet commits a page to addressing the question, “Do you need to pick up your student every time the school calls?” A parent can ask whether the student is being suspended.  “If your student has not been officially suspended,” ACLU advises, “The school cannot force you to pick up the student.

“If you choose to pick up your student when he or she has not been suspended, the school may not record the removal from class and may not trigger additional protections (such as Manifestation Determination Hearings) that apply when students with disabilities are removed from school for 10 days or more.”

The ACLU points out that without formal paperwork that describes a disciplinary action and its specific start and end times, a school may not be accountable to specific rules that govern special education: “Any time your student misses class time because of a behavior problem, it may be considered a discipline and should be considered as counting towards the 10 days that would be a ‘change of placement’ under the law and trigger additional protections. If your student is having behavioral problems that do not lead to suspension, you may suggest that the IEP team should consider holding an IEP meeting to reevaluate your student’s behavior supports, or that the 504 team meet to consider changes to the accommodation plan.”

The ACLU guidebook includes a list of supports parents can ask for: “The law requires behavior supports to be based on evidence, and so you can ask for additional expert evaluation to determine whether the behavior supports offered to your student are appropriate.”

Schools teach skills for expected behavior

Specialized instruction designed to meet a student’s unique needs can include education in social communication, self-regulation, choice-making and other areas of Social Emotional Learning (SEL) that may impact behavior. These strategies are well recognized as best-practice for keeping children engaged in school and avoiding problems that might lead to discipline.

In addition, schools can conduct a Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) to develop a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP). A BIP is developed to proactively help a child learn expected behaviors and shift away from circumstances that might lead to escalations. The BIP identifies target behaviors that are disrupting education and determines “antecedents,” which means conditions or events that occur before the targeted behavior. A BIP is intended to support “replacement” behavior so a student can develop skills that prevent escalations and keep the student in school and learning.  

A BIP can be a stand-alone plan or can work with an IEP or a Section 504 accommodations plan. OSPI offers guidance to schools and families about FBA/BIP process. Another place to find valuable information is through the Parent Center Hub, a website operated by the Center for Parent Information and Resources (CPIR).

School discipline is a national topic of concern

On August 1, 2016, the U.S. Department of Education published a Dear Colleague Letter for public-school staff: “Recent data on short-term disciplinary removals from the current placement strongly suggest that many children with disabilities may not be receiving appropriate behavioral interventions and supports, and other strategies, in their IEPs.” The letter included data that 10 percent of all children with disabilities, ages 3-21, were subject to a disciplinary removal from school. Children of color with disabilities faced an even higher rate.

The letter encourages all schools to develop robust programs for Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) and provides specific guidance for IEP teams. “In the case of a child whose behavior impedes the child’s learning or that of others, the IEP Team must consider – and, when necessary to provide FAPE, include in the IEP – the use of positive behavioral interventions and supports, and other strategies, to address that behavior.”

The federal guidance includes statements about staff development: “School personnel may need training, coaching, and tools to appropriately address the behavioral needs of a particular child. Supports for school personnel may be designed, as appropriate, to better implement effective instructional and behavior management strategies and specific behavioral interventions that are included in the child’s IEP.”

In 2014, the federal government issued guidance to discourage disciplinary actions that discriminate against students with disabilities, particularly students of color. A variety of federal sources have highlighted disparities, and the Center for Civil Rights Remedies and the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice in April 2018 issued the first state-by-state estimate of lost instruction due to discipline for students with disabilities. The data include a finding that children of color who also have disabilities lost 77 more days of instruction because of disciplinary actions than peers who are Caucasian.

“These data on lost instruction are rarely reported,” the report concludes in its executive summary. “Although many could guess that the racially disparate impact is large, these dramatic disparities were derived from reliable publicly reported federal data, and they should be cause for alarm. Students with disabilities receive much more than classroom instruction when they are in school. For example, they often receive related counseling services, occupational and physical therapy as well as additional small group or one-on-one tutoring. Therefore, they lose much more when they are removed from school.”

Inappropriate discipline may be a denial of FAPE

The full report from the Center for Civil Rights Remedies includes this statement in its introduction: “Schools once routinely denied students with disabilities access to public education. Federal law makes it clear that such denial is unlawful, yet some schools may still be meting out discipline in a manner that has the same effect. To suspend a student because of behavior that is a result of their disability is the equivalent of denying that student access to education.”

However, in December 2018, a federal school safety commission recommended that the U.S. Department of Education rescind the 2014 guidance intended to prevent discriminatory practices. OSPI responded by stating that Washington State’s policies and updated guidance would be unaffected. “Rescinding the 2014 guidelines will have no effect on Washington’s laws and rules related to student discipline…and will have no effect on OSPI’s enforcement of civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination in the administration of student discipline,” OSPI stated.

Washington discipline laws include statutes in the Revised Code of Washington (RCW) and rules in the Washington Administrative Code (WAC). Washington State student discipline laws apply to all K–12 students. Students with disabilities are subject to both general education and special education rules and statutes. For the most up-to-date information about general education discipline procedures and the rules changes underway, visit OSPI’s Student Discipline page. For more information about special education discipline procedures, visit OSPI’s Special Education Behavior and Discipline page.

Guidance related to isolation and restraint

The state has specific rules related to the use of isolation and restraint, which are implemented only when a student’s behavior poses an imminent likelihood of serious harm and are discontinued when the likelihood of serious harm has passed. Isolation and restraint are not used as a form of standard discipline or aversive intervention.

When severe disciplinary actions become frequent, schools might ask the parent/guardian to sign an Emergency Response Protocol (ERP) for an individual student. Families are not required to sign this. The ERP specifically explains what the school’s policies are related to isolation and restraint and what the training requirements are for staff who are authorized to provide isolation and restraint. Parents can request a copy of the district’s general education policies on this topic. The ERP can include a statement about how parents are contacted if the school uses isolation or restraint. Schools are required to provide a report to the parent/guardian any time formal disciplinary actions are taken and any time that their child experiences isolation or restraint.

Where to find the state laws

For a link to the complete Washington Administrative Codes (WACs) that describe the Final Rules for the 2018-19 and 2019-20 school years, visit OSPI’s website and click on links for the downloadable PDF documents: www.k12.wa.us/studentdiscipline

Social Emotional Learning, Part 2: Trauma-Informed Instruction

A Brief Overview

  • Washington State has made trauma-informed instruction a priority. The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) has a new online training program to equip school staff with Social Emotional Learning (SEL) techniques and tools.
  • Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) make children much more likely to struggle with troubling behaviors and school suspensions. Understanding trauma and addressing it with your child’s school can help improve outcomes.
  • A trauma-informed teacher establishes specific methods for helping children understand their emotions and identify what’s happening and what to do next.
  • Data indicate that restorative practices work. The 2016 Mental Health Report from the Child Mind Institute shows that proactively teaching “restorative discipline” reduced school suspensions by nearly 50 percent.
  • PAVE published Part 1 of this article series last fall, The Importance of Compassionate-Schools.

Full Article

 “Being at school in a traumatized state is like playing chess in a hurricane.” This statement, from Mount Vernon high-school teacher Kenneth Fox, provides a vivid reminder that learning in school isn’t just about academics. Effective social interactions and emotional regulation are critical life skills and are part of formal learning in today’s schools.  

Fox’s quote is highlighted in a free guidebook offered by Washington’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). “The Heart of Learning and Teaching: Compassion, Resiliency, and Academic Success,” is part of an emerging effort to help children who struggle to thrive in difficult lives. Also part of that effort is a five-part online training module that OSPI added to its website last September to help school staff support children with behavioral health challenges. The Social-Emotional Learning Module is free and accessible to anyone wanting new tools for helping children manage themselves and their emotions more skillfully. OSPI’s introductory page to the training includes the following statement:

“When we think of educating the whole child, social and emotional development must be considered as a part of overall instruction. SEL is broadly understood as a process through which individuals build awareness and skills in managing emotions, setting goals, establishing relationships, and making responsible decisions that support success in school and in life.”

OSPI has been developing this program since the 2015 Washington State Legislature directed OSPI to convene an SEL Benchmarks workgroup. The full report, along with notes from previous meetings are available on the SEL Benchmarks Workgroup Website. Last year’s legislature followed up by directing OSPI to create the training modules, and work is ongoing to develop a model of best practices and report on progress by June 30, 2019.

The Washington State Board of Education in its Legislative Priorities for the 2018 Legislative Session included a statement that “urges the Legislature to invest in social-emotional and trauma-informed educational approaches.”

The movement toward Social Emotional Learning (SEL) has grown from knowledge that trauma profoundly impacts educational outcomes. In the late 1990s, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released its first report about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). Dr. Vincent Felitti, then the CDC’s chief of preventive medicine, boldly proclaimed childhood trauma a national health crisis. The report led to development of an ACEs survey, which scores a person’s likelihood of suffering lifelong physical and mental health impairments resulting from trauma. An ACEs score of 4, the study found, makes a child 32 times more likely to have behavior problems at school.

The data inspired researchers and educators to seek new ways to help children cope so they can manage themselves at school—and in life. A variety of training programs have become available, and a new conversation has begun about how schools can help children build resiliency.

Generally, a trauma-informed teacher or school establishes specific instructional techniques to help children understand their emotions and identify what’s happening and what to do next. Schoolwide programs are becoming more common, and special education students may have specific Social Emotional Learning (SEL) goals within the Individualized Education Program (IEP). For children who need extra support in this area, a Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) can provide data for generating a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP). The Parent Center Hub provides detailed information on this process.

A trauma-informed instructor might use a specific tool to help the child label an episode of dysregulation, such as the Zones of Regulation, which encourage self-observation and emotional awareness. Another good example is the “brain-hand model” described by Dr. Dan Siegel, a well-known neurobiologist and author who has helped lead a movement toward science-informed practices. The basic premise is this:

  1. Hold up your hand. The base of your open palm represents the brain stem, where basic functions like digestion and breathing are regulated.
  2. Cross your thumb over your palm. This represents the central brain (amygdala), where emotions are processed.
  3. Fold your four fingers across your thumb. They represent your frontal cortex, where problem-solving and learning happen.
  4. Imagine something emotional triggers you, and lift your fingers. When you “flip your lid,” emotions rule. Problem behaviors become probable as you try to cope with fight/flight instincts. You won’t make much sense until regulation is restored—and your fingers can fold over again.

One agency that teaches this self-awareness tool is Sound Discipline, a non-profit based in Seattle that offers a training called “Building Resiliency: Reaching Children Through Connection and Care.” Begun by pediatrician Jody McVittie, Sound Discipline has provided training for dozens of Washington schools and hopes to reach 100 schools statewide by 2021. A principal goal is to train professionals and parents to collaborate with students in problem solving. Helping a student repair damage from a behavior incident, for example, teaches resilience and develops mental agility. “Children don’t want to be inappropriate,” McVittie emphasizes. “They are doing the best they can in the moment.”

Like similar programs, Sound Discipline describes “problem” behaviors as coping mechanisms. Acting out is a child’s attempt to manage stress or confusing emotions, and stern punishments can re-ignite the trauma, making the behavior worse instead of better.

The data clearly indicate that educational outcomes improve dramatically when students can manage themselves socially and emotionally. A critical measure of the impact is a reduction in suspensions and expulsions. The 2016 Children’s Mental Health Report from the Child Mind Institute shows that proactively teaching “restorative discipline” reduced school suspensions by nearly 50 percent.

The report states: “Restorative Discipline/Justice includes strategies to both prevent children from breaking the rules and intervene after an infraction has occurred. Some elements are focused on reducing the likelihood of student rule breaking (proactive circles where students and teachers talk about their feelings and expectations) and others on intervening afterwards (e.g., restorative conferences where the parties talk about what happened). In all cases the focus is on avoiding punishment for the sake of punishment.”

Parents can play an important role in furthering trauma-informed approaches by learning about and healing their own trauma experiences, applying trauma-informed principles in their parenting and by learning how to talk about these approaches with schools. Here are a few ideas:

  • Ask teachers and district officials to describe how social and emotional learning are integrated into general and individualized programming.
  • Ask whether the school is using restorative methods to help children learn from their mistakes.
  • Ask about people at the school who regularly check in and show caring respect toward your child. Dr. Bruce Perry, whose research supports trauma-informed initiatives, says, “Relationships are the agents of change and the most powerful therapy is human love.”

Here are a few resources for more information about adverse childhood experiences and trauma-informed practices:

CDC ACE Report
Resilience: The Biology of Stress and the Science of Hope, a film by KPJR
Sound Discipline
Dan Siegel’s Hand Model of the Brain
Edutopia.org/Creating More Compassionate Classrooms—Joshua Block
2016 Children’s Mental Health Report
The Heart of Learning and Teaching: Compassionate Schools
Aces Too High
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network Learning Center
The National Institute for Trauma and Loss in Children
Why Schools Need to be Trauma Informed
OSPI k12.wa.us/Student Support/SEL

 

 

 

 

Social Emotional Learning, Part 1: The Importance of Compassionate Schools

A Brief Overview:

OSPI has introduced a five-segment training program for school staff focused on Social-Emotional Learning. This program is designed to help school staff understand their roles in promoting students’ self-awareness, self-management, social-awareness, relationships, and responsible decision-making.

This program encourages staff to use trouble moments as opportunities to understand unmet needs – meeting these moments with compassion helps children learn better in all areas.

There are many benefits to students having high social-emotional scores – stay in school, less in-school suspension, and better math & reading scores.

You can bring this information into meetings with school staff and use it to help design creative behavior supports within your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP).

Full Article:

Educators and communities are starting a new conversation about what schools need to teach when children are stressed out and struggling. Self-awareness, emotional management, goal-setting, responsible decision making and relationship skills are taking their place alongside academic subjects.

These life skills are part of a growing area of education called Social Emotional Learning (SEL). In September, Washington’s Office of Superintendent for Public Instruction (OSPI) introduces a five-segment training program for school staff. The Social-Emotional Learning Module was authorized by Senate Bill 6620 during the 2016 legislative session: “In order to foster a school climate that promotes safety and security, school district staff should receive proper training in developing students’ social and emotional skills,” the bill states.

The modules are intended for all school staff—from teachers and principals to bus drivers and lunch servers—to understand their roles in promoting students’ self-awareness, self-management, social-awareness, relationships, and responsible decision-making.

The new training module is an outgrowth of OSPI’s Compassionate Schools Initiative, which provides training, guidance, referral, and technical assistance to schools wishing to adopt a Compassionate Schools approach. Available online are a power point presentation and a free e-book called “The Heart of Learning and Teaching: Compassion, Resiliency, and Academic Success” (link below). The handbook, first published in 2009, was developed through a collaboration with university and public educators working with state officials in response to a growing body of knowledge about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and the effects of childhood trauma on learning.

Ron Hertel, Program Supervisor for Social and Emotional Learning/Compassionate Schools at OSPI, says that some schools are doing a remarkable job of providing new trainings and resources but that other schools are still in the early stages of SEL programming. He is hopeful that the new training modules will further those efforts. “Social emotional learning is the foundation for both life and learning, whether or not a student is impacted by trauma,” Hertel says. “By providing specific guidance on the relevance of SEL skills as well as exploring implementation strategies, we hope to provide a firm platform schools can use to support social emotional development for all students.”

Social Emotional Learning is a nationwide movement. The National Research Council issued this statement in 2012: “There is broad agreement that today’s schools must offer more than academic instruction to prepare students for life and work.”

An important component of SEL is the recognition that problem behaviors offer critical clues about a child’s unmet needs or undeveloped social and emotional skills. These behaviors can be especially pronounced in children with developmental delays, emotional disturbances or other disabilities that qualify them for special education.

By using troubling moments as teachable moments and prioritizing compassion over punishment, many schools are finding that children learn better in all areas—including academics. New evidence clearly shows that when children learn to problem-solve their way out of trouble with socially competent strategies and self-regulation techniques, classrooms operate more effectively and everybody benefits.

For its 2016 Mental Health Report, the Child Mind Institute analyzed data from more than 200 studies. At schools with specific social emotional learning programs, students were 22 percent more likely to demonstrate social emotional competence. In those schools, measures of emotional distress were lower and grades were higher.

According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL), graduation rates get better, too. According to CASEL, students with higher social emotional scores:

Are more than twice as likely to stay in school.

Have fewer in-school suspensions (3 percent versus 8.8 percent)

Get higher marks in math and reading assessments

Without these skills, children are struggling. Included in the Child Mind Institute’s report are a variety of statistical data that show students in special education are at the greatest risk. For example, states with above-average rates of children with attention deficit and specific learning disabilities report school suspension rates that are twice the national average.

“All children face rising rates of suspension, especially minority children,” the report states. “But the ‘zero tolerance’ focus on mandatory punishment for certain behaviors targets children with impulse or emotion regulation control problems often caused by mental health disorders.”

These same challenges are linked to higher drop-out rates and eventually to higher rates of incarceration and disengagement from work and community. The dropout rate for all students is seven percent, while the rate for students served under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is more than 20 percent. For students whose qualifying disability is Emotional Disturbance, the rate climbs to almost 40 percent. That number is especially concerning because data indicate that high-school dropouts are 63 times more likely to go to jail than college graduates.

Even so, childhood behaviors don’t have to predict a lifetime of distress and disengagement. One study reviewed in the Child Mind Institute’s report shows that 95 percent of out-of-school suspensions are for nonviolent, minor disruptions, such as tardiness or disrespect. Clearly, efforts to teach social skills and emotional regulation can have a critical impact.

Families are a valuable part of the conversation as school staff learn and apply these new approaches. You can bring this information into meetings with school staff and use it to help design creative behavior supports within your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP). OSPI’s Heart of Learning guidebook offers some key definitions to bring to the table:

Compassion: a feeling of deep empathy and respect and a strong desire to actively help someone stricken by misfortune.

Trauma: a state of distress caused by the inability to respond in a healthy way to acute or chronic stress.

Resiliency: the ability to withstand and rebound from adversity.

Compassionate School: a place where staff and students are aware of the challenges that others face and respond with supports that remove barriers to learning.

School-Community Partnership: a relationship that supports a shared goal of providing resources through responsibility and collaboration.

Other principles to research and consider include: restorative discipline, positive behavior supports, collaborative repair, misbehavior versus stress behavior, emotional vocabulary, replacement skills, reframing and social competence.

The Technical Assistance Center on Social Emotional Intervention for Young Children (TACSEI) offers tips about teaching “skill fluency” when problem behaviors highlight a child’s untrained attempt to cope or problem-solve: “When children do not know how to identify emotions, handle disappointment or anger, or develop healthy relationships, a teacher’s best response is to teach.”

In its conclusions, OSPI’s Heart of Learning e-book includes this statement: “The education reform movement in the United States has made great strides in transforming curricula and other aspects of the educational system. Social, emotional and behavioral health is the necessary next step for building better schools to nurture healthy brains and happy children.”

Stay tuned for more articles from PAVE. For more information, these links will connect you to a variety of resources:

2016 Children’s Mental Health Report
TACSEI: Challenging Behavior
The Heart of Learning and Teaching: Compassionate Schools
CASEL
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network Learning Center
Beyond Consequences
Building Social Skills in the Early Years and Beyond 

 

Evaluation

What is an evaluation?

An evaluation is the process used to determine if a student is eligible for special education services and in what areas services need to be provided.  Both the federal regulations implementing IDEA 2004 and the state’s Washington Administrative Code 392-172A (WAC), define how evaluations are conducted by the school district and who is involved in the process. A parent of the child, a state or local education agency, or other State agency can request the evaluation of a student, if there is concern about how the student learns.  The concern could be about academic areas – reading, math or written language. Other areas that can also be evaluated are health, vision, hearing, social and emotional status, general intelligence (I.Q.), communication and motor abilities. The school district must evaluate the student in all areas of suspected disability.

How can I refer my child for an evaluation?

Put the request for an evaluation in writing and send it by certified mail to the district or hand carry it and have your copy signed and dated by the district representative. This will give you a receipt showing who signed and the date it was received. It provides documentation for the starting date of the timelines the district must follow for the evaluation. Remember, asking for and giving written consent for an evaluation does not mean you are giving consent for your student to be placed in a special education program.  It means you and the team need more information to make good decisions about the student’s program, and special education may be part of it.

After the referral is made, then what?

The district must:

  • document the referral;
  • notify the parent(s) that the student has been referred, and that the team, including the parents, will decide whether or not to evaluate the student;
  • examine existing school, medical, and other records the parent(s) or other agencies might have;
  • provide “prior written notice” to the parent(s) regarding their decision to evaluate within 25 school days after receipt of the referral
  • complete the evaluation within an additional 35 school days.

How often can my child be re-evaluated?

A re-evaluation can occur at any of the following times:

  • The district decides that because of academic improvement the student warrants a re-evaluation.
  • The student’s parent(s) or teacher requests it.
  • At least every three years unless the parent(s) and district agree it is not necessary.
  • Must the district notify me and get my written consent before re-evaluations can occur?
  • Yes. The district must obtain the parent’s written consent before re-evaluating the student.
  • What exactly is the procedure used to evaluate my child?

The law is very clear about evaluating children with suspected disabilities. The district must:

  • use a variety of assessment tools to gather information about the functional, developmental and academic areas of a student’s school performance, including information provided by the parent;
  • draw upon information from a variety of sources, including aptitude and achievement tests, parent input, teacher recommendations, the student’s physical condition, social and cultural background and adaptive behavior;
  • use a variety of tests rather than one single measure or test to determine a student’s eligibility for special education services;
  • use tests that are selected and administered in ways that are not culturally or racially discriminatory;
  • administer the tests in the student’s native language or other form most likely to ensure accurate information about academic, functional and behavior needs of the child;
  • use trained and knowledgeable personnel to administer the tests;
  • insure the tests are valid and reliable for what they are measuring; and
  • evaluate in all areas of suspected disability.

Will the district pay for a medical evaluation?

If necessary, as part of the assessment, the district may obtain a medical statement or assessment to see if there may be other factors affecting the child’s educational performance.

Will the district consider an outside evaluation that we have paid for?

Yes. When the team is reviewing existing records the information you provide must be considered in the decision to do either an initial evaluation or a re-evaluation.

Does the district have to do a re-evaluation before removing my child from special education?

YES!!!!!!  Before a student can be removed from special education a complete re-evaluation must occur.  The only exceptions are when a child is graduating from high school with a regular education diploma or if the student has reached age 21 by August 31 and is no longer eligible for special education services.

What is an evaluation report and can I have a copy?

After the evaluation is completed, a written narrative (the evaluation report) must be given to parents.  It will explain whether or not the student has a disability that makes him/her eligible for special education.  It will also contain:

a statement about whether the student has a disability that meets the criteria for eligibility for special education and the supporting data for that conclusion;

information about how the student’s disability affects involvement and progress in the general education curriculum, or for preschool children, in appropriate activities;

recommended special education and related services needed by the student, including, if appropriate, positive behavioral supports and/or student management strategies;

other information determined through evaluation and parental input;

documentation by each professional (signature and date) certifying that the report represents his/her conclusion or, if disagreeing, a separate statement representing his/her conclusions; and

documentation of the results of the individual assessments or observations by individuals contributing to the report.

Remember, the evaluation report is the foundation for the Individualized Education Program (IEP).

What are the procedures for evaluating Specific Learning Disabilities (SLD)?

In addition to the requirements for determining whether a student qualifies for special education services, there are additional procedures for identifying Specific Learning Disabilities.

Each district may develop procedures for identifying students with SLD which may include the use of a severe discrepancy between intellectual ability and achievement; or a process based on the student’s response to scientific, research-based intervention; or a combination of both.

The decision of whether a student qualifies as having SLD is made by a specific group, including:

Student’s parent;

Student’s general education classroom teacher (if the student does not have a general education classroom teacher, a teacher who is qualified to teach a student of that age);

For a student of less than school age, an individual qualified to teach a student of that age; and

At least one individual qualified to conduct individual diagnostic examinations of students, such as school psychologist, speech language pathologist or remedial reading teacher.

The group described above may determine that a child has SLD if:

  • The student does not achieve adequately for the student’s age or meet the state’s grade level standards when provided with learning experiences and instruction appropriate for the student’s age in one or more of the following areas:
  • Oral expression
  • Listening comprehension
  • Written expression
  • Basic reading skill
  • Reading fluency skill
  • Reading comprehension
  • Mathematics calculation
  • Mathematics problem solving

What if I disagree with the results or recommendations of the evaluation?

Parents might disagree with the evaluation results for a variety of reasons.  The report might not accurately reflect a child’s disability, or it might not have been in-depth enough. A child might be seriously struggling in class with failing grades and yet the test scores do not reflect his/her need for social or organizational support.  Parents then have a right to request an independent educational evaluation (IEE) at district expense.  The request should be in writing and sent by certified mail.  The only way a district can refuse the request is to call for a due process hearing to prove their evaluation is appropriate. The district has to respond within fifteen calendar days to the IEE request. If the district calls for an IEE, and their evaluation is determined to be appropriate, parents still have the right to an independent educational evaluation; however it would be at their own expense. The results of the IEE, whether done at

public or private expense, must be considered by the district in making decisions about placement and/or provision of special education and related services.

What if my child does not qualify for special education services?

If your child is not eligible for special education services (does not need specially designed instruction), he/she may qualify for accommodations under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.  Section 504 is a non-discrimination law that applies to any district/agency receiving federal funds from the U.S. Department of Education. This law defines disability in more general terms than WAC or IDEA.  If, for instance, a child with a diagnosed disability does not qualify for services under IDEA but is still struggling in school, Section 504 could be used to provide accommodations, related services, and modifications for the child.

Questions To Ask Yourself:

How does my child go about solving problems at home and at school?

What has my child learned so far?

What are the things my child can do?

How and when does my child need assistance?

What kind of assistance is most effective for my child?

How does my child learn best?

What are my child’s strengths?

What are my child’s personality traits?

How does my child get along with adults/ peers?

How does my child feel about him/herself?

What causes my child anxiety?

Where is my child most comfortable

What makes my child comfortable?

What are my child’s interests?

Questions for Schools:

What tests were given?

Why were those specific tests chosen for my child?

What were they supposed to measure?

Do these tests evaluate strengths as well as weaknesses?

Are there any biases in the tests?

Who gave the tests?

How will the information be used?

Questions for a Re-evaluation:

What progress has my child made?

What are the areas in which my child made progress?

What are the areas in which my child has not made progress or has regressed?

On what is this information based (such as classroom observation, in-class testing, standardized testing, etc.)?

May I have a copy of the results of the evaluation, the records of observations, and other documentation?

SAMPLE EVALUATION REQUEST

Special Education Director or Program Coordinator
School District
Street Address
City, State, Zip

Dear (Name):

I am requesting a full and individual evaluation for my son/daughter (Name, Date of Birth) for assessment as a special education student as stipulated in IDEA 300.15 and WAC 392-172A-01070 and under Section 504.

I understand that the evaluation is to be in all areas of suspected disability, and that the school district is to provide this evaluation at no charge to me.  My reasons for requesting this procedure are: ____________________________________________________.

I understand that I am an equal member of the IEP team, and will be involved in any meetings regarding the identification, evaluation, provision of services, placement or decisions regarding a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). I would appreciate meeting with each person who will be doing the evaluation before he/she tests my child so that I might share information about  (child’s name) with him/her.  I will also expect a copy of the written report generated by each evaluator so that I might review it before the team meeting.

I understand you must have my written permission for these tests to be administered and I will be happy to provide that upon receipt of the proper forms.

I appreciate your help in this matter.  If you have any questions, please call me at (telephone number).

Sincerely,

(Signature)

Typed Name
Address
Phone Number

Send this letter by certified mail or hand carry into the district office and get a date/time receipt.  (Remember to keep a copy for your file and indicate to whom you are sending copies by “cc” at bottom of letter.)

The PAVE Parent Training and Information Program may include information on State or Federal laws regarding the rights of individuals with disabilities. While this is provided to inform or make one aware of these rights, legal definitions, or laws/regulations, it is not providing legal representation or legal advice. The recipient understands that this is information is to educate them not to provide them with legal representation.