By: Amy E. Halpert, Esq., Littman Krooks LLP
Students with disabilities are receiving a drastically reduced number of service hours. When they do receive services, it is questionable whether those service hours are being rendered with fidelity through the distance-learning platform. While we have been guided by the Department of Education to be flexible and understanding, and creatively collaborate with schools and educators, we can do that while also taking action. There is much parents can do to help actively chart the course for your student and be best positioned both for conversations with school officials about how your child is faring with distance learning, and for a plan when she returns to the schoolhouse. This effort will depend on data collection.
Collecting data can be daunting. Whether you have a physical aversion or a passion for analysis, it is not going anywhere, and it is essential to student success. Without data, we have no way to analyze objectively student progress and to inform and pave the way for them forward. Our children’s progress at school, through the constant barrage of homework assignments, quizzes, tests, projects, observations and standardized tests, continuously is being monitored at school. Now, in our respective self-contained bubbles at home, teachers cannot physically perform the same level of monitoring, and as parents, we are haunted by fears of regression, or lack of progress for our children.
Without collecting data and taking the time to contemplate what it means so that we can make purposeful decisions, students may have a compromised road ahead. Progress monitoring is a scientifically-based practice whereby teachers determine student’s academic performance on a regular basis (weekly, biweekly or monthly) to assess a child’s academic progress on Individualized Education Program (IEP) goals and evaluate the effectiveness of instruction. The progress monitoring informs the instruction. When this monitoring is systemic, schools can best track progress and are better equipped to identify students in need of additional or different forms of instruction. If a student is not meeting an expectation, then the teacher must change the teaching, which could involve the method being used, the instructional time, grouping, arrangement (individual instruction versus small-group instruction) or some other aspect of teaching. The objective is to look for the type and amount of instruction that will enable the child to make appropriate progress toward meeting the goals.
Ten Steps to Collect Data at Home
Collecting data may be too much for some parents, who are working outside the home remotely or in essential jobs or have other responsibilities. Some parents may be able only to handle some collection. Here are ten easy steps you can take to collect data at home, and be well positioned to meaningfully participate in conversations about your child’s progress:
- Familiarize yourself with your Individualized Education Plan. You are likely familiar with the goals and objectives that are included in your child’s IEP, and the number and type of service hours that she is mandated to receive. If not, now is the time to get acquainted. When the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act was reauthorized in 2004, it eliminated the requirement that Individualized Education Programs include short-term objectives or benchmarks, except for students with disabilities who take alternative assessments. Instead, the focus became annual goals, which are statements that identify what knowledge, skills, and/or behaviors a student is expected to be able to demonstrate at the next scheduled review. Annual, measurable goals must be developed to meet the students’ needs as identified in the present levels of academic achievement and functional performance.
- Know your Child’s Measurable Goals: Good data collection depends on having a measurable goal to work toward. If IEP goals are written correctly, it should be easy to figure out what type of data collection method you should use. When looking at IEP goals, think of the acronym GOAL.
- This is the condition setting the foundation for the goal: Given a grade level expository text, Jack will …
- This is the action of the goal, identifying the behavior that is being measured. Given a grade level expository text, Jack will orally read …
- A Target. This is the criterion for precisely what the student needs to do in order to achieve the goal and answers the question how much, how often, or at what level. Given a journal prompt, Jack will orally read 85 words per minute with 2 or fewer errors …
- Limit time. This is the time by when the student should master the goal. Given a grade level expository text, Jack will orally read 85 words per minute with 2 or fewer errors by the end of the 2019-2020 school year.
Once you understand all the components in the acronym with regard to the specific goal for your child, you have a solid understanding of the skill to be assessed.
- Identify an Assessment Tool: Knowing your measurable goal, you need a tool to assess your child’s competencies in the areas that she is working on. Now more than ever, there are a wide variety of free, online resources to choose from.
- Reading Competencies: Many sites provide guided reading book lists or articles for every level. (Link: scholastic.com) (Link: https://www.raz-kids.com/) (Link: www.learninga-z.com) (Link: https://newslea.com/) Ask your child to pick a book or article from the grade level you want to test, and ask them to read it aloud. If they can’t be fluent and answer simple questions, they are struggling. Or, better yet, pick a book from your own library that seems on target and calculate words correct per minute; note any errors or omissions.
- Writing: Many sites have templates for sentence and paragraph construction and provide prompts or questions. (Link: thewritingrevolution.org) (Link: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com) (Link: www.readwritethink.org) You can create your own assessments depending on your child’s goal: show her a picture and ask her to write a few sentences while noting punctuation and capitalization, dictate spelling words, phrases and/or sentences, ask her to complete a writing prompt from several options presented, or write a paragraph about a favorite topic.
- Math Competencies: There are many sites that offer free, online sources for year-end assessments. (Link: mathmammoth.com) You can also create or find online worksheets organized by skill competency. (Link: www.education.com/worksheets)
Be sure to check out Pinterest for additional ideas. (Link: www.pinterest.com) Virtually (no pun intended) any downloadable worksheet that relates to your child’s IEP goals can be used for assessment purposes. You also can be resourceful and come up with your own assessments – this is the time to be creative.
- Collect a Baseline: Have you received your child’s 3rd quarter progress reports? Prior to teaching a new goal to students, it is best practice to begin by collecting your baseline data. You can think of baseline data as a pre-test: we are testing the student to see what he already knows before we begin teaching. Since distance learning is novel instruction, it is important to know where your child’s competencies are at the start of her distance-learning voyage, even more so since this modality of instruction is likely to endure through the end of the school year.
First, check whether you have received your child’s third quarter progress notes from school. If you have, then you have your baseline data in hand. If you have not received those progress notes already, ask your schools if they will be providing them. Those third quarter progress notes serve as your starting point. If your school is not planning on releasing third quarter progress notes, you need to collect the baseline data yourself. You can begin by having a phone conversation or zoom meeting with your child’s special education teacher and service provider(s). Arrange a check-in telephone call to inquire how your child is doing with her goals; try to get a sense for where your child was before we started distance learning. Summarize the call, and document your findings in a journal. You may need to refer back to those notes at a later time.
Next, collect your own data. Search your home library or the Internet for a downloadable worksheet or assessment tool (or create one yourself), as mentioned above. Administer this tool to your child to gauge her mastery level with regard to her specific IEP goal. With your own baseline data as to where your child’s competencies are at the beginning of distance learning, you will be equipped to meaningfully contribute to conversations about whether she has made progress and benefited from the instruction along the way, and down the road. Keep in mind that there is no expectation for perfection; you are simply gathering data to indicate a starting point, which may be made reference to at a later date.
- Progress Monitoring/ Organize a System for Collecting Data. Once you have identified adequate assessment tools, then you need to use those tools to keep track of your child’s progress in mastering that goal. There are three main types of criteria used to measure goals: rate (the student must repeat the task or behavior to demonstrate accuracy), time (the student must complete the task within a specified time limit) and percentage (the student’s level of performance is measured relative to 100%). It is important to consider your child’s goal and whether rate, time or percentage is the best way to measure mastery. Once you decide how your goal will be measured, you can keep track of the information using a data sheet or customizable form that you create to complete weekly or bi-weekly progress. Whatever system you create should:
- Indicate the goal you are measuring;
- Indicate the method of measurement (rate, time, percentage); and
- Track student progress on IEP goals for each date of assessment.
You can then record the student’s weekly or bi-weekly total progress and compare it to the criteria for mastery. Your focus is on devising a system, which you can follow-through consistently and with ease, such that you have a running record of how your child is doing on her target skills over time. Keep in mind that you may be providing this information to your CSE team later; make sure to date all assessments that you administer and keep them organized chronologically in a binder.
- Collaborate with your Child’s Teacher – Ask for Parent Training: Reach out to your child’s special education teacher to discuss how he can assist with providing you training on data collection. We are all navigating uncharted waters, and your child’s teachers may have recommendations, and offer resources to assist in your endeavor. Be sure to document these requests in written emails and to keep track of this correspondence. It goes without say that if you need virtual support or training on any of the platforms that are being used to deliver services, it is not unreasonable to ask for help. It is reasonable to expect that schools will take the time to train you about this technology.
- Document Services Received. Keep a daily accounting of the services that your child is receiving. A simple journal or daily log is sufficient. Remote learning is taking a wide array of shapes and forms, and there is no one right answer as to what exactly it is. When we refer to “virtual classrooms”, it can mean online assignments, a plethora of online applications, virtual tours and physical packets that come from teachers, among other modalities. You need to keep in mind this spectrum when documenting what your child receives. Make a note of the date, and how contact was made with your child (email, phone, online or TV/other). Indicate the type of instructional session/service, the teacher who rendered the service or was accountable for rendering the service, and the length of the session. Keep track of whether there has been any modification to the service in terms of composition of grouping, or instructor. In many cases, your child may be receiving a significantly reduced number of service hours, or may be receiving service hours in the form of online assignments posted by the teacher in lieu of direct instruction. You need to make sure that you account for these hours of instruction in whatever shape or form they may take.
You also want to make a note, when feasible, of the level of participation of your child. Did she actively participate, listen, respond or did not engage at all? Make any other notes that may be relevant for that particular session such as mitigating circumstances, or anything going on in your home, or in your family, that may affect your child’s learning either positively or negatively. Are you seeing any patterns developing in how your child is approaching her learning? Are there certain times of the day when she works better? How long can your child work before she needs to take a break? Keep in mind, however, anything you write down in your log may be discoverable some day in the future so be sure to document as systematically and as factually as possible. Here is an example of a daily log:
||Length of Session||
||Length of Session||
In your notes section, do not hesitate to write down how you think services could be rendered differently, especially if the child is not responding. When in search for solutions, you might want to take some time to check out Educating All Learners Alliance, which is a coalition of organizations committed to sharing resources during the pandemic and continuing the delivery of special education services through the remote learning platform. (Link: https://www.educatingalllearners.org/resource-library)
Finally, make sure you also are documenting for social emotional activities, functional activities of daily living and communication. If your child has goals that are directly related to interactions with peers such as transitioning from one activity to the next, or “turn-and-talk” with a partner communication skills, or working collaboratively with peers in a group setting, make sure you also document the opportunities your school takes to simulate such experiences, in addition to any perceived regression at home. If you child has a behavior intervention plan, try to follow it as closely as you can, and document how that is going. If your child has executive function deficits, try chunking tasks and keeping a journal documenting the prescribed steps your child is taking to complete that task and how she is doing.
- Observe/Video Sessions: Find time to observe your child’s instruction. You may want to video record a session weekly or bi-weekly and keep a video journal spanning a period of time. Document your observations and reflect whether there are any circumstances obstructing your child’s access to the instruction. You should now be intimately familiar with your child’s IEP goals. Has the configuration of your child’s group changed? Does the distance learning session, in whatever form the contact takes, address your child’s IEP goals?
- Keep a Portfolio of Work Samples. To the extent feasible and practicable, keep a folder of work products. Write the date on each work sample, and file them chronologically in a binder. This will become a physical portfolio of skill competencies over time that you can refer back to in future meetings to help bolster your concerns about lack of progress, or to help prove mastery of skills. You should make a note whether homework materials reinforce the distance learning instruction, as repetition and rehearsal of the skills learned in school will further progress in mastering the goal.
- Stay Calm and Collaborative, but expect Communication. Your child will turn to you for love, guidance, emotional support and even for direct instruction in school affairs. Work to be even-keeled role models, empowering your child with good sleep, exercise, healthy routines, play, outside fresh air and nourishment. With resolve, humor and a positive outlook, we will all work through these most challenging of circumstances. Remain collaborative with your schools and educators and seek to be resourceful and problem-solvers. Keep in mind that we all need to take a “learning orientation” toward our current predicament; we are learning as we go along, figuring it out together and hopefully coming out of it stronger than we were before. That said, there should be a steady stream of communication from your district and school as to how remote learning is to be delivered and how to plan for your child going forward.
Do Not Get Discouraged.
The tasks listed above may be too much for many parents, and that is okay. While distance learning is novel and demands flexibility from parents and educators alike, do not let data collection be daunting. Lean into what you know and what you can do, and do not let perfection get in the way of doing something purposeful. When you meet with your child’s CSE team in the days and weeks ahead, the team must consider your data. There is much you can do at home to take an active role in helping map the educational course for your child in the weeks and months ahead.
At Littman Krooks, we are working remotely to answer all of your questions and to help you navigate through these challenging times. We at Littman Krooks understand that COVID-19 raises questions for individuals with disabilities and their families. Our office is functioning remotely throughout the outbreak. We are here to answer any questions. Please reach out to us if we may be of assistance.