Friday, December 23, 2016

Our Holiday Wishes

Since 2010, we have posted a holiday poem, starting with a variation of  A Visit from St. Nicholas (The Night Before Christmas). We've continued each year since and this year's offering is below.

It’s just before Christmas and tradition requires 

Our annual blog, all in rhyme

Some years are better; some best forgot,

But it’s fun and that always is fine.

We mostly look back on the year that has passed

On our work with both students and schools

On our recommendations to help kids to learn

Sometimes books, sometimes apps, sometimes tools.

We also look back at our work done with others,

Folks like Relay, QED, Understood

Where we share what we know and help to build knowledge

And contribute to things that are good.

But this year we look forward, to try to keep hope

As uncertainty brings some anxiety

After a bitter election, our nation’s in flux

And new challenges face our society.

So, as one year is ending and a new one begins

We have wishes both large and quite small

We hope they come true, both for us and for you

And they make our world better for all.

We wish for a world filled with peace and with caring

Where people respect one another

And however they worship, whomever they love

They learn how to live with each other.

We wish that all children – and parents as well –

Have a home, and good food, and good health.

That we all come together to focus on this

For that is the best kind of wealth.

We hope that our world, our dear planet Earth,

Can be cared for by all of its residents

That we each do our part to preserve it

From children, to parents, to presidents.

And we hope you have love and have friends and stay well

All the things that make life so worthwhile

And that when next year ends, you can look back and see

That you really had reasons to smile.

We wish you all a very happy holiday and a wonderful 2017. The Yellin Center will be closed from December 24th, reopening on Monday, January 2nd.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Mindful New Year's Resolutions

In just a few short days, we’ll be celebrating the beginning of a new year and, with that celebration, many of us will be making New Year’s Resolutions.  There are always the old fallback resolutions for adults – the ones that are typically forgotten by the first week of February.  But for kids, the options are endless; they can use the resolution framework to reflect on 2016 and mindfully prepare for 2017.  New Year’s resolutions are an opportunity to practice those meta-cognitive and self-regulatory skills, which we know are important for both academic and personal achievement.
 As you gear up for your family’s celebrations, it may be a good time to guide your children or students in personal reflection.  This is a conversation that could happen around the dinner table, while wrapping presents, as your youngster is gearing up for bedtime, or whenever you all can find a quiet moment together.  It may be helpful to start by helping children and teens recall all that went right in their lives this year, how they’ve grown, and how they have contributed to their own successes.  What went really well for them in 2016?  How did I achieve that success?  What did I improve upon in 2016?  How can I keep up the good work next year?

Once you’ve worked together to find all the successes of the past year, it’s time to brainstorm what might be different in 2017, and how you and your child can prepare for what’s coming next in their personal lives.  Think about what worked, and what didn’t, in 2016 to make a plan for continued success.  What do I want to achieve in 2017?  What tools do I already have to achieve those goals?  What might I need help with to reach those goals?  What’s my contingency plan if I feel like I’m struggling – who are my support system?  

Whatever your goals are for 2017, we hope you have a wonderful holiday and a happy New Year. Our resolution for 2017 is to continue to bring you information that can improve your lives and those of your children, students, and colleagues. We’ve got one more blog for 2016 (our 955th, not that we’re counting) and thank you, our readers, for giving us a reason to read, research, and write for you.

Friday, December 16, 2016

US DOE Guidance on Section 504 and ADHD

K-12 students who struggle with attention may be entitled to support and accommodations under either the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) or Section 504 (of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973).  For those students whose ADHD (which we will use here to include students with attention difficulties, whether or not they include hyperactivity) has a significant impact on their academic performance, or for whom attention difficulties occur together with learning or related challenges, the IDEA is often the best way to receive what they need to be successful in school.

The IDEA generally provides more extensive services, permits more parental input, and is available to students in both public and private schools. However, not all students meet the criteria for receiving IDEA services, which include having a specific category of disability (attention generally falls under "other health impaired"), and being in need of "special education and related services." For students with ADHD who do not meet the IDEA requirements and who are in public schools, Section 504 can provide what these students need to be successful in school despite their attention difficulties.

Earlier this year, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) of the U.S. Department of Education, which administers Section 504, issued a letter to offer guidance to states and school districts about problems with the way in which Section 504 was being applied to students with ADHD. These problems included:

  • Failing to identify students who may have ADHD;
  • Failing to properly evaluate students suspected of having ADHD;
  • Inappropriate decisions about the education, services, and setting that may be required by students who had been properly identified and evaluated; and
  • Failure to let the appropriate school personnel (especially teachers) know about the 504 Plan so it could be properly implemented. 
In addition to the extensive guidance letter (42 pages), the OCR created a brief, clear, two page document titled Know Your Rights: Students with ADHD. One point mentioned in this document, which often is raised by schools when they decline to consider a student with attention difficulties for a 504 Plan, is "Regardless of how well he or she performs in school, a student who has trouble concentrating, reading, thinking, organizing or prioritizing projects, among other important tasks, because of ADHD may have a disability and be protected under Section 504." We frequently find that schools use the excuse "but she gets good grades" or "but he is doing well on tests" when parents know that their child is struggling with attention and could learn and perform better with the accommodations and supports available under Section 504. We hope that seeing this issue set forth in black and white might help schools better understand their obligations to students with ADHD.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Lessons on Immigration for Difficult Times

Where did your family come from?

Unless you are of Native American ancestry, your relatives came to this country from somewhere – or from many somewheres. It may have been a recent arrival, or may have taken place many decades ago, but all Americans have a story of immigration in their past. As immigration became a hot topic during the election and continues to be discussed in inflammatory terms now that the election is over, students and their families, especially those who have recently arrived in the U.S., deal with fear, uncertainty, and possible discrimination.

This may be a good time for teachers to examine immigration with age appropriate lessons for their students. A post-election blog titled, The Election Is Over, But for Teachers, Hard Conversations Are Just Beginning from Education Week asks the questions: How can teachers begin to unite their classrooms? How can they soothe students' fears? We have some suggestions for programs, readings, and classroom activities – some of long standing and some designed to respond to issues raised in the presidential election.

The Southern Poverty Law Center , whose mission is “fighting hate and bigotry and seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of our society … using litigation, education, and other forms of advocacy,” conducted a survey of nearly 10,000 educators – both before and after the election. Among the findings was that the presidential campaign “elicited fear and anxiety among children of color, immigrants and Muslims; emboldened students to mimic the words and tones of candidates and pundits; and disrupted opportunities to teach effectively about political campaigns and civic engagement”. Their response was to present resources for use in classrooms at all levels to help students recognize and respond to bias against immigrants and those of other religions or cultures.

PBS public television has extensive resources for grades 7-12 to use in connection with their documentary mini-series, The New Americans, which explores the immigrant experience through the personal stories of immigrants to the United States. There are 11 interactive lesson plans that help teachers connect their students with the historical and contemporary aspects of immigration.

Scholastic, publisher of books and educational materials, has 76 different resources, ranging from interactive white board lessons to paperback books on all aspects of immigration and the immigrant experience.

Although these lesson plans and other resources are designed for use in the classroom, many can be used by parents who want to help give their children a better understanding of the history of immigration in the United States and of people who may look, sound, or pray differently than they do. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Important SAT and ACT Changes on Accommodations

The College Board has announced important changes to they way they determine testing accommodations for students with disabilities, effective January 1, 2017.

The new policy will apply to students who have IEPs or 504 Plans and to private school students with a formal, school-based plan. It requires school testing accommodation coordinators to ask only two questions when submitting most requests for student accommodations:
  • Is the requested accommodation(s) in the student’s plan? and
  • Has the student used the accommodation(s) for school testing?
If the answer is yes to both questions, eligible students can be approved to receive most accommodations on College Board exams. These exams include the SAT, PSAT, NMSQT, SAT subject tests and AP exams.

The College Board president, David Coleman, noted in an announcement of this change that, “The school staff knows their students best, and we want to cut down on the time and paperwork needed to submit a testing accommodations request.” That may be true, but steps by the U.S. Department of Justice to make sure the testing organizations comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act were undoubtedly also a factor in the College Board decision. We wrote about this back in 2015, including links to the Justice Department guidelines. Earlier in 2016, the Justice Department began an inquiry into testing accommodations following a number of complaints. 

Another policy change by both the College Board and the ACT exam involves students who are English Language Learners (ELL). 

For the first time, the ACT exam will offer accommodations to ELL who are enrolled in a school's ELL program, starting in the fall of 2017. These will include:
  • More time on the test: up to time-and-a-half
  • Use of an approved word-to-word bilingual glossary (one that has no word definitions)
  • Testing in a non-distracting environment (i.e., in a separate room)
  • Test instructions provided in the student's native language (including Spanish and a limited number of other languages initially)
Similar accommodations will be made available effective starting in January 2017 (although extended time will not be available until later that year) by the College Board for its exams given to enrolled ELL students taking state funded exams in school. 

Tips for Students
Students, parents, and schools need to keep in mind that these new paths to accommodations are not foolproof. The College Board uses terms like "most" when referring to students with disabilities and the accommodations to be extended. 

Furthermore, as with their prior process for approving accommodations, it is important that these are not just listed in an IEP or 504 Plan, but are used on a regular basis. Students who have extended time on exams, for example, need to utilize this accommodation if they want to have it applied to their standardized testing. 

To be applicable to the SAT and other exams, accommodations must be formalized. An IEP or 504 Plan will do this. So will a private school's formal written plan. But extended time or other accommodations given informally by teachers or even school-wide without a formal plan will not qualify for this streamlined review. 

Likewise, the accommodations offered to ELL do not necessarily apply to all of these students. The College Board will extend its streamlined accommodations process only to ELL taking a state-funded SAT during the school day. It is not clear how this might apply to all ELL.