Friday, December 22, 2017

Our Holiday Poem

We continue a tradition we started in 2010, blogging in rhyme for our last post of the year.

Every year around this time
Our blogging turns from prose to rhyme
It’s only once in every year
So, loyal reader, have no fear

We’ve rhymed suggestions, apps and tools
For students, parents, and for schools
We’ve rhymed our thanks to families
Who’ve brought their kids for us to see

We’ve thanked teachers, doctors, tutors, and more
Whose faith in our work means so much
Who gave us a great recommendation
That brought folks through our door

It’s been a special year for our Yellin team
We’ve had weddings and babies galore
Our staff’s been heroic and creative
And we couldn’t ask for anything more

But when we look beyond our walls
It’s been a time of some dismay
Our nation is divided
A bit more every day

So we will share our wishes
That things will change for all
For peace, love, and understanding
On issues great and small

We wish you all the best next year
For you and all your crowd
And that the year that's coming
Is one that makes us proud.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
The Yellin Center will be closed from December 23rd until Tuesday, January 2nd. 

Friday, December 15, 2017

NY State Adopts Changes to Diploma Requirements

We have been following how the New York State Board of Regents, the body that oversees public education throughout the state, has been making changes to the graduation requirements for New York students with disabilities.

Most recently, we wrote about changes the Regents adopted in 2016 to create a path to a diploma - called a "local diploma" - for students with disabilities who were unable to pass sufficient Regents exams to obtain a Regents Diploma, the "gold standard" academic diploma for New York students.

At that time, we noted that all changes to the strict Regents diploma requirements were

"... part of a delicate balancing act. Parents and educators want to make sure that all students -- including those with disabilities -- are offered a rigorous curriculum to prepare them for adulthood. On the other hand, both parents and schools recognize that because of their disabilities, some of these students will not be able to meet the highest bar set by certain state exams and risk being left without a high school diploma despite their best efforts to achieve this crucial credential."

Earlier this week, the Regents implemented another change, this one made without the usual notice to the public. It permits students who are unable to pass the English and math Regents (even at the lower passing rate for students with disabilities of 55 percent) to obtain a local diploma if their district certifies that they are prepared for entry-level employment and "showed proficiency" for those subjects in which they did not pass the Regents exam. 

Why is this so important to some families of students with disabilities? The credential which would otherwise have been available to these students who were unable to pass the Regents exams is the Career Development and Occupational Studies Commencement Credential (CDOS). A local diploma is acceptable for college, military service, and employers; the CDOS is not. This change will increase the graduation rates for New York students and for some it will mean that they are eligible for jobs, military enlistment, or even college where they would not have been before this latest rule change. The long term impact of arguably lowering academic standards will be harder to quantify, but for the relieved parents reportedly attending the most recent Regents meeting, these longer term issues are not paramount. 

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Some Old-News Updates on Best Practices

Two articles you may have missed in The New York Times reiterate some important points about how to help children with two very different but very common difficulties – anxiety and disruptive behavior. 

The first article, an opinion piece written by Dr. Perri Klass, whose work and writing have been featured in a number of our blog posts (check out her other informative pieces in The Times here), reports on a meta-analysis that investigated the effectiveness of different therapies and drugs used to treat a variety of anxiety disorders in children. To read the meta-analysis on your own, see the reference at the bottom of this post. A meta-analysis is a large research undertaking that combines the results of many smaller studies to get a better idea of the big picture. This meta-analysis looked at a combined total of 7,719 patients between the ages of five and sixteen. As expected, the researchers found that exposure-based cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a preferred treatment. With this type of therapy, children as young as five years old are exposed to what makes them anxious so that they can practice dealing with the triggers with support, while they simultaneously work on changing how they think about the things that make them feel bad. The researchers also found that the newer types of anti-depressants can be helpful, but they are best when used in combination with therapy (and they were found to be not as effective when used alone, as compared to the exposure-based CBT).
For those of us working in the field, this meta-analysis didn’t really tell us anything groundbreaking. It does, however, get the message out that there is an evidence-based way to help children who are suffering from the kind of anxiety that interferes with their ability to function at home and school. It also reiterates, for parents and caregivers who are seeking help, the importance of finding a therapist who focuses on this type of therapy in her or his work with anxious children.

The second Times article, from October, is another opinion piece, published in the Fixes column, and written by Suzanne Bouffard. In her column, Bouffard describes the process of Collaborative Problem Solving, a technique developed by Ross Greene, who wrote a book we love to recommend at The Yellin Center - The Explosive Child. Bouffard begins by describing the typical disciplinary methods used at many schools, even preschools, across the country. Children are typically removed from the educational environment as a disciplinary measure - they may be put in time out, forced to complete useless assignments as punishment, or even suspended from kindergarten. The main point that Bouffard makes here, and that is at the foundation of my field - school psychology - is that these exclusionary tactics may temporarily stifle unwanted behaviors, but they are also often psychologically harmful and, even more importantly, do not teach our youngest students what they should be doing instead. There’s an unfortunate persistent idea that kids behave well when they want to, but the truth is that kids behave well when they can. Taking a child who struggles with regulating her behavior and excluding her from the classroom and putting her in isolation, for example, does absolutely nothing to help her practice the skills she needs to do better next time.

Collaborative problem solving was described in one of my previous posts on this blog. Bouffard’s piece takes the philosophy behind it and puts it in a very real context, with real examples of families who have seen what a difference it can make. I highly recommend reading the article and thinking deeply about the kind of discipline your child experiences at home and at school. It offers us the opportunity to ask ourselves some potentially difficult questions about whether we’re really using what the field of psychology likes to call best practices when helping our children and our students grow into well-adjusted citizens.

Wang, Z., Whiteside, S. P., Sim, L., Farah, W., Morrow, A. S., Alsawas, M., ... & Daraz, L. (2017). Comparative Effectiveness and Safety of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Pharmacotherapy for Childhood Anxiety Disorders: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Jama Pediatrics, 171(11), 1049-1056.

Photo by MichaƂ Parzuchowski on Unsplash

Monday, December 4, 2017

Rejecting Accommodations

The mother of a high school student with attention and reading difficulties recently asked us what she could do to make her son take advantage of the accommodations provided in his IEP. Since her son's learning and attention issues had been diagnosed in fifth grade, he had an IEP that provided for extended time (1.5 times standard time) and a quiet place to take his exams.

As a practical matter, that meant that when his class was taking a test in class, he went to the school library, where he was placed in a small side room. The librarian kept an eye on him while he took his test and he returned to his classroom when he was finished. He went along with this plan until he reached high school, at which time he announced to his parents that he didn't want to be singled out from his friends and that he was embarrassed to have to leave the class for testing. The more his parents pushed back, the more adamant he became. That's when his mom reached out to us.

We had some questions, the answers to which would help determine what might be appropriate to do or say in this not uncommon situation:
  1. Does this student understand why he has been granted extended time and a quiet exam location? Does he understand his learning and attention challenges and how they affect his learning and taking exams? Parents can't expect their students to be comfortable with doing something different than their classmates unless they understand WHY they are doing so.
  2. How was he doing in school? Did the extended time, or failure to utilize the extended time, make a difference in his grades? If so, this could have an impact on his GPA and longer term consequences as he moved on from high school. Did he understand that this could limit his college options? Or, did he find that there really wasn't any substantial difference in how he did? If that was the case, as sometimes happens, he would have to think about the next question.
  3. Was he planning to take the SAT or ACT exams? These two testing companies do not follow the IDEA. They are required to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and avoid discriminating against students with disabilities, but they largely determine whether to grant accommodations based upon what a student had been granted and USED during high school. A student who did not use his accommodations might not get them for these high stakes examinations.

These questions helped this family sit down and discuss this issue. His parents shared his most recent testing that supported the need for accommodations, and showed their son how his reading rate improved when the evaluator gave him extra time to complete reading tests. They discussed his plans to attend a competitive  college and looked at the GPA that that particular college required. Eventually, they agreed that the student would forgo his accommodations for two or three months and see how things went. They advised his teachers of this decision, emphasizing that it did not mean that he was declining his extended time. He found that his grades did drop a bit during this period and ultimately he decided that he wanted to continue to use his accommodations. Since the decision was his, it was one that he adhered to. Last we heard, he was using his extended time and quiet location and doing well in school.