Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Giving parent what they want?

How focused should we be on giving parent what they want?
Part of my job is to fix problem-IEPs.
I also randomly read IEPs in the district and provide feedback.
There are times when I read IEPs that just do not make sense.
Sometimes, it is a good plan, but it was poorly written.
Other times, you just have to scratch your head.

When I pose the question, I try to make it a more professional and supportive version of, "What the hell were you thinking?"

One of the most common responses always start the same way.
"But the parent wanted _____"
"The parent would not agree ________."

When it comes to writing IEPs, I am too simplistic.
I also don't have to deal with compliance audits as much as I handle Due Process Hearings.
I only really care about three things in an IEP.

1. Good, objective evidence on student progress, educational benefit, strengths and needs.

2. A reader-friendly description, using this evidence, of the student's strengths, needs, and parental concerns.

3. Every need has a specific action plan (using the SMART acronym model)  that is reasonably calculated for the student to access educational benefit in the Least Restrictive Environment.
This must include rationale as to why this plan was chosen, and why other alternatives were not.

Most importantly, the IEP needs to be written in such a way that any reasonable reader can understand these three points solely by reading the IEP document.

Think about it.

If the student transfers, the receiving educators should have enough information to start servicing the student.

So we care about what the parents want, but not necessarily directly.
The real difference is in how you go about things.
There is a difference between collaboration with parents versus treating an IEP like a negotiation haggling over the price of a used car.

You say 30 minutes of Speech Therapy.
We want 90 minutes.
Let's call it 60, and we have ourselves a deal!

Not really.
There may be a time for certain compromise.
However, the questions should really be,
What does the evidence suggest the correct balance of direct services should be?
How do we maximize the benefit of direct services while minimizing the impact of time away from class (and, therefore, direct teaching, socialization, and generalization of skills to the natural environment)?

There is not always an easy answer, but it frames the conversation more productively.

Here are the benefits to doing things this way:

1. It will increase the likelihood of a quality IEP that will benefit the student by increasing the likelihood that the IEP effectively covers my three main priorities.
It also facilitates a more scientific, data-driven decision-making process.

2. It produces better collaboration.
In the haggle-model IEP, the parent sees the school staff as the people saying, "No" to their requests.
In this model, we can frame the disagreement.
Do we agree on strengths and needs?
If not, have we all looked at the evidence together?
Is something missing?
Do we agree on the plan?
If not, can you explain why you think the proposed plan would/would not work?

3. Everyone feels empowered.
Haggling is a power-based negotiation.
Whomever has the expertise and/or power will win.

(Car salesman never want you to walk away without a deal.
They don't want the rational part of your brain to regain power, "The salesman needs the deal to earn a paycheck. I need to not waste money on a depreciating asset." versus. "Cool! I want it! Gimme, gimme, gimme!")

In this model, everyone from parent, seasoned-expert, to rookie educator has input.

In the end, we may disagree with details on the plan, but  we can all agree that we are working on a plan to achieve the same goal.

If I have to make a decision, I would rather have disagreement and defend a good plan than have agreement on a bad one.

So in the spirit of full-disclosure, here is how the full conversation usually goes,

What are the student's strengths?
What is the evidence we have on progress or lack thereof?
What is the SMART plan to meet the student's needs?
What is your rationale that this plan will work?
Did you consider ___?
Why would that not be a better plan?
Until you can answer those questions and back it up, I don't care the parents say!
We can discuss their requests once we know what we are doing.


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