How is your child’s reading? Is the IEP working?

District of Columbia Public School Parents:  Use the parent-teacher conference to ask questions and request education records to help you understand better how your child is doing in school, especially if your child has an IEP.  

The first quarter of the District of Columbia 2016-2017 public school year is over.  Traditional public schools and public charter schools are conducting parent-teacher conferences, during which parents will have around 15 minutes – yes, 15 minutes — to listen to teacher observations, review student work, then share their questions and concerns about their children’s academic and social development.

Will your parent-teacher conference — all 15 minutes of it – provide you a clear and complete picture of your child’s performance in school? 

As a former DCPS teacher, I understand that parent-teacher conferences are often rushed and can leave parents feeling that they do not have a clear understanding of their child’s performance in school because teachers either (1) spend most of the conference giving effusive praise about the child’s personality, character or values,  (2) spend most of the conference discussing the child’s behavior, especially if the behavior is negative, or (3) speak in vague terms about key measures of child’s academic progress, especially if the child is struggling.

The following is a quick checklist of issues you should consider and questions you might ask to acquire a clearer, more complete picture of your child’s academic and social progress at school and to help you begin to advocate on your child’s behalf.

How well does my kid read?  By now, your child’s teacher should have assessed your child’s reading, math and writing skills.  The assessments may be standardized or teacher made, and are usually administered in the beginning of the school year, again in December/January, and finally at the end of the school year.  Teachers give the assessments to determine children’s strengths and weaknesses, tailor instruction to meet children’s instructional needs, and monitor children’s academic growth during the school year.

Teachers assess your child’s reading skills using the Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark Assessment, Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS), the Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA) or some other standardized assessment to determine your child’s early literacy skills, reading accuracy, reading fluency, ability to recall the order of key story events and details, and reading comprehension.  Teachers score the assessment in accordance with a rubric provided by the test developer and that test score correlates to a reading grade level for your child.  Here is a link to a reading level conversion chart that shows how your child’s assessment test score corresponds to her age and a reading grade level:

You should know your child’s reading grade level and the reading level that your school considers to be proficient for children in your child’s grade at this time of the year.  Ask the teacher for your child’s reading level.  If your child is reading significantly below the grade level expectation for this time of year, ask the teacher for her opinion about the cause of your child’s reading struggle.  Ask the teacher to share her instructional plan to close your child’s reading achievement gap.  Interventions may include the use of teaching strategies like guided reading, one on one support, computerized reading programs, or support from professional reading specialists with whom the school system has contracted to provide intensive reading intervention.  If you suspect that your child has a learning or other disability and want your child to be evaluated, make your request in writing to the school’s special education coordinator or the principal.

What about the report card?  What about the IEP progress report?  Review your child’s progress report card completely.  Read the grades and read the teacher comments about your child.  If the teacher’s comments seem unclear, vague, or minimal, ask your teacher to clarify them or provide more substance.  Compare the report card grades in English/Language Arts to your child’s beginning of the year Fountas and Pinnell (or DRA or other assessment) reading level.

If your child has an Individualized Education Program (IEP), you should also receive an IEP progress report that shows your child’s progress on each academic goal in the IEP.  For each IEP goal, the report should tell you whether your child has met the goal, is progressing toward the goal, or is regressing.  The report will also include a narrative of your child’s performance.  Often, the special education teacher prepares the IEP progress report; your child’s classroom teacher may have assisted or provided input for the report.  You should ask the special education teacher and your child’s classroom teacher for copies of any assessments, observation notes or other written work that evaluate his progress against the IEP goals.  Compare the IEP progress report to the other data you have collected on your child’s performance.

Is the IEP working?  Compare your child’s current IEP to the IEP that was in place this time last year.  Are the reading (or math) goals in your child’s current IEP the same as the goals in the IEP that was in place this time last year?  Do the current IEP goals seem too hard for your child to reach given what you know about your child’s current abilities and proficiency?  If the answer is “Yes” to either of these questions, you should consider requesting an IEP meeting to determine whether your child is making adequate academic progress.  You have a right to request an IEP meeting at any time to ask questions and express your concerns.  The school should address, not ignore, your concerns or questions about the IEP at the IEP meeting.

My child acts out in school.  Is there a connection between her behavior, the school’s response, and her academic achievement?  Inappropriate behavior and exclusionary discipline can have adverse impacts on your child’s academic progress and social well-being.  Inappropriate behavior may have origins in reading failure, undiagnosed physiological or psychological conditions, chronic or toxic stress or trauma, adverse childhood experiences or a cognitive or other learning disability.  Inappropriate behaviors can impact your child’s ability to learn or progress academically.

Exclusionary discipline separates your child from his peers and his classroom teacher during the school day.  Repeated school suspensions (whether in-school or out of school suspension), extended time in the principal’s or social worker’s office, extended or frequent “time out” in the hallway or in another classroom, and sending a child home early as a response to inappropriate behavior will affect the amount and consistency of instruction that your child will receive in reading and other key subjects.  Repeated inappropriate behavior followed by exclusionary discipline can perpetuate or exacerbate reading failure.

Does it appear that your child is experiencing the same behavioral struggles – and exclusion from class or school — that he experienced during the last school year?  Does your child repeatedly exhibit inattention or inappropriate behaviors during instruction, to which the school responds by excluding her from the classroom or the building?  What kinds of behaviors does your child show?  Ask your child’s teacher these questions and about positive behavior strategies that she is using to support your child.  If you want to see documentation about your child’s behavior and the school’s  disciplinary responses, you have the right to ask the school for that, since it is part of her education record.

If it appears that your child is in a cycle of inappropriate behavior, repeated disciplinary exclusion, and reading or other academic failure, you should consider requesting a meeting with the school support team or the IEP team to share your concerns and discuss actions to determine the cause of the behavior and how to address it.  Actions may include conducting a functional behavior assessment, establishing a behavior intervention plan, and having your child evaluated by a pediatrician or psychologist.

Wrap Up.  This quick checklist can help you to begin to better understand your child’s academic and social progress and to plan future advocacy on your child’s behalf, especially if your child has an IEP and you believe that your child’s progress has stalled, is moving backward or is unclear to you.  A special education lawyer can review your child’s education record (including her IEP, psychological or related services assessments, academic assessments, progress reports, discipline record, and behavior intervention plan), direct you to education advocates, psychologists, related service providers or other education experts, work with your child’s school to review (and if necessary, modify) her IEP, or pursue other action to ensure that your child obtains an appropriate education.