Handicap This Productions gladly welcomes guest blogger Rebecca Kovacs, a mainstream educator at Westpark Community Middle School. This August will mark the beginning of her fifth year teaching inside inclusive classrooms. Those around Rebecca can easily tell her passion for teaching and her students remains as strong as December 2008 when she graduated Notre Dame College of Ohio. Today she offers Handicap This readers a mainstream educator’s perspective on IEPs (individual education plans).
IEPs are wonderful devices of communication. When a student is struggling in the classroom due to a disability, the special education teacher collaborates with the other adults working with the child and finds the best way to accommodate the child so that the disability has less of an impact on the learning process. For example, a student who is cognitively delayed may be provided with more time on assignments. Or a student who struggles with basic math operations may be permitted to use a multiplication chart or a calculator, even on assessments like quizzes or tests.
Accommodations are not meant to make school easier for the child, but to help prevent a disability/learning difference from making school more difficult and/or possibly decreasing the student’s overall motivation to learn. Put another way, accommodations are meant to level the playing field for a student who due to a disability experiences more challenges in school.
I have seen many students, parents, and teachers work as a team for the success of the student. However, even the best team stumbles from time to time. There are occurrences when accommodations are understood differently by people on the same team. For instance, I received a note from a parent who was obviously frustrated about her son’s lack of A and B grades. Halfway through the year she asked me if I had read her son’s IEP. Perhaps I was providing his accommodations to a different student by mistake?
It appeared that she saw only two options for her son. That his grades be A’s and B’s or that his accommodations were not being followed. The unfortunate fact is simply not all students are easily A/B students. Some students, with or without IEPs, need to work exceptionally hard in order to achieve such grades.
Another example, a student in my homeroom did not understand the reason he was provided with extra time on assignments. While the class was working on a project he proposed to the teacher that he utilize his class time writing a rap, something completely unrelated to any school project. When the teacher reminded him he should be working on his assignment, he reminded her that he had extra time listed as an accommodation on his IEP. So, he could complete it later.
Upon hearing the conversation from the teacher, I pulled the student aside and explained to him that he was provided with extra time so that he could show his best work on assignments, not so he could play around while others were working. I informed him that if the extra time was not utilized wisely, it may not be provided in the future. I then walked him through the reasons for each of his accommodations, and the best way to utilize them in the classroom.
These are a few examples of how the intent behind an IEP has the potential to lead to unintentional abuse of the document. It’s important to remember that IEPs are used to support a child’s learning process, not a child’s grade. An IEP does not necessarily mean that a student will not have to work in school any more than his or her peers. It is not meant to prevent a child from ever becoming frustrated in the classroom. It is meant to level the playing field and keep students with disabilities motivated to learn.