To get this information I interviewed a special education teacher that has also worked in the field as an administrator and homeroom teacher for the Lanark Board of Education.
Questions to people responsible for special education referrals.
- Question #1 – How is a student identified for special education referral?
For a student to be identified for a special education referral there are a couple of requirements that need to be satisfied. Either a teacher or a parent can start this process. A teacher can reflect on past tests, daily reports, and the overall behaviour of the student in question. If there are definite short comings that are causing the student to regress or become stagnant a referral can be made. If a parent has concern about their child they can write a signed letter that will begin the referral process.
- Question #2 – Who takes responsibility for the progress of the child before and after the referral?
Before a referral is even made collaboration between the special education teacher, the homeroom teacher and parents are present. This is to ensure that a referral is necessary or not.
After a referral has been made there is a very specific process that follows. The people involved are: principle or vice principle, special education teacher, homeroom teacher, psychologist, and parents. Also, I was informed that if some students have the proper maturity levels they are permitted to take part in these recorded and documented meetings.
- Question #3 – What is the school administration’s directive for special education?
Referred students that have yet to be identified are in collaboration with either a vice principle or principle. They will be in contact with the students, teachers and parents throughout the entire process. They are also a part of the IEP construction. Generally there are meeting once a year that the vice principle or principle attend to see if the IEP goals are being met, but if there are noticeable problems these meetings can occur as much as three times a year for an individual student. The administration level is very involved with special education referrals, identifications and follow ups.
- Question #4 – What provisions are made for students identified for special education?
First, Lanark county students that have been identified as special needs students are qualified to receive a laptop that will stay with them until they finish high school. Second, if they have problems writing they have the option for an oral test. Third, they will be accommodated with an E.A. (educational assistant) that will assist them within the classroom environment. In some cases they are also allotted time outside the classroom for one on one teaching. Fourth, if they have trouble writing they can have the opportunity to use a scribe. Fifth, calculators maybe permitted if a specific disability is present. This is just a small list of available provisions because with laptop capabilities there are many new software programs that are being developed specifically to help students with special needs.
- Question #5 – What is the level of parent involvement in referral process and special education?
My interviewee said that it is a high level of involvement that is necessary and required for the process to run optimally. While going through the identification process there will be recorded and documented meetings with required attendance. He also said at these meeting there can be outside sources present as well. An example of this was something referred to as Open-door councillors, which are present if a student has been physically abused, also child welfare services will be present if they are associated with the student. Any outside sources are present during this process.
Question for a homeroom teacher.
- Question #1 – How do you identify a student for special education?
Most of this has been covered in previous questions but there was more information given about the process I would like to address here. Once a student has been identified for a referral there will be a number of tests given outside the classroom to help with identification process. Some of the academic tests mentioned were the WRAT test (wide range achievement test), the Key math test, and the Woodcock reading comprehension assessment test. An education psychologist will administer tests of this nature to aid in the specific identification of the special need at hand. He also mentioned that just by looking at test scores you can do a personal evaluation and recommendation if the student is achieving at grade levels below the norm. Once a student has been identified it is imperative that IEPs are followed, and this is something he stressed because some students have IEPs that are not identified.
- Question #2 – What are the signs of a struggling student?
Any recorded achievement levels that have been documented are usually the first sign, also tiredness, not being active and behaviour patterns with other children on the playground and in the classroom. One thing he did say to be careful about is to make sure that a student is not just being lazy; this can cause a lot of unwanted paper work, time, and cause problems with teacher-parent relations.
- Question #3 – Are there alternate methods of instruction tried out before referring the student for special education? If yes, what are they?
In the master’s program I am currently taking I learned about RTI levels and modifications that are made before the referral. This is something that has not yet been implemented in the in the Ontario educational system. So these answers are a bit more general than an American teacher would respond. Seat positions were one simple way to help a student, bring them closer to the front so there will be fewer distractions. Have them sit beside a gifted student, and also communicate with the parents where their student is having difficulties and provide extra work accordingly.
I think any type of assistance that is designed to help a student progress with their schooling is one that is necessary for our educational systems. The issue is how to implement them in the most optimal way. I like how referrals in Ontario are being made but there is definite room for improvement. We need to look at how Finland is using special education in their system. It is a structure that relies on identifying as early as possible. In Ontario I feel that valuable time is being lost due to the fact that recognition and referral occur when the problem has become far to evident. I also like how the American system uses different levels or RTI for the referral process. I can see though how time can be lost in this evaluation as well. Time is of the essence when it comes to providing proper education for students with special needs. We need special education teachers from around the world to collaborate and design a program that would be optimal for all. I think opinions and structures from across the globe all have insights that can help attain this goal.