Evaluations are Key to Improving Special Education Programs

Oct 1, 2012 by

Evaluations are Key to Improving Special Education Programs

Many years ago I started a new job in s school district that was rumored to have some problems in their special education department. I was able to confirm the rumors almost immediately. While going through the caseload files I noticed that there were a high number of students who had gone out for their speech and language evaluation. Comparing dates I noticed that the outside speech and language evaluations were either part of the initial request or requested after a speech and language was completed through the school.

Now we have all had this happen. A parent or the team isn’t happy with our findings. This happens when we find problem and when we actually rule out problems. We’re never going to make everyone happy 100% of the time. However, something was different with the pattern I was seeing. There were just too many outside evaluations.

Reading the evaluations, it was easy to see why this happened. The evaluations done by the school speech language pathologist were void or any narrative or analysis. Scores were reported, ranges were given and summaries were sparse. Most of the school speech and language evaluations were 2 pages at best. The quality was poor and no supplemental testing was ever given. I wondered if the therapist was really that bad, never learned the right way to evaluate or just didn’t have time to do the job properly. I wondered how these reports were presented to the parents. Was the therapist able to go into more specific detail in the meetings? The IEP’s didn’t reflect this so I doubted that parents or teachers were given any more information. Basically the evaluations I read raised more questions than they answered.

Parents talk, even in large districts. It only takes one parent or team member to say something negative about a report for that opinion to spread. Pair that with a general lack of confidence in the school’s special education program and you can see how easily a situation like this may occurred. (I’ve seen poor evaluations from clinics and hospitals but somehow it doesn’t seem to sully their reputation as much.)

First Step

With the help of a dedicated staff and a strong team leader this particular school was able to turn around the perceptions of most of the parents. The first step in this process was to improve testing in all areas.

  • The school administration supported more testing and meeting time, they were at the point where they realized it was cost effective.
  • The team took the time to look over many report styles and picked the best formats and pieces from each one to help develop testing templates.
  • Our program manager developed a heading for our written evaluations which immediately gave a more professional and coordinated look to our testing.
  • While testing students we collaborated with the other team members. The school psychologist often asked me to dig a little deeper in some areas. I always went to both the regular and the special education teachers to ask them what their biggest concerns were and if there was anything specific they wanted me to try and rule out.

Because of our efforts, we not only looked more professional and coordinated, we were more professional and coordinated. Parents were no longer confused when they left the meeting because everyone had their own different opinions. We did such a good job of coordinating our efforts that we rarely missed anything and our testing almost always dovetailed.

Meetings

The meetings are another key factor to completing good evaluations. When reviewing testing, marathon meetings are a must. It takes a long time to review 3 or more evaluations thoroughly and to develop a good IEP. When schools take the time to answer parent concerns, parents view the schools as caring and personal. Sometimes we actually split the meetings into two if the reports were long and involved, developing the IEP a day or two later (if we had the time legally). This school system was dedicated to improving their evaluation process and hired substitutes so the teachers could stay for most if not all of the meeting. Nothing tells a parent you care less about their kid than leaving a meeting in the middle of it.

With some coordinated team effort and administrative support we were able to turn this particular situation around, keep testing in house and keep costs down. Our testing and our reports became more thorough and looked more professional than some of the previous outside evaluations. In some cases our testing was even better because we often knew the student prior to testing, we were often able to include formal and informal observation, we were able to gather first hand information from parents and teachers to direct testing and we were able to see the kids in a familiar setting over a longer period of time.

Results

Because we collaborated informally ahead of time

  • Our recommendations, accommodations and service delivery were truly team decisions.
  • We were able to look at all factors such as student need, teacher concern’s, parent’s concerns, other school demands, who would be responsible for accommodations and how to fit the needed services into the students day while developing the IEP.
  • Our IEP’s were some of the best and most individual specific I had ever seen.

The outside evaluations often contained recommendations and accommodations. However, they were often generic or grandiose. Suggested service delivery from outside evaluations did not take the schedule, the child’s overall needs or other educational demands into consideration.

I was very proud of the work we did in that school district over the three year period that this particular team worked together. I learned a lot. Watching parents perceptions change and confidence in the school grow was especially rewarding. We knew we had a lot to do with that. Our team leader problem solved and we implemented simple and very common sense changes that made us look good. Best of all the students ended up with an effective IEP. With teachers involved in the process they had an easier time following through on classroom accommodations and modifications. The teachers also knew they could come to us for support.

Did we keep 100% of our testing in house? No of course not but our percentage of in house evaluations shifted significantly with very few evaluations in any discipline completed outside of school. With simple and professional changes we were able to improve the way we did CORE evaluations without a mandate or law. Our team leader took the talents and strengths of smart, caring professionals and gave us the time and tools to improve (not change) our evaluation process. Bottom line we were effective, we looked good and felt more professional.

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