IEP’s & Back to School

Last night I attended my youngest grandson’s open house at his elementary school. That, combined with my recent retirement, and the fact that I will not be going back to start a new school year, has me thinking about what I would be doing. I was very fortunate to be able to retire and still enjoy my position as a guidance counselor. A wonderful way to end a career.

If I was going back to school as a guidance counselor, I would be reviewing the IEP’s and 504 plans of our new students. As a counselor in a 7th & 8th grade middle school, we had to transition the elementary students into a middle school environment and prepare our 8th grade students for their transition to high school. If you are a parent of either group, I hope you will take the time to review your child’s IEP and plan to meet with their teachers after they have had enough time to determine how accurate their IEP or 504 plan is  in the new setting.

In general, elementary students transitioning to a middle school environment will be expected to become more independent and the plans created in an elementary school setting may provide more support than is usually necessary at the next level. Middle school usually has more scheduling options and may allow placement options, based on the skill level in specific subjects, that range from advanced to those that are modified to accommodate specific learning or behavioral disabilities. Schools vary so it is important to ask specific questions about the classes and curriculum available.

Our school was able to create a master schedule that allowed the guidance counselor and the child study team to meet, when necessary during the year, and adjust schedules by moving specific subjects to the appropriate level without changing the entire schedule. This gave our team the ability to focus on a specific skill and the individual needs of a specific student and make minimal changes in their overall schedule. Our school was fortunate to make scheduling a priority and the master schedule was reviewed on an on-going basis to make improvements.

I also think it is important for parents to realize the specific requirements of each class; i.e., the specific accommodations made to the regular education curriculum; the pace of the individual class; and the amount of support provided by the teacher and or aide. For example, students with IEP’s that are not successful in the initial placement may be moved to a class that has made accommodations to the curriculum, pace and the amount of support provided. All of these accommodations may result in grades that rise significantly. I encourage parents to discuss the amount of accommodations made, how much the pace has changed in the new class, and how much additional support was required to obtain this higher level of success.

Honor roll grades in the new classes does not mean that the student is ready to move to a regular education classes without support or accommodations. The accommodations made in curriculum, pace and support may be the specific reason for the rise in grades. Ask specific questions about what would be required for the student to be successful at the next level rather than just insist that the student should move up because their grades have improved dramatically.

My next blog will focus on the transition to the high school environment and why a focus on potential careers becomes very important. In many states, students are applying to specific programs (STEM and vocational) that require an application in 8th grade. Grades, specific classes and their levels, state test scores and attendance levels form a rubric to determine admission. I believe that it is very important to start discussing careers with students long before they reach middle school.

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I have a BA in Psychology and a teaching certificate as a Special Education teacher. I have a MA in Student Personnel Services and I recently retired from my position as a Guidance Counselor. I have been active on advisory boards concerning disability issues for over 25 years. I also have over 25 years of business experience in Human Resources and Operations Management.

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