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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

"I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 things that do not work." Thomas Edison

The preceding quotes, although taken from individuals of different disciplines, share a common and pertinent thread that is very much relevant to the field of School Psychology. This field we seek to learn, and ultimately influence, requires us to not only balance a multitude of dynamic responsibilities, it demands that we seamlessly incorporate the needs of students, parents, school administrators, and binding legislation into one cohesive and pragmatic whole. Within the whirlwind of these oftentimes opposing responsibilities, however, we must not loose sight of what lies at the core of a school psychologist’s identity: as both Edison and Pavlov speak to above, we are first and foremost guided by the principals of the scientific method. That is, we seek answers through a systematic implementation of empirically based theory and knowledge which requires us to be self-critical, learn from failures, and delve beneath the data we so meticulously collect.

Using this simple philosophy as a backdrop, the question becomes whether school psychologists are able to reconcile their guiding professional principals with the demands set forth by local, state, and federal laws. Perhaps to better understand the burdens placed by both distinct entities, it behooves us to delineate their major influences and concerns.

In respect to data driven and empirically based practices, school psychology currently employs a multi-tiered approach grounded in the Response to Intervention (RTI) theory coupled with functional behavioral assessment. The former employs universal screening and progress monitoring, strategically selected interventions, and data-based decision making (Peacock, Ervin, Daly III, & Merrell, 2010). The latter attempts to determine the function of a problem behavior by gathering information about the relationship between their antecedents and consequences (Peacock et al., 2010). Both of these problem-solving approaches require deft assessment measure selection, data interpretation, and intervention selection. All the while, the school psychologist must remain vigilant in his or her attention to different hypothesis that can garner the most effective course of action to each child’s unique sensibilities. Moreover, it is imperative that ultimately the intervention be implemented with fidelity, integrity, and in a timely manner for time spent in the process is lost in instruction (Peacock et al., 2010).

Legislative influences are just as important, if not more so, in driving the. Within Chapter 14 of the New Jersey Special Education Administrative Code, Title 6A, the legal responsibilities of school psychologists are methodically detailed. Expectations and rights ranging from school psychologists’ responsibilities, parental involvement and consent, special education classifications, Child Study Team (CST) duties, etc. are disseminated. The New Jersey Parental Rights in Special Education (PRISE) provides a more reader friendly version of the statutes, specifically focusing on all parental and child rights and applicable courses of action. Although the two are meant to clearly elucidate both the internal mechanisms and procedures for providing special services, along with the rights and avenues available to parents, they can at times more closely resemble the format of confusing tax forms.

The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) in its Professional Conduct Manual outlines attempts at dovetailing school psychologists’ professional ideals with legislative responsibilities. Ethical guidelines are provided which are part and parcel with providing professional services emphasizing empathy, cultural sensitivity, confidentiality, and overall proper conduct. What is most interesting, however, are the Guidelines for the Provision of School Psychological Services, which provide the underlying goals and direction of school psychology and all its supportive systems. They serve as a model of “good practice” for the field as a whole, as well as aspirations that should be striven for.
Utilizing a synapsis of the relevant literature, theories, and guidelines that dictate the current and potential future practice of school psychology, we now draw your attention to some specific and salient issues and the questions they command.

• The demographics of the United States are changing at a pace that rivals any other time in our history. Together with these changes in the social makeup of our communities, are the ever-increasing financial and acculturative pressures born by minorities in particular. With these realities in mind, are the explanations provided with PRISE sufficient for all parents? That is, are they clear to all cultures, socio-economic statuses, and education levels? Are further supportive measures necessary to ensure all parents fully understand the rights their children and they deserve?

• Procedures are set in place to guide school psychologists and CST’s from referral, to assessment, to intervention, and beyond. Throughout this processes, data-driven decision-making is stressed and employed. IEP’s stipulate that reevaluations are to be conducted every three years, yet RTI’s ongoing progress monitoring can be weekly, even daily, to ensure relevant data are collected and confirm efficacy of interventions. Shouldn’t these evaluation schedules be more proportional to each other if they seek to produce the same theoretical outcome? That is, is a three-year gap between evaluations conducive to effective IEP implementation?

• NASP’s ethical and “good practice” guidelines possess strong ideals that should be anchored in all school psychologists’ underlying principals. It fails, however, in suggesting how to effectively balance its ideals with practical implementation in school districts, which oftentimes do not possess the resources, structures or values for effective problem-solving methodologies to flourish. In fact, NASP states, “Ethical behavior may occasionally be forbidden by policy or law…” (NASP, 2000). Therefore, how might state legal guidelines set forth in Chapter 14 of the New Jersey Special Education Administrative Code, Title 6A be congruent or in opposition with those within NASP’s Professional Conduct Manual? Does the former impose limitations that erode the spirit of the latter? If so, how would you suggest one could more harmoniously bring the two together?

• In a functional analysis of behavior, antecedent and consequence variables are experimentally manipulated to verify the function of behavior, and the effects are compared to increase the validity of intervention selection decisions. In this way functionally significant target variables linked to interventions can be clarified (Peacock et al., 2010). With laws and codes for the performance of school psychology, under NJ Administrative Code Title 6A, delineating actions of school psychologists to the point of diagnosis, along with school districts’ budgets being slashed every year, do you as a future school psychologist feel that you will be able to implement a functional analysis approach? Do you feel state statutes, as they stand, limit your ability to fully utilize your skills as a professional? Furthermore, who do feel is, or should be, the ultimate arbiter that dictates the field’s future direction?

• According to PRISE, parents have rights to refer their children for assessment and according to NJ Administrative Code Title 6A, school psychologists have a professional right to determine what type of assessment is appropriate, and if an assessment is warranted. Peacock (2010) details 3 principles for selecting high-quality academic intervention (p.116):
• Know why and when academic intervention strategies work.
• Select intervention components that match the student's instructional needs.
• Prove that the intervention is valid for the student.

Clearly, not all referrals necessitate the same type of assessment and intervention. It would be your task to effectively apply the steps above in your determination. As a school psychologist, how will you explain to the parent that you do not believe a "full assessment" is appropriate for their child, or that a simpler and less intrusive action is appropriate based on your professional evaluation? What alternative actions beyond formal assessment are available for suggestion?

"Don't become a mere recorder of facts, but try to penetrate the mystery of their origin." Ivan Pavlov

This BLOG entry was created by Fabio Simao & Rivca Modiano Zacharia.


Roseann Brizan said...

At the beginning of each school year, the district board of education shall have in effect an IEP for every student who is receiving special education and related services from the district (N.J.A.C. 6A:14-3-7) . The information obtained through RTI’ s ongoing progress monitoring can be used to develop the student’s IEP which is done at least on an annual basis. The information obtained through the RTI process allows the Case Manager to have the most up to date information which will assist in planning educational programming for the student. At the annual IEP meeting progress reports from both the special education and general education teacher’s, as well as related services providers if applicable are also used to assist in developing an IEP. It is my belief that information obtained through RTI’s ongoing process will allow Case Manager to have current information about the student’s academic progress which is measurable . This information will assist the CST with making appropriate programming decisions on an annual basis as well as strategies to help the child make adequate progress.

Rifka Zacharia said...

RTI responds to the need of struggling students who don't meet eligibility requirements for special education but have difficulty with some aspect of learning. It also supports teachers with standard protocols drawn from evidence-based practices for intervention when students need more support.
RTI at its best presents an educational approach that meets children's educational needs by mutlidisciplinary teams (professionals from different related fields including special education,speech pathology, occupational therapy, music therapy, physical therapy, etc)working together to address the child's special needs.It is important to bring the family in to work in partnership as part of the problem-solving approach. RTI approach encourages progress monitoring, as children develop and their strengths and needs change, the educational services must also change.

Olivia said...

I think all of the questions you raised are not only thought provoking, but also incredibly pertinent to the field in which we will be entering. I think one of the issues which seems to be a common threat throughout the class and your post, is the disjointed nature between all of the moving parts that go into school psychology and special education. As you noted, there is the legal side of the whole thing as well as the individual child and parents. More often than not, I should think that a member on one side of the equation may only be familiar with that aspect of it and not the other. For example, a lawyer who is drafting the laws regarding how often IEP’s should be reevaluated may have never spent much time in a special education classroom with the children who are utilizing the resources, which they, as lawyers, effectively control. On the other hand, a school psychologist who has spent their career inside of a classroom and is now “forced” to integrate legal issues, may find it quite frustrating. Thus, I would like to see more training across the fields. The school psychologists must be educated thoroughly on the legality pertaining to IEP’s and the like, and the legal authorities need to spend sufficient time in the classroom to see the knock-on effects that these laws have.
In addition to this you brought up the excellent point of accessibility. You said that “The demographics of the United States are changing at a pace that rivals any other time in our history. Together with these changes in the social makeup of our communities, are the ever-increasing financial and acculturative pressures born by minorities in particular.” This is a hugely important factor. The U.S. census bureau released in 2012 that 49.9% of all children under the age of 5 are ethnic minorities (Sherwell, 2013). I would like to know in how many languages the Special Education New Jersey Administrative Code, Title 6A available. On top of that, even if one could access it in their native language, how far would that get them? It is hard enough sitting in an IEP meeting as a parent, trying to understand all the acronyms and technical words; but what if the meeting wasn’t in your own language? Are these parents just expected to speak English? And if they don’t, does that mean that their child should suffer due to communication barriers?
On a final note, we talk about the laws being the same throughout the state. Yet, the resources are not the same throughout the state. Some districts simply do not have the financial means to provide as many resources as perhaps the more well-off areas. That being said, how do we as future school psychologists face this? We have laws which are supposed to be “universal,” we are all being educated to the same standards and being taught the same information, and we have all (hopefully) chosen to be here because we want, in some way, to help. We want to help the children who need it. However, what would you do if you had to choose between a poor district, where you know there will be almost too much red tape and not enough resources to help as many students as you’d like, or a wealthy district which will always provide the best resources? In all honesty, I think when push comes to shove, most would choose the latter as it means we can achieve our goal of helping as much as possible. But then ask yourself, what about the children in the other districts? Who is going to help them? Who is responsible for them?

Craig Barriale said...

Building upon the IEP comments, I believe it is important to note the parents' rights and involvement in the process. Parents “have the right to participate in meetings regarding: identification (decision to evaluate); evaluation (nature and scope of assessment procedures); classification (determination of whether your child is eligible for special education and related services); development and review of your child’s individualized education program (IEP); educational placement of your child; and reevaluation of your child” (NJDOE, 2012, p. 1).

That being said, I have been fortunate enough to experience this process in multiple settings. I am currently a high school teacher at Fair Lawn High School, but my first year of teaching was in the Belleville School District. I have attended IEP meetings in both districts and would like to briefly share my experiences with regards to the parents' involvement. In Belleville, I attended about six IEP meetings over the course of one school year. A theme of all these meetings was that the parents were either unaware of their rights, did not speak English and took a passive role during the meetings, or did not show up at all. At the time, I thought this was commonplace and did not think much of it. Additionally, I was not aware of the parents' rights like I am now since taking courses in the School Psychology Program. I am now in my third year of teaching at Fair Lawn High School and notice a stark difference in the IEP meetings I have attended there. At Fair Lawn it is common for both parents to attend the IEP meeting and they always come prepared with questions, comments, documentation, etc. It also seems as though they are aware of the aforementioned rights afforded to them by the New Jersey Department of Education. As a teacher, this is encouraging to see because the best interests of the children is paramount. I asked the school psychologist that I am shadowing if she has noticed any differences in parental involvement throughout her career. Unfortunately, she has only worked in Fair Lawn High School as a school psychologist so she could not comment, but she did explain how she keeps in constant contact with the parents of her cases so they are aware of any changes.

Building upon the parent involvement topic, I would like to comment on something I appreciated in Chapter 6A:14. Part of it encourages schools to provide joint training activities for parents and special education personnel. This process of collaboration can only help all parties involved. I have not seen any at my school, but I am a general education teacher so these activities may be going on unbeknownst to me. Overall, I feel that as a teacher, parent, or school psychologist we should make a concerted effort to demystify the IEP process and build transparency.

New Jersey Department of Education. (2006). Chapter 6A:14, Special Education.

New Jersey Department of Education. (2012). Parental Rights in Special Education.

Fabio Simao said...

It is certainly interesting hearing Craig’s differing perspectives of parental involvement from two different school districts since it effectively puts a face to the issues we’re discussing. From the one, you’re somewhat jaded by a process which appears to have “passive” parenting while being encouraged with the integral collaboration you see in the other. What is the common thread that weaves through this disparity? Why are the supports given in Chapter 14, Title 6A, and delineated in PRISE, embraced by one and dismissed by the other? Can it come down to the realities of a rapidly changing demographic in our society as Olivia referred to?

Anyone familiar with New Jersey’s neighborhoods knows full well the discrepancy of socio-economic status (SES) between places like Belleville versus Fair Lawn. Along with the polarity of SES, there comes an inherent difference in social makeup. Having grown up in Newark as an immigrant of a Portuguese family struggling to make ends meet, I can tell you that low SES isn’t necessarily synonymous with parental passivity. True, some parents may show an unwillingness to become invested in problems they see as responsibilities of the school district, but I venture to say most suffer instead from the situations they must overcome. That is, they see their priorities more so in putting food on the table, clothing on their kids backs, and survival in a world that seems stacked against them at each turn. Do they love their kids any less? Do they not want the same opportunities afforded to their more well off peers?

Low SES has been shown to be correlated with everything from lower educational levels, higher crime rates, higher stress levels, and a number of other maladies. Although ignorance isn’t a social construct often used – and I use the term ignorance not in a pejorative manner but rather as an informative means – it can be argued that lower SES carries with it a degree of ignorance of social and legal rights. As Craig astutely said, we must build transparency yet it serves us no purpose if parents do not, or are incapable of, recognizing what they are looking at. This is where school psychologists must fall back on NASP’s guiding principals in the application of professional protocols. We must be advocates for those children that need it the most. Those that may not have the support system of a parent that represents them in IEP meetings; those that sorely need a voice in a process that is heavily reliant on parents, caregivers, and/or mentors that understand the rights they are entitled to. I’m not saying we should become a parent figure, or replace the needed parental involvement they must attain from home, but we surely must travel beyond what is required by law and protect those that don’t and can’t protect themselves.

In this light, I ask you: should school psychologist take on a philosophy that places its priorities within a proactive or reactive attitude? Is it just another job that involves the competent implementation of an acquired skill set, or must it go beyond the letter of the law and speak to the spirit of the law? Where do those boundaries lie?

Lisa Kleitsch said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lisa Kleitsch said...

Addressing the question, “are the explanations provided with PRISE sufficient for all parents?”, and after reading the PRISE document, I find it to be rather comprehensive and user friendly. However, I do not doubt that most parents find navigating the world of Special Education as difficult, frustrating, and potentially a bureaucratic labyrinth of information. So one may ask, how much more frustrating, difficult, and bureaucratic must it be for someone who may be in a difficult economic situation with two jobs and may not have the time to make the necessary phone calls or someone who cannot read or speak English well. I would assume it would feel like a monumental task trying to understand everything that is provided and what one may need to further advocate for. So I would say that the explanations in PRISE are a very good place to start but further assistance would likely be necessary. Related to this, however, I did think it was very help that forms, phone numbers, and addresses are provided in the resource section in the back. If a parent has a question regarding a specific issue or disability, the information is there to offer assistance.

New Jersey Department of Education. (2012). Parental Rights in Special Education.

Lisa Kleitsch said...

In today’s educational climate, school psychologists have an opportunity to serve as data and decision making consultants for schools and school systems (Peacock, Ervin, Dally III, & Merrell, 2010). Data based decision making is required of school psychologists and expected from school supervisors but also by parents who want to see quantifiable results.

One of the poster’s comments regarding the idea of “good practice” guidelines from NASP and how its strong ideals function in real life, every day situations brought to mind a recent conversation I had with a parent of a child with autism. This child entered her school year with an IEP plan in place including ABA treatment (Applied Behavior Analysis) clearly required. As the year progressed, the parent asked to see the data, in other words, the evaluation of the ABA treatment and whether or not progress was being made. No data was provided. Time passed and the parent once again requested the data. When the data was presented, it revealed that her daughter’s progress had regressed and she could no longer write or spell her name. Ultimately, she and her husband requested a due process hearing – a legal process in which the resolution of a disagreement between you and the school district is decided by an administrative law judge (ALJ) from the Office of Administrative Law (OAL) (NJDOE, 2012, p. 17). Long story short, the result of the due process hearing was an admission on the school’s part that the ABA treatment was never administered and that to avoid litigation, the district agreed to pay for any school in which the girl’s parents deemed appropriate to send her.

I found this to be rather shocking but interesting because I am not yet a school psychologist and do not fully understand the limitations of the school, its resources or staff and what this meant to them in terms of the ethical ramifications of not following through with an agreed upon IEP plan. I certainly recognize that I am only hearing one side of the story, but as a future school psychologist, will I have to face such an ethical dilemma? Where I assume others are involved in the decision as to whether or not to follow through with a particular IEP plan, aren’t I also responsible particularly if I don’t agree withholding a required intervention is ethical but have no influence to re-direct what is occurring?

I think the poster bringing up the issue of the ideal in comparison with what actually may or may not happen in one’s daily work as a school psychologist to be something we must be vigilant about in order to promote self-awareness about the responsibilities of the job and one’s own level of professionalism and integrity.

Peacock, G. G., Ervin, R. A., Daly III, E. J., & Merrell, K. W. (2010). Practical handbook of school psychology. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

Fabio Simao said...

Lisa, Your story is at the very least disturbing. The ethical questions it raises I believe go to the heart of NASP's Professional Conduct Manual's underlying message. Ethical professional conduct should be a shared responsibility between school psychologists, teachers, administrators, parents, and applicable support staff. However, it is my belief that school psychologists have the capacity to convey a certain amount of credibility and stature that not only carries a certain amount of capital, but also a unique responsibility to be team leaders. This inherent professional and ethical function must be buttressed by the "good practice" guidelines which dictate an advocacy role. Indeed it would be a tough position to be in, yet we must make sure we head off these potential pitfalls before they reach critical and irreversible points. In a way, we must be the baker, the butcher, and the candlestick maker. Dropping any of the many hats we are required to keep juggling would, in essence, be letting a child fail. Question is, is the above ideal for professional conduct all pie in the sky or an attainable goal? That is something we will undoubtedly struggle with in the years to come.

Lisa Kleitsch said...

Fabio, Our professor recently stated, “Don’t be seduced by the simplicity” of the problem solving approach in school psychology. Similarly, I think the same may go for NASP’s manual of conduct in the sense that situations will come up and our ideals will be tested. Such ideals or ethical standards are there, because, essentially, they have to be. In every profession that deals with the care and treatment of people, a code of ethics must exist. But when “black and white” is not available, the gray area emerges. In the situation I mentioned, it is rather clear to me what should have happened. Why it didn’t, I have no idea. It is rather perplexing, and, as you say, disturbing, to say the least. However, I do agree with you that ethical professional conduct should be a shared responsibility and that as school psychologists we will have a certain amount of credibility and stature. I would add, or, at least, I would hope, authority as well. I also agree in the bottom line statement that we are there to advocate for the child and dropping one of our “hats” as you say, is tantamount to failing the child. I don’t think the ideals in the conduct manual are “pie in the sky” but, as I mentioned, one’s ideals can be tested and that is when unity and support from other professionals will be critical. Additionally, what do we have as professionals in such a human endeavor as advocating for children if we don’t have our ideals? We must always be striving for what is best and, though, it may age us all, I believe it is ultimately the purpose of this work.

Rifka Zacharia said...

APA and NASP Ethics code require that School Psychologists do no harm and practice ethically. That at times means rising above the minimum requirements of the law and being a professional that provides services at a higher level. Often times families, especially families where English is not spoken or not the primary language, the parents don’t know what their rights are. PRISE does explain their rights and is available in different languages. It is given to all families when the assessment process is initiated (it is not known if the family reads and comprehends the full document). If a family needs an interpreter for IEP meetings, they may bring a family member or may not know how to ask for one. As has been stated by Fabio, Craig, Lisa and Olivia, it is incumbent on the school psychologist to be an advocate not only for the child/student, also for the family.
I believe in order to best help a child integrate the services they need, you have to understand the family dynamics because what is started in school has to be supported in the home. As Fabio said, there are a host of reasons why parents may not be able to participate in school meetings or their child’s educational career – not wanting to may not be one of the reasons. Understanding the parent’s situation can help to understand why a child may be having difficulty in school and what type of remediation is necessary. Scheduling meetings at different times (i.e. evenings), offering interpreters, being respectful of cultural differences (male/female meetings) can help mediate some of these hurdles that parents have with school personnel.
Most of the laws prescribed by NJ6A are in the interest of the child and their family, they are organic about how things are to be done and diagnosed. There are many laws and procedures that school psychologists must follow in the interest of providing services to children and their families, these laws are also to safeguard the psychologist in this litigious society.

Fabio Simao said...

Lisa, I wholeheartedly agree. Simple is always the easy way out. This is one of the reasons we chose the Pavlov quote that states that we need to “penetrate the mystery of [our data’s] origin.” Assessments, classifications, and deflecting responsibility are always easy. Doing the minimum required by Chapter 14, Title 6A and painting by numbers is likewise the simple and easy way. No doubt our purpose should rise well above this minimum standard required by law as Rifka said. Going further into Rifka’s comments in regards to this discussion point, in order to better understand the family dynamics and how they influence the child, it is imperative we look beyond the overt quantitative data we garner from standardized assessments. We need to delve into the covert qualitative data that is only attainable from deft observation and an innate ability to establish a meaningful rapport. These are things no law can demand, nor is it something that can be easily taught. I think it is, however, the ultimate purpose of our work.

EstelaLopez said...

While reading the NJ administrative Code Title 6A and The New Jersey Parental Rights in Special Education (PRISE), I couldn't help but notice the ease in reading PRISE in comparison to the first document. The first explains the technicality and legality of issues while the latter explains the rights of parents to the services given to their child. As many have previously commented, this will be an easier read for parents, especially those fluent in English. Those of a native language other than English can obtain resources in order to help understand the services being offered to their child. As mentioned in PRISE, parents have the right to an interpreter, translator, and even sign language but I cannot help but wonder how many times are these resources not being used?

My experience in providing in-home services to families has lead me to believe parents appear to be left out in the dark as to the specifics in services their children are receiving. Parents, especially those who do not read, write, or speak English trust the school system. They trust that the professionals working with their child have the best interest. Previously living in an urban now suburban area has also provided me with the perspective that parents in better socio-economic standing are more involved in their child's education. Most (of course not all) parents who struggle financially invest their time working and trying to keep up with the bills rather than being involved with the counselor and teachers providing care for their child. Now, don't get wrong and assume parents of lower socio-economic status are not involved in their child's education because they do not care, but rather are not as involved as they would like because their priority can be trying to make ends meet. Of course this may not apply to all families but rather an opinion based on experience of working with families of various backgrounds. You have all previously mentioned excellent reasons as to why parents may not be as involved and attend IEP meetings and this is true. What I mentioned above is what appears in my opinion to be the obvious reason as to why parents are not as involved when comparing socio-economic statuses and cultures.

Parents trust the teachers, counselors, school psychologists and all other professionals involved because of the authoritative positions held. As Lisa mentioned, our purpose for this work is to strive towards what is best for the child which is essentially the core of this job. It goes far beyond than simply assessing a child and hoping someone else will follow through. It is more about becoming an advocate and supervising the child's progress. As professionals,having our best interest in the child is our priority and that requires analyzing an assessment before it can be implemented.

As Fabio mentioned in the first blog entry, not all referrals necessitate the same type of assessment and intervention and I completely agree which is why there are different interventions which many times can be proven to be ineffective or effective. I can imagine the challenge of a school psychologist of not becoming overly confident about ones ability to select effective interventions. I believe the three principles for selecting high-quality academic intervention are important in order to have the most effective intervention. It is highly crucial of us to approach an intervention with a critical eye before selecting an intervention that appears to be the easiest choice. Parents trust us and if having the first intervention fail and continue with intervention after intervention will eventually harm the student rather than help because that would be time lost which could have been invested on education. The multi-tiered prevention and intervention models can be beneficial for addressing the student's needs if done correctly by all professionals involved and this often times means following up with the IEP plan not only when required by the school district.

Fabio Simao said...

A cornerstone of the problem-solving method is the notion that the focus should be placed squarely on what is alterable or can be changed (Peacock et al., 2010). Though not all parents will be as involved in their child’s IEP and other academic processes, it is nevertheless a situation that is out of our control. We can attempt to assist the parents but only to the degree they are receptive to it. On the other side of the coin (and as the school psychologist I’m shadowing mentioned), you have the over involved parent. Both scenarios can be argued are less than ideal and, more importantly, fall completely out of the boundaries of our influence. What we can focus on is the child when he or she is in that school building five days a week. We should focus on what we can change both procedurally and directly with the child. Doing so will be a challenge of in itself, yet it is one we can expect to accomplish with a degree of certainty; provided we effectively apply our developing skill set, maintain a high degree of empathy, and trust not only empirically derived data but also our instincts.

Florencia Torres said...

A lot of good questions were raised and many good points were made throughout the blog.
In regards to the question about US demographics and whether the information in PRISE is user friendly and sufficient for all parents – of different cultures, socioeconomic status, and education levels- I believe the information stated in PRISE could be if the system worked according to the theory. I think PRISE does a good job at explaining the parental rights using simple English. I give PRISE credit for listing resources such as: State Parents Advocacy Network (SPAN) and the Disability Rights New Jersey (DRNJ) that parents can contact and use if they have questions or if they need further assistance understanding their rights. It is imperative that all these agencies have personnel that can cater to the non-English speaking families. PRISE also states that parents have the right “to have an interpreter, a translator, or a sign language interpreter provided by the school at no cost to you when necessary” (PRAISE, 2) and that “ The district must give you a statement explaining sources you may contact for assistance in understanding the Special Education Rules”(PRISE, 4). It is also stated that written notices of any decisions that were made or actions that were proposed or denied “must be in language understandable to general public and in your native language or other principal mode of communication”. The above statements summarize valid efforts made by the state of New Jersey to make parents aware of their rights under the especial education laws including families of different cultures, language, and socioeconomic status. Some suggestions I have to help improve this issue are:
1- PRISE should be translated to different languages. Even if a translator explains parents their rights, there is so much to learn that a copy on the native language would be very helpful for parents to have as a reference.
2- Despite the fact that many efforts are being made to include non-English speaking families they will always experience issues fitting in if they don’t learn the English language. I believe translators and interpreters are great tools but they serve as “band-aids” for the root cause of the problem. The truth is that if parents don’t learn the native language they will always be at disadvantage and they could represent an inconvenience for the child study team. Maybe a good way to solve for this would be to encourage parents to sign up for English classes or even figure out way where parents can learn communication skills and conversational skills in English through the district or County at a minimal cost to them.

Florencia Torres said...

Tagging on the point that Olivia brought about the uneven distribution of resources among the state, I think it is important to set aside time to think about it.
The state of NJ through The NJDE Chapter 14 title 6 makes each district responsible for the Especial Education services provided to the students stating: “Each district board of education is responsible for providing a system of free, appropriate special education and related services to students with disabilities of age 3 to 21 which shall…” (Page 6). I certainly don’t think that is fair that the academic/social development of a student with disabilities in district “A” is impaired due to the lack of resources while a student with the same disabilities in district “B” is working towards self development and self improvement. The School Psychologist I shadow said to me that she has approximately 50 students on her case load while other districts’ School Psychologists can have up to 75. This difference astonished me. How can a school Psychologist do his/her job appropriately with a case load ratio of 1:70? How can a student with learning disabilities be receiving proper attention and follow-up? Unfortunately, this is an issue that is beyond us as professionals in the field. We could encourage parents to advocate for regulations but we, as school psychologists, cannot solve the problem. It is the state that makes the district responsible to provide for students with special needs; therefore, the state should act as a regulatory body overseeing the districts budgets and allocating or re-allocating resources to less-privileged areas in order to narrow the budget gap. There is a big discrepancy between 50 and 75 students per case load. There should be a state-regulatory agent advocating and creating a framework for an effective and equally distributed implementation of services among the different districts. Parents have the power to pressure for change. Maybe school psychologists should stand behind the parents to make this change possible.

Florencia Torres said...

I would also like to build upon the RTI and IEP question. The blog states “IEP’s stipulate that reevaluations are to be conducted every three years, yet RTI’s ongoing progress monitoring can be weekly, even daily, to ensure relevant data are collected and confirm efficacy of interventions. Shouldn’t these evaluation schedules be more proportional to each other if they seek to produce the same theoretical outcome?”
RTI or Response to Intervention service models often operate at a multi-tiered level. Tier 1 has a systems target. Tier 2 targets the -smaller- group that didn’t perform as stipulated during intervention on tier 1. Tier 3 targets the students that didn’t perform as stipulated during the intervention on tier 2. Students with learning disabilities often fall on Tier 3. It is my understanding that the IEP is developed for students that fall mostly under Tier 3. The goals of the IEP are established taking in consideration the academic deficits exposed after the RTI Tier 2 strategy intervention.
If I read correctly An IEP evaluation determines if the child’s eligibility for special education and related services should be continued (PRISE, 11). In other words, it determines whether the child qualifies to be considered a general education student. An RTI strategy measures the efficacy of the intervention technique that ultimately aims to target the academic progress of the student. Many times, the child study team can determine the progress of the student by just looking at data – without the need of assessment-. If the student is doing well let’s say the student moved from tier 3 to tier 2, they could make a transition to a less restrictive environment before placing him/her in a general ed classroom with no aid. I don’t see a major issue having the IEP evaluation every three years since the learning process for many of these students is often slower than for the rest. Parents have the right to ask for an annually IEP evaluation, and teachers can also ask for one if they consider it necessary. I think you can justify an annual IEP re-evaluation for certain students – normally the ones who scored just below the cut score on certain areas and present an average or just below average IQ measure- since the goal of such assessment would be to declassify the student.
I imagine it must reassuring for parents to know that they have the right to ask for a yearly IEP assessment if they consider it necessary. Psychologists have to be careful when assessing a student within a short period of time (one year or less) due to practice effects.

Fabio Simao said...

Flor’s comments on Olivia’s post bring to light yet another aspect that plagues the field: politics and the hornets nest that come with it. I’m certainly not going to get into the ideologies of the left, right, and those in between, but it is obvious that government isn’t always the best judge of prudent decision-making. Would adding more government regulation and oversight benefit the system, or would politics inevitably derail the best of intentions? Would it serve to level the playing field across the state for all districts, or succumb to further restrictions and/or limitations placed on the system and field? I would like to hope that the benefits could be tangible yet if history is any indication, when money, politics, and matters intrinsically foreign to government officials are put together the product often falls well short of its stated goals. An alternative, perhaps, would be to bolster the lobbying power of NJASP and NASP to effect real change. Nevertheless, the disparity that is undoubtedly present between affluent and poor - not to mention predominantly minority - communities must be addressed.

Rozanna Shindelman said...

PRISE guidelines are intended for all parents of children in special education regardless of socio-economic status, culture, or education level. The explanations in PRISE stress that it is the responsibility of the school district to receive parental consent before pursuing an evaluation or the implementation of any special service. Parents who are limited by any of these factors are entitled to an interpreter or translator at no cost to them. The school district is responsible for providing parents with all written documentation regarding their child’s services in a manner that is understandable to them.

If IEP evaluations would be conducted sooner than every three years, the chance results would be invalid increases. A child may display practice effects if tested too frequently. However, as explained in PRISE, an evaluation could be given sooner if conditions warrant it or if a parent or teacher requests it. RTI personnel monitor the child’s progress in the duration of the IEP, however, progress doesn’t mean there needs to be a change in services or a dismissal of services. A child with a disability doing well in school could directly correlate with the services he or she is receiving.

Regarding the question on state statutes, I agree that they limit the ability of a school psychologist to utilize his or her entire skill set. The school psychologist I am currently shadowing in Staten Island, NY explained to me that in recent years funding in New York City has been cut and as a result he is now performing the duties of an LDTC. He simply has no time for anything besides testing. Prior to this funding cut he would engage individual and group counseling sessions with students which can be extremely beneficial to their educational as well as overall wellbeing. The job of a school psychologist is unfortunately becoming primarily involved with testing.

New Jersey Department of Education. (2012). Parental Rights in Special Education.

Alicia B. said...

I think that its good that you addressed the topic of PRISE in relation to cultures, education levels and socioeconomic statuses. Earlier in the week when reading through the PRISE, I thought of similar questions myself. Overall I think that the New Jersey Department of Education did a fair job on writing Parental Rights in Special Education. I think that the topics are organized and thorough. The resources at the end of the document provide information for parents that may be helpful for them, which can come in handy. Although I can understand most of what information is being relayed through the PRISE, I think that it may be somewhat difficult for other individuals in different cultures and education levels. People from other cultures may have a hard time interpreting what is trying to be taught in the PRISE. The English language may not be able to be directly translated to the language of another, making the PRISE difficult to understand. When reading through the different topics I think individuals that have low education levels may become anxious with the wordiness of the PRISE. It may be hard for them to comprehend all at once. In reference to individuals’ socioeconomic status it may be harder for parents to be fully involved in their child’s process of referrals, consultations, assessments and interventions due to the fact that they need to focus on their own work to make money. For parents of all different cultures, socioeconomic statuses and education levels I think there should be seminars held where professionals in the schools can help them understand more about the PRISE. If parents had any questions to be clarified they would be able to ask. In a perfect world this seems like the right idea, but I’m not sure many schools would adopt this idea as it makes some days longer for certain school personnel. There could also be places around the state that holds these seminars for parents to have a better understanding of this process for their child. There is one more topic that I’d like to address. When reading through the PRISE, some parents may become overwhelmed with the length of it and trying to understand it while also being overwhelmed at the fact that there may be an issue with their child. Maybe there could be some resources included that could help parents cope.

Rifka Zacharia said...

I agree as has been said here that PRISE is an important document to give to parents of children who have been referred for assessment. For families where English is not the native language, the PRISE document can be one more overwhelming piece of the process to comprehend. It is many pages and as much as it is written to the lay person, it can be intimidating. Learning Disabilities are often genetic and if a child has a learning disability there is a chance that the parent does as well, so who will help the parent decipher the PRISE document? Without reading and comprehending PRISE, parents do not know their rights and their child's rights so they don't know how to advocate for their family or are too intimidated to ask for assistance.
In NJ school budgets are contingent on property tax revenues, austerity of the community, politics, parental involvement, and a host of other issues. It's true that some districts receive more funding than other districts who most likely need it more financial support than they get and more special services. They are the districts where the teachers, school psychologists and aides are overburdened. It would be ideal if the state took education out of politics but that is never likely to happen. Unfortunately, it gives them too much of a budget to play with and too many fingers to point.
Having 2 children who have gone through the school system and having volunteered and substitute taught in NJ Schools, I do believe that most educators, school psychologists and aides are there to bring good education and service to children and their families. Often times, they go beyond the parameters of their jobs to advocate for children and support them as best they can.

Lawrence said...

"I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 things that do not work" is the perfect quote for any good school psychologist. In today's world of school psychology, failing really isn't that big of a bad thing. Now that the field is dominated mainly by the RTI (response to intervention) approach instead of the problem solving approach, failing is something that will happen to the best of us. Failed interventions simply mean that the methods you tried as a school psychologist to fix the problem the student is having isn't working. I would look at this at a good thing because I would know there's one less intervention I need to test, and that I'm one step closer to finding the intervention that will help this kid. As mentioned in the blog, it takes cohesion between the school psychologist, teachers, and school administrators to effectively implement an intervention. This can be difficult due to the impact of one party's negligence to the integrity of the intervention. I feel the intervention should be based on the scientific method to implement interventions that are high in validity and reliability, as well as effectiveness. An intervention will not be as effective without the participation of everybody influential in the child's life. Getting everyone involved is something that the school psychologist will just have to deal with every time they are developing I.E.P's, because it is vital to obtaining changed behavior, as well as properly measuring these changes as they occur. The multitude of dynamic responsibilities can be confusing and frustrating at times, but I don't feel it should cause too many problems because it is something we deal with all the time when something is practiced at both state and national levels. We can take laws for example; there are federal laws, then there are state laws, which both govern us. In basketball there are rules that need to be followed by all the players in the National Basketball Association, but the rules slightly differ in local leagues. However, I do feel that some type of organization should be implemented to make things more clear, especially when some of ideas and reforms contradict ideas and reforms of other organizations as mentioned in the blog. I think it might be easier for each state to follow the guidelines specifically for their area, while the federal organizations take more of a supervisor position in the matter. I don't know if that would help, but I do think it could possibly alleviate a small portion of the confusion and frustration that exist within the school psychology community. Thank you

drkitzie said...

The following was written by Roseann Briza @ 5:53pm as per blog email I received. I did not see it posted however, so I cut and paste it below since I think it is quite informative.
Please allow me to clarify my previous statement. I am aware that RTI is used for students who are not receiving special education. However, children who are eligible for special education and related Services receive strategies and interventions and the way a child responds to the intervention and strategies assists the Multidisciplinary Team in developing appropriate programming for the student.

Even though students are reevaluated every three years it is important to note that students are continuously given assessments that assist in the implementation of effective IEP's. For example in the district where I am presently employed all students are administered the Stars Renaissance Assessment which tests a child’s level of proficiency in the areas of Language Arts and Mathematics. Both the students strengths are weakness are noted and strategies are given to improve the student's level of proficiency. This computer based assessment is given several times a year and the progress is tracked and the recommended intervention are modified as needed. The information obtained through the assessment is shared with the parent and school personnel.

In the Present Level of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance (PLAAFP) information obtained from the student, parents, teachers as well as data collected and obtained through the assessments are utilized to assist in developing the students IEP. The data collected through assessments like the Star Renaissance Assessment provides valuable information of the student’s academic weakness and provides strategies to remediate academic deficiencies. This information also assists the Multidisciplinary Team with providing the student with the most effective program to reach academic success.