|What You Need to Know When Dealing With School Districts or Colleges
For over thirty years I have been involved in education. During that time I have seen innumerable examples of school personnel withholding from parents or guardians information regarding the rights of a child. Perhaps this is done from ignorance or from believing that the school official knows what is best for the child. However, without the information you need as parents, you may be powerless to effect a change in your child's education.
What Can You Expect from the School?
When your child enters kindergarten, you can expect a screening to be done to assess the level of development of your child. These screenings often contain a sample of the child’s intelligence, language ability, motor skills and pre-academic skills. What do these screenings mean? By their very nature, screenings are brief. The child is asked to do a list of activities – designed to become more difficult as they progress. This list is often less than ten items per area. The screenings are often done arena-style, which means your child is taken from testing station to testing station while other children are also being tested.
The screenings can offer a sample of what your child can demonstrate that he/she knows, compared with other children the same age, and that can provide some useful information regarding strengths or weaknesses that may need to be addressed. Some school personnel use these screening results to advise parents to keep their child out of kindergarten another year. Be very cautionary in accepting this edict. There is no research that supports holding a child back, either before kindergarten or by having them repeat a grade. The only time it seems to be beneficial for a child to repeat a grade is when the child has missed the learning experience from that grade, for instance in the case of an extended illness.
School personnel seem to base their recommendations for repeating a grade or staying out of kindergarten for an extra year on what they describe as a lack of maturity. This is a very elusive quality. Be aware when you are deciding when to send your child to kindergarten that some of the children will be nearly six years of age. To send your child when he/she is four years old will result in your child being compared with someone nearly two years older developmentally. Still, you need to be the judge of your child’s readiness, taking into consideration the opinion of others – the child’s doctor, the school personnel, etc.
You can expect that your child will learn to count orally at least to 20, count objects up to ten, recognize the alphabet by letter name and sound, write his/her own name. In the current educational climate some kindergartners are even learning to read by the end of the kindergarten year. An extremely important kindergarten skill which is not always taught for optimal success is phonemic awareness. The skills that are believed to be most important for your child to know by the end of kindergarten are being able to tell what sound a word begins with, manipulating the beginning sound of words (changing b at to c at, to h at). The other key task is for your child to tell you the sounds heard in a word. For instance, what are the sounds you hear in the word bat, cart, sled? Hearing and manipulating the sounds of our language is a crucially important pre-reading skill. Rhyming books, like Dr. Seuss, provide your child with some of the playful aspects of phonemic awareness.
You can expect your child to learn to decode words, to be reading fairly fluently (36-75 words read correctly in one minute), to write simple stories, and to add and subtract. One of the best measures of reading skill development is how fluently (fast) your child reads. This is measured by having the child read for one minute and then counting how many words were read correctly in that minute. Fluent reading indicates an efficient decoding process and is a good indicator of reading comprehension, because comprehension problems are often caused by reading that is so labored that the child loses the meaning of the text by the time he/she gets to the end of a sentence.
Your child needs to be reading 60-90 words correctly in one minute, be able to borrow and carry in math, write paragraphs, spell correctly.
Third graders need to be reading 80-115 words correctly in a minute. Multiplication is usually learned in this grade. Writing skills should include correct capitalization, punctuation and spelling. Students learn to express their ideas in an orderly fashion in writing with a beginning, middle and conclusion to their written products.
The pace picks up for expectation of independent work. Fourth graders need to be reading 105-135 words correctly in one minute. Division is taught, and writing includes the expectation of taking notes during teacher presentations.
In many areas fifth grade is designed to prepare the way for middle school, and the more independent learner. Homework expectations often are increased. Written work includes reports that require research. Reading fluency should be 130-160 words read correctly in one minute. Fractions are included in the math curriculum.
Learning to read now changes its focus to reading to learn. Reading skills are applied to all subject areas, with an emphasis on social studies, science, health. Students usually have different teachers for various subjects, the expectation of school work to be done outside class time, and the beginning of electives, like music and art.
A major focus in high school is the expectation that the student learn the subject matter being presented. Emphasis is usually on college preparation or vocational preparation, with the idea of preparing students for their lives after traditional public school.
What Can You Do If Your Child Encounters Difficulty in Learning?
It is important for parents to be aware of their child’s progress from the time he/she enters kindergarten. The sooner intervention can occur for a child who is encountering difficulty, the better the likelihood of success. In fact, current research indicates that if reading difficulties are not corrected prior to third grade, there is far less chance of them being corrected. Stay in contact with your child’s teacher, attend parent-teacher conferences, and look over the schoolwork your child brings home. A good indicator of how well your child is doing in school is the child’s attitude toward school. Successful learners usually like school. As children begin to experience difficulty in learning or in social relationships, the child may develop somatic complaints, like stomachaches, headaches, or a reluctance to go to school. If you begin to have concerns about your child’s progress in learning or in social settings, arrange a meeting with your child’s teacher. Find out what your child’s teacher thinks about your child’s progress, but do remember that you are the one who knows your child best. If you don’t agree with what the teacher says, obtain another opinion.
Some options if your child experiences difficulty:
- Arrange for a tutor to help your child with the skill that is causing difficulty
- Arrange to visit the class so that you can see how your child does, compared with other children in the class.
- Get ideas from the teacher on ways you can work with your child at home.
- Request that the school district conduct a psychoeducational evaluation.
What is a Psychoeducational Evaluation?
If your child continues to have difficulty despite your interventions and those the school provides, he/she may have a learning disability. Under federal law IDEA, your child has the right to a free and appropriate education. The school has the legal obligation to evaluate any student who is suspected of having a learning disability, and the school personnel must respond to a written request for an evaluation. It is usually best to send this request to the director of special education in the district, perhaps with a copy to the child’s teacher and principal of his/her school. If you do not agree with the school’s evaluation, you have the right to an outside evaluation at school district expense.
Following the psychoeducational evaluation there is a meeting at which you as the parents, the classroom teacher, the personnel who conducted the evaluation and the principal decide conjointly whether or not the child qualifies and is in need of specialized instruction through special education. This does not mean a different setting or school. This specialized instruction can usually be conducted at your child’s school in the regular classroom or with some amount of pullout time to a different setting in the same building. If the team determines the child is eligible for special education, an IEP (individual education plan) is written.