My son Jay was identified with multiple learning disabilities when he was just a toddler. When he was admitted to a school in New York for special education students, no one knew whether he could ever learn to read. I do not know where in his soul he found the drive and motivation, but he learned to do what many people said could not be done — he learned to read at age nine.
Jay's school was filled with specialists who custom tailored his classes to meet his special needs. But then came the greater challenge. Could he learn subjects such as history, literature, and foreign languages in a regular classroom?
When Jay arrived in a regular middle school, he had compensation strategies thanks to successful early intervention. But his new regular classroom teachers did not know about strategies that would be appropriate for him. They were untrained and unaccustomed to his special needs.
Jay's accommodations were written into his IEP, but the school staff and district administrators refused to read them. So, it was perhaps not surprising that they discouraged Jay from attending his own IEP meetings. Administrators told Jay that he needed to work harder in class and needed the meeting time for coursework. And they told me that he would be traumatized by the reports about himself from the IEP team.
As his parent, I felt that Jay needed to attend every IEP meeting. If he was going to understand what was happening in his education, he had to be part of the process. I couldn't imagine a successful IEP without his buy-in. He had a far better understanding of what was really going on because he was in the classroom.
At one of his IEP meetings, the staff asserted that Jay had made so much progress that he no longer needed an IEP, and that he should be found ineligible for special education services. They were basing this partly on a recent 6th grade standardized test score. There wasn't much logic to their argument.
The staff asserted that Jay got 100% on a recent spelling test. This was important because we had heated controversy about whether Jay's IEP should require un-graded spelling due to his learning disability. The staff argued that Jay should be graded on his spelling in light of his remarkably high reading comprehension score on the recent standardized test — even though the score was inconsistent with Jay's history and with other recent scores.
Then, quite unexpectedly, my son spoke up. He softly explained that the 100% was actually ten words on a quiz that was a make-up — hardly a breakthrough score. This was also inconsistent with his personal educational history. More importantly, he then explained why his reading comprehension score on the standardized test was so high. Jay said that he never actually read the paragraphs that were included with the test!
Never Read The Paragraphs?
Well, the paragraphs were about the terracotta warriors in X'ian China. Coincidentally, we had toured these same warriors in person, five years earlier. The paragraphs were too long to bother with, Jay explained, so when he realized they were asking about the warriors he had already seen, he just answered the questions based on his prior knowledge. So, Jay spent his entire time (including his extended time) answering the multiple-choice questions. He reported they were easy questions: What were the warriors used for? (For defense) Were they alive? (No, they were in a tomb) What was special about them? (No two are alike). Jay knew most of the answers, guessed the rest, and voila — high score!
If Jay had not been at that meeting, the school would have used those two test scores to end his special education services. By speaking up, my son set the record straight and saved his own eligibility.
This story originally appeared in the IDEA Parent Guide.