Wednesday, April 11, 2018

On Extra Time and IEP Designations

We administered the literacy test yesterday with one new twist that most teachers weren't privy to until the previous evening: There would be no specific accommodations for students with IEPs (Individual Educational Programs) that call for extra time. Instead, we would allow extra time for anyone that needs it.

This is a significant shift in accommodating special needs. It's something I've done for years in my classroom, so I'm already on board. My rationale is about access to the IEP designation. To get an IEP, many students get a professional assessment. This can be done for free through publicly available psychometrists, but there's a wait list that's years long. Or, if you've got the kind of job that insures this, it can be done privately at a cost of two to three thousand dollars. So, right off the bat, there's a bit of a class issue around the designation. Adding to that, there's the fact that many parents aren't aware that this is a thing. Or, if they've heard about IEPs, they don't quite understand what they are or what they're for, and they're not sure they're necessarily a good thing. This all boils down to the reality that in any class, I'll have some kids with noticeable barriers to their ability to do the work who don't have an IEP in place. So I make my tests a bit shorter, then let them do other work once they finish, but let everyone have the full period if they need it.

The downside of this is that some of them slow right down. They take their sweet time and might not  learn to work efficiently, to train their brains to read and think and write all at once in a timely fashion. Thinking quickly is a skill that's useful in most jobs and definitely necessary in college and university. I can only hope that the offer of time to finish other work is enough to make them get their test off the table. My oldest progeny, with IEP in hand, ran into difficulties at university after many years of teachers giving them all the time in the world instead of their specifically allotted time and a half. Their first term was a disaster because they had never learned to write quickly.

For the lit test, one effect was immediate. In previous years, we might have up to a third of our students needing an extra time accommodation. This year, offering an extra 15 minutes per booklet for those who wanted to take it instead of leaving for the full break, plus allowing them to go to a "late room" (I prefer "extra time room") if they wanted more time than that, meant only a handful of students actually took extra time to finish.

What I wonder is, had students known ahead of time (like they will next year), would they have slowed down to take the full double time available? And, this year, sitting in a room where everyone is scrambling to finish in the usual allotted time, with most people getting up to leave at the earliest dismissal time for break and at the end, how many rushed to finish, when otherwise, in a room where everyone was designated extra time, they would have taken the time to craft a better final sentence and more thoroughly check over all their work? That's a concern, for sure.

Despite these potential issues, however, there's something else I really like about the shift. I'm not a fan of labels. I hate when I see people's behaviour mocked, then a bit of backstory about their childhood or their condition, maybe ADHD or ASD or whatever, and suddenly they're treated with more kindness and compassion. But we've all got some issues. We're all a little bit something. Imagine if we could treat one another with kindness and compassion without knowing any backstory! With the IEP designation, some students reveal the framework of their abilities, but others don't. Ignoring the designation, but accommodating everyone as needed, takes away the expectation of always needing the extra time, takes away the 'specialness' of certain kids, and provokes us to see the unique needs of each of our students. And each other.

With my own experiences as a mother with two children with an IEP, I found the process of discovering specific barriers can be enlightening and incredibly useful for the child and parent about half the time. I don't want to throw that away. But how we attend to all these types of designations could use a reworking. It will be interesting to see how this change plays out in the coming years.

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