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Parent's Unofficial Guide to Gifted IEPs and Gifted IEP Meetings
|Where is the student now?|
|Where does the student need to go?|
|When do they get there?|
|How are they going to get there?|
|What do they need to do to get there?|
The content of the sections answers those questions.
Editor's Note: Todd has given us a great elaboration on Present Levels of Educational Performance (PLEPs) - be sure to read it!
Chapter 16: Special Education for Gifted Students calls for Present Level of Educational Performance to be established across all academic areas for the gifted student. The PLEP is established through appropriate objective assessment. The student's present level needs to be established on an as needed, or, at a minimum, on a yearly basis. This rarely happens.
It is common for Gifted IEP teams to rely on the student's outdated psychological test scores, recent report cards, or older performance test information when creating the Gifted IEP. That is a mistake.
A report card by itself does not constitute a Present Level of Educational Performance. Report cards measure how the child did relative to material already presented. Also, report cards do not reflect the actual performance capacity of the child. For example, a student might be capable of working at a level 2-3 grades higher than their current curriculum.
In that situation, the gifted student might get an 'A' in the class, or - depending on the child - they might get a 'C' in the class. It is possible that the gifted child might fail that course due to lack of interest.
Regardless of the grade received in that course, that gifted student would still be working up to three grades below their capability. That student would not be working at their present level of educational performance. This is why the student's present level needs to be assessed through objective testing.
To use a medical analogy, when your child goes for a yearly well-check, the child is weighed and measured each visit. The nurse does not look at the past several visits and plot the next point where it should be based on the history. The child is assessed using objective measurements, a scale to measure weight and a tape measure to determine height.
Similarly, an accurate PLEP requires objective testing to be performed prior to the plan being developed. Some examples of appropriate testing will be given later in this document. Subjective observations like those offered by teachers familiar with your child are useful in preparing a Gifted IEP. However, teacher observations or curriculum 'strength/weakness' checklists do not establish your child's true Present Level of Educational Performance (PLEP).
The phrase 'above grade level' by itself is meaningless in terms of planning appropriate gifted educational programming for a student. It has no place in a Gifted IEP.
If the phrase 'Above Grade Level' is in your child's Gifted IEP you must insist that the level be defined fully; you must insist that a specific grade level be determined. That is a requirement in Chapter 16.
The phrase above grade level is defined by establishing the child's present level (their actual above grade learning level) through appropriate testing. There are any number of achievement tests an evaluator or school psychologist can administer to establish the true "Present Level" for your child's educational performance.
Remember: 'Above grade level' is the equivalent of being told that a child is 'taller than 4 feet' before going shopping for clothes. The team must now what that current educational level is before they can make a plan. That information should be gathered prior to the meeting so that the team can use it during the meeting.
The main point is this: Without good objective data regarding the childs abilities, the Gifted IEP team, regardless of the teaching experience of the people at the table, is just guessing. Do not let that happen. Ask, and insist, that the appropriate tests be given.
You should not have to provide a list of tests to your District. They are obligated to know what tests are appropriate. However, if you are asked what tests you would like your child to be given, your answer should be 'nationally normed achievement tests. Examples of these types of tests include KeyMath, Grays Silent Reading, Test of Written Language, among many others. Once you insist that the achievement testing be done, the school psychologist should make the recommendations regarding which tests will be given.
Goals must be meaningful. Goals must be meaningful to the student to whom they are applied. Goals must also make sense with regard to the overall plan for your gifted child's education. Goals are determined by the identified needs and the desired end result. Nice ideas are not goals. Aphorisms and program mottos are not goals either.
Goals need to be specific to your child, not given to your child because the child is part of a group. Goals themselves do not need to be specific and measurable. The Gifted IEP must allow time and provide resources for the student have the opportunity to reach the plan's goals.
Time and resources needed are planned for in the Short Term Learning Objectives (STLO) section. While Goals do not need to be measurable, STLO associated with reaching the Goals must be specific and measurable. Short-term learning objectives are the 'little' steps taken to reach each goal. Their completion provides the basis by which the team measures your child's progress towards each goal.
From a parent's perspective these two sections should "make sense" when taken together. The Goals and STLO must also make sense to any teacher who teaches your child.
If these two sections do not make sense, for example if the Goals are too generic or if the Goals and STLOs taken together are too vague, too sketchy, and too superficial to be meaningful, you must say so.
If a goal or short term learning outcome is unclear or not appropriate, describe in plain language why you think the proposed goal does not make sense for your child. Explain why you think the outcome is too vague. Discuss why you think both the goal and short term learning outcomes being proposed while appropriate for a group of gifted kids are inappropriate for your specific gifted child. Ask whether goals need to be added. There can be more than one goal. Also, think long term (i.e. years).
This part of the meeting would be a good time to talk about your ideas, hopes, and goals for your child's upcoming year.
The Gifted IEP can be thought of as a framework that generally guides the teachers rather than forcing the teacher to teach to a set of specific actions that was decided on months earlier.
The Gifted IEP at the start of the year creates the overall goals and then provides the measurable timeline within that year that certain tasks are to be accomplished. A goal that is a general allows the teacher to work with the student to identify an appropriate subject and then develop the specifics of the short term learning outcomes with the student according to the timeline.
The STLO section includes the little steps necessary to accomplish the Goal. This approach allows the teacher to work with and adapt to the student, but also ensures that progress is being made towards the Goal.
This section provides a general 'catch-all way to match the classroom experience to your child's particular needs. The SDI Parent's section is where specific issues or challenges your gifted child faces with their schooling are addressed.
The Specially Designed Instruction section is also where programming options you and your child think should be part of School District's Gifted Program can be included. If your child is having problems, especially in the Regular Education environment, the SDI section is the best place to address those problems.
Before discussing the options available to you and the Gifted IEP team in 'Specially Designed Instruction' section, there are three points to consider:
The "Challenge Program" or "GATE Program" or "Enrichment Hour" or pull-out is not, repeat not, the extent of Gifted Education accommodations available to your child, regardless in which School District you reside and regardless of who tells you that it is.
The Chapter 16 Code, the Basic Education Circular, Appeals Panel Decisions, along with common sense and your own experience as a parent, tells you that a gifted child does not switch on at certain predictable times for a certain duration and then switch off. Their needs persist.
Therefore, the needs of the gifted student must be addressed in both Gifted Education settings like Pull-Out programs or Seminar Programs and in the Regular Education environment. If your District tells you that your child will only get "This Gifted Pull-Out Program. Period." then your District has seriously misrepresented your child's rights and their own obligations. You will need to let them know that you understand their obligations.
If the District takes a hard line stance with you, for example if they refuse to appropriately plan for your child, then you will have to make a fundamental decision whether advocating for the needs of your gifted child at Gifted IEP meetings, and possibly going through a Due Process Hearing, is worth your time and effort. But know there are people who can help you make an informed decision.
The most effective way to have an appropriate plan developed and mplemented is to involve Regular Education teachers in the Gifted IEP process.
You can request that your child's Regular Education teacher be invited to the Gifted IEP meeting. A teacher familiar with your child should be there anyway. The person to ask is the LEA/Team Chairperson. All teachers are required to abide by the provisions written in the Gifted IEP.
If a teacher refuses to implement the plan, (for example the Gifted IEP calls for differentiated homework, pre-testing, or alternate class work and it is not done) then you must immediately reconvene the Gifted IEP team to address the issue or go to Due Process to have the plan implemented. If a teacher objects to the Gifted IEP, they can add their written objections to the record.
But the Gifted IEP as proposed by the Gifted IEP team and approved by you must be implemented.
Teachers need to understand what is in the Gifted IEP of a student in their class. There is no FERPA or any privacy restriction preventing any regular or gifted education teacher from looking at all sections of a child's Gifted IEP.
There may be District procedures in place to protect the privacy of the student record. For example, the District may require a Regular Education teacher to sign a log-sheet before they read the Gifted IEP. The District may have other privacy practices in place, but the Regular Education teachers can and should know what is in your gifted child's file.
If you think your child's teacher is not aware of your child's Gifted IEP, or the fact that your child is identified as gifted, ask the teacher. You may want to bring your copy of both the Gifted Written Report and the Gifted IEP with you to a regular Parent/Teacher conference for discussion.
Having read this far, you might be asking yourself:
Okay, so what do I ask for during the Gifted IEP meeting? What sorts of things can I get for my kid?
You can ask for anything that is reasonably calculated to be of meaningful benefit to your child to be written into the Gifted IEP. The good news is that there are no restrictions on what you can ask for. The only limit is that you ask for things that are 'reasonably calculated' to be of 'meaningful educational benefit' to your child using the District's curriculum.
The bad news is you might be breaking new ground within your District. This is especially true if your District typically used pull-out programs only or does not regularly include regular education accommodations for gifted.
In that situation you might ask for something that seems 'reasonable' the District might respond along the lines of: "Well, this is the first time any parent has ever asked us for anything like this to be done.", or "None of our other parents have asked for this". You might get the sense that what you are asking for is a bother for them or a waste of their time.
Whether or not your requested accommodation is a first for the District is not relevant, and is not a reason for rejecting your request. What is relevant is whether or not the requested accommodation is appropriate for your child. That is the benchmark by which accommodations are written into the Gifted IEP.
It's always worthwhile to ask that alternatives and accommodations be considered. Here are examples of accommodations in Specially Designed Instruction for Regular Education:
Differentiated homework Differentiated homework allows the child to do a different set of homework instead of the regularly assigned class homework. This accommodation can help avoid the punitive aspect of gifted programming of doing twice the homework.
This accommodation provides an opportunity to keep the child engaged in their learning and helps them avoid repetitive/rote work. Some examples for this could include writing 2 longer stories per week rather than 5 short stories, having an extra set of vocabulary words, but only doing homework on the extra set, doing 'Math Puzzlers' for homework rather than rote work.
Differentiating homework may require the parent to take an active role at first in recommending resources for the child. You may have to help coordinate the activities between the Gifted Ed teacher and the Regular Ed teacher
Pre-Testing Pre-testing is the process of giving a student a test on the material prior to classroom instruction. Pretesting is used to prevent a student from sitting through a chapters presentation on material that they have already mastered. This can help keep the gifted student engaged in their learning. To know when to pretest, it is crucial that the Team know the current level at which the student performs. This is documented in the first section of the Gifted IEP, the Present Levels of Educational Performance.
If the child passes the pre-test, and the Team can determine what constitutes 'passing', the student has the opportunity to do an alternate assignment rather than sit through the teaching presentation. The exact procedure detailing how this takes place is documented in the Gifted IEP.
The question becomes 'What result demonstrates mastery?" It is an open question and one where the teachers can provide guidance. Some people believe the proper level is 90% or above, others believe it should be 'C' or better. If the student shows near-mastery of the material, the material they missed can be compacted for study. This enables the student to work on that specific portion of the curriculum and then go on to the independent work during the remaining time.
Independent Study Agreements - these can be used to keep the student learning during times when they might otherwise be sitting and waiting for the opportunity to learn. The student has a project or series of small projects on which they can work over the course of a semester when there's time. As the Gifted IEP is one plan composed of part, the Study Agreements should help the student achieve a Goal.
Acceleration Acceleration is a big decision. There are social and emotional considerations to be considered in addition to the academic ones. A decision involving acceleration highlights the need for the team to have good, objective present level data about the students current and potential educational performance.
While acceleration is not always a good thing, the research data shows that more frequently than not, a student working with ability-appropriate material in the classroom is a good thing. Acceleration can be either in a particular subject or it can be a whole grade. The student can, if needed, be 'straddled' across grades.
If your child needs acceleration to benefit meaningfully from their time in Public Education, they can be accelerated, regardless of your District's policies. In some instances, Districts state that they have policies that are better thought of by parents as preferences.
Your District may have a preference against acceleration, even a strong preference that they may state in forceful terms to you. If they do this, do not be dissuaded. Gifted education is based on the student, not the District. If the students needs are such that acceleration is the only means for them to receive meaningful benefit, then the child must be accelerated.
In short: your District cannot have a strict policy against acceleration.
SDI and addressing your unique needs - The SDI Section is the one place you can creatively address your gifted childs issues without having to change an entire District policy. Gather information from other parents about what has worked for their children, attend a PAGE conference to learn what teachers are doing in their classroom, read through Hoagies' Gifted Education Page (www.hoagiesgifted.com) to help understand what resources are available, ask for ideas for accommodations on PAGElist, talk to other parents in your District about their experiences.
Lastly, when preparing for the Gifted IEP meeting, don't forget to talk with your child. In the days leading up to the meeting ask about their thoughts. Try to find out their ideas as best you can, and share them with the Gifted IEP Team. Do not guarantee your child results. Simply let them know you will go and try.
The other members of the team might balk at any or all of your requests you make during the Gifted IEP meeting. If they do, try to find out the reason why they are hesitant. Talk about the accommodations and have somebody on the Team explain why the accommodation is not being written into the Gifted IEP.
The basic question: "Is this request appropriate for my child?" If the answer is 'no', then ask for the reason. Write the reason down, have a conversation about the situation. Once you understand the reasoning, repeat back the whole scenario to them from the childs point of view.
Taking this approach can highlight educational issues the gifted child is facing. It also refocuses the meeting back onto the student rather than a discussion of District policies. At times, though, this conversation can take on a 'Through the Looking Glass' aspect.
You: "So, we have the testing results and my Sixth grade child is ready to do Ninth Grade math, but he/she will be entering Sixth grade and have to do Sixth grade material because as District Policy you do not believe in acceleration and, as a result, my kid will have to do all the regular assignments in Sixth grade math, despite the fact that they could do that work a year ago?"
You: "Okay, now I understand your position. Will they be given higher level enrichment material or can they be pre-tested and given other assignments during class if they pass the pretest."
Those types of conversations can be frustrating. Should a conversation like the one above happen, understand that you will have a clear understanding of the District's Policies and Practices. You have gained important information. Also, by repeating the scenario back to the Gifted IEP team during the meeting you can highlight the educational issues involved rather than the policy issues. If this type of dialogue occurs, there is hope for progress. This discussion may help the Team rethink the issue. There could be discussion. This discussion could identify alternate approaches to address the students educational issues. In turn, this discussion could lead to simple modifications to a Gifted IEP such that it becomes appropriate for the student.
That paragraph contains many hypotheticals. But, in practice, the conversation and clarification that results from discussion is important. It will help you as you decide which course your gifted child's education will follow.
The Gifted IEP meeting is used to review the effectiveness of the plan, not your child.
The Plan fails the child; the child does not fail the plan.
If your gifted child has problems in class or has had problems adjusting to the present,perhaps inappropriate, Gifted IEP, then those problems need to be addressed. First, the problems have to be properly identified. This is especially true if you are in a situation where, for years, the Gifted IEP did not address your gifted childs needs. Once the possibility of failure exists in any class, you are facing a potential need to change the child's educational situation. This potential change due to a failure is cause to reconvene the Gifted IEP team. At the reconvened meeting you discuss the problem, assess the situation, consider alternatives, and work out a solution that is appropriate for the child. In effect, you modify the plan.
If you think it is necessary, you can ask the Team to write that problem notification into the Gifted IEP itself. Ask to have a statement that addresses this problem situation be added to the Gifted IEP. An example of this type of notification is this: "In the event there is a potential for failure in a class or a significant negative change in performance in a subject, or it becomes likely that a Goal will not be met, the Gifted IEP Team will reconvene in a timely fashion to address the matter. The Subject teacher of the course involved will be present at the Gifted IEP meeting to assist in making changes to the Gifted IEP".
Despite the team's efforts, your child might still fail. If this happens, reconsider the Present Levels of Educational Performance, consider what information from testing would be needed, ask questions, and gain additional information to make the next plan an appropriate plan. If you believe that the Gifted IEP team does not have the expertise to do this, the Gifted IEP Team can make use of expertise throughout the Commonwealth in creating your childs plan. Do not be afraid to ask that that outside help become involved.
Consider this: The whole point of, the whole reason for, the Gifted IEP is that your child learns "differently". The gifted child learns differently enough from most other children to require something other than a standard curriculum and a standard educational approach. The Gifted IEP is not a series of programs that the child attends. It is a plan that needs to be monitored and adapted as the gifted child's need change over time.
Having read, or glanced over, all of this information, you will likely forget most of it within the first five minutes of your next Gifted IEP meeting. Don't worry. Should you find yourself blanking out during the meeting or forgetting what you were going to say, just remember to ask yourself one question:
"Does this statement, and does this plan make sense for my child?"
A notepad with your ideas already jotted down can help. Also, you should take notes as the meeting progresses. At the end of the meeting plan on taking the Gifted IEP home with you and thinking the plan over. Ask for a copy of any notes made on the draft copy used by the District. Do not sign the NORA at the meeting.
Once you have the proposed Gifted IEP in hand and gave had a chance to think it over, the only question to answer is this:
Is this Plan appropriate for my child?
If the plan is appropriate and complete, and worded to your satisfaction, only then do you approve it.
Remember that, and you will do fine.
Homework is a recurring issue for gifted students and parents of gifted students. Failing to do homework may cause gifted kids to have lower grades or even fail courses. The 'Gifted' classification seems at times to generate a punitive amount of homework. Should the gifted student, by virtue of being gifted, end up having to do two sets of homework, one set for Regular Education and another for Gifted Education, they may come to resent being identified as 'gifted.'
If homework is causing a problem, whether it is the amount of homework, timeliness in completing the assignment, or a general attitude problem, remember: You can address those problems caused by homework in the 'Specially Designed Instruction' section of the Gifted IEP.
In most cases, homework is assigned to reinforce what a child has learned in the classroom. That purpose that might not apply to your gifted child, who 'gets it' the first time and does not need repetition to remember it.
Rather than doing a rote or repetitious assignment, you can ask at the Gifted IEP meeting that your child work on a different facet of the material presented if indicated. The student could apply the lesson learned in the classroom by doing an alternate assignment or working on a longer-term study project.
During the Gifted IEP meeting you can suggest that alternate assignments be given when appropriate. Bear in mind that the alternate assignments should take a similar amount of time as the Regular Education homework. For example, rather than doing 100 rote-work math problems, your child could do 10 more difficult or challenging problems, rather than write each word ten times or write simple sentences using spelling words for homework, your child write a short story or a poem using the words.
Completing assignments on time is a skill that is developed. If the gifted students inability to perform that skill is causing a problem, address it in the Plan. If the problem has been allowed to develop over time, the team should expect that it will be addressed over time.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Education, homework does not have to be done to pass a course. Homework requirements are a local District/Teacher policy or preference decision.
And, dont forget to ask your child for good ideas. They might surprise you.
These sites offer good general information that won't overwhelm a person just starting to get familiar with giftedness issues. There are two types of sites, 1) those that deal with PA school-specific issues, and 2) those that address gifted issues in general.
- Parent's Guide to Gifted Education -
www.pde.state.pa.us/gifted_ed/lib/gifted_ed/20/59/guidetext.pdf (requires Adobe)
*A Must Read* Clear language, easy-to-read summary of Gifted Education in Pennsylvania. This is an official publication by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Read, and re-read the Guide. Print a copy. Mark it up. Believe it.
- The Basic Education Circular regarding Gifted - (The BEC)
This BEC was sent by the PDE to every school District. BECs are written for an audience of District administrators and teachers. The BEC summarizes and clarifies the District's obligations to its gifted students.
- Chapter 16: Special Education for Gifted Students -
Chapter 16 contains the rules for Gifted Education in Pennsylvania. Chapter 16 is, in the words of the Appeals Panel in one of their decisions - "clearly drafted".
- Gifted Guidelines -
*A Must Read* Gifted Guidelines was released in February 2004. It restates and clarifies PDE positions regarding the providing of Gifted education services, and is designed to assist school districts in identifying mentally gifted students and implementing comprehensive programs to meet their needs However, this document is equally valuable to parents, as it contains background materials, explanation of terms and processes, and provided checklists and tools that are useful in creating an appropriate plan. The Guidelines are a must-read for all parents of gifted students in Pennsylvania.
- The Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) Gifted Ed -
The PDE site regarding Gifted Ed has Pennsylvania requirements along with sample and explanatory information (for example the Annotated Gifted IEP and Annotated Gifted Written Report give explanations on the reports and the sections). It is a terrific source of information on gifted educational programs and services available through the PDE. Your child may qualify for these programs. If so, you might need to bring this fact to the attention of your District.
- Office of Dispute Resolution -
This site includes information about both Due Process and Mediation hearings. They are separate, distinct processes. Also, ODR's site lists Appeals Panels decisions, which summarize concepts in Gifted Education within Pennsylvania in layman's terms. The Appeals Decisions are indexed by category and by number.
- PAGE's Website -
Great layout and summary of Gifted Education issues. Read PAGE's site, use the links provided, and then join the organization. Check back as PAGE updates their information periodically.
Hundreds of sites deal with 'giftedness' in one form or another. These three happen to be great places to start looking at information.
- Hoagies' Gifted Education Page -
*A Must Visit* This is a terrific source of information on giftedness, and should be a frequent stop as you gather information and consider your options. HoagiesGifted has information on testing, interpretation, parent support lists, and links to other resources.
- "Uniquely Gifted - Resources for Gifted Children with Special Needs -
Giftedness can be present with learning disabilities and/or other medical conditions. This site provides an overview of 'Gifted & Special Needs' issues and links to other resources. Depending on the severity of the LD involved, your students situation can be addressed through either Chapter 14 IEPs that include accommodations for Giftedness, or through Chapter 15 Service Agreements in combination with Gifted IEPs. Your child can have all their needs met, gifted and otherwise. Appropriate and complete assessment is crucial. Insist that it happen.
- Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted (SENG) -
In addition to academic issues, gifted children have social and emotional needs. SENG presents information for parents on the social and emotional needs of gifted kids both in the classroom and at home.