Friday, August 29, 2008




States must be more diligent in looking for signs of IDEA noncompliance and reporting every such problem -- no matter how small -- to OSEP as part of their State Performance Plan/Annual
Performance Report, department officials told attendees at the National Accountability Conference, held Aug. 24-26.

The officials' remarks came during a discussion of Indicator B-15, which seeks to
measure a state's ability to identify and correct noncompliance by LEAs in the Part B program. A similar indicator, C-9, measures states' ability to identify and correct noncompliance in the Part C
program for infants and toddlers.

There are at least two ways in which states can step up their efforts to identify noncompliance by LEAs, according to Greg Corr, associate director of OSEP's Monitoring and State Improvement Planning Division. First, states must review all due process hearing decisions for evidence that LEAs are not complying with the IDEA, Corr said. Second, states should monitor data coming in from LEAs and treat evidence of noncompliance from that source in the same way they would treat evidence discovered through any other route, such as a self-assessment, an on-site visit,
or a desk review of records, Corr said.


More school districts are seeking to hire their own full-time autism experts -- a departure from the traditional approach of hiring outside consultants to temporarily work with districts. The roles and backgrounds of autism specialists vary from place to place. But many educators agree every district needs a local go-to person -- or people -- when it comes to educating students with autism and
organizing training opportunities for staff.

"Schools are absolutely overwhelmed" with autism cases, said Mary Ann Winter-Messiers, coordinator of Project Preparing Autism Specialists for Schools at the University of Oregon. "School districts are desperate to have people who know what they are doing." The need to have a local
coordinator who organizes staff training in autism services for new and veteran teachers grows more dire as the number of students with autism keeps climbing.

According to the Education Department, 166,424 children ages 6 to 21 had autism in 2004, compared with 224,594 in 2006. There also is a sense of desperation among educators because
students with autism have a wide range of needs and abilities. This range makes teacher training and program development time-consuming and expensive.

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My Letter To OSEP

What is OSEP's plan for monitoring the state of Missouri? It is impossible to win a due process case in Missouri and the districts and DESE know it. Therefore, parents are forced to move to another state or have their children receive second class educations.

I will provide you with some information and I urge you to investigate. Missouri is never going to hold their districts accountable. I can send you story after story of Missouri families that are struggling to see their children reach their full potential. More and more are just pulling their children out of school and teaching them at home. At least they will no longer be emotional and psychologically damaged once they are removed from the districts.

By David Hunn

Missouri has demanded too little of its schools and reprimanded their
shortcomings too slowly, according to a new federal report.

A team from the U.S. Department of Education has found dozens of problems with
the state's supervision of its schools, from simple differences in terminology
to major violations of the federal law known as No Child Left Behind.

The U.S. government is now asking Missouri's education department to review the
status of every school and every district in the state that has failed to meet
scoring targets on standardized tests for more than two years in a row — about
200 schools and 167 districts.

"Missouri has a challenge," said Zollie Stevenson, chief of federal Student
Achievement and School Accountability Programs, and leader of the team that
reviewed Missouri. "The state needs to be more proactive — actually going out
and monitoring."

Some think the federal teams are coming down harder on states than they have in
the past. The Missouri report is one of several recent instances where states
have been cited for letting districts slide.

Now Missouri districts face sanctions this school year that they didn't expect.

Some, such as Parkway, Ritenour and Fort Zumwalt, have relatively minor
penalties — creating school improvement plans or offering some students
transfers to higher-performing schools within their districts.

But the schools that fell short most often may be forced to fire teachers and
principals, reopen as charter schools, or even close altogether.

State administrators do not know exactly how many will be affected. They say as
few as 20 could see unexpected penalties, but they're not yet sure which ones.

No Child Left Behind started a clock ticking in 2002, with the alarm set to go
off in 2014 when all schoolchildren are supposed to be proficient in reading
and math. Along the way are annual benchmarks for schools to meet and sanctions
when they don't.

"It appears Missouri reinterpreted the statute to provide for more time for
those decisions to be made," Stevenson said.

The federal team was so concerned that it even reserved the right to fine the
state — as much as $500,000 this year.

State leaders — like many educators across the country — say No Child Left
Behind has been confusing and the guidelines murky.

But they say they've already begun fixing these problems.


Every three years, the U.S. Department of Education checks to make sure each state is monitoring its schools correctly. Not only does this keep schools on track with the law, but it also allows the government to keep tabs on the $14
billion it gives schools to help low-income students.

Since the law took effect in 2002, U.S. teams have reprimanded nearly every state, according to past federal reports. In 2005, Illinois was cited for verifying test results too slowly, and not identifying failing schools until the middle of the school year — too late for parents to take advantage of remedies offered under the law. In 2006, Wyoming didn't ensure all failing
schools developed improvement plans; South Carolina incorrectly calculated district test scores. In 2007, Rhode Island was reprimanded for having inconsistent standards for children learning to speak English.

But the errors caught in Missouri were more serious, experts say.

"This is really a worst-case state," said Phyllis McClure, a consultant in Washington who has helped monitor states on points of education law since the late 1960s.

She was stunned Missouri hadn't been monitoring district progress more closely. The state had not asked to see district letters that should have been sent to parents, explaining that their children could be eligible for tutoring or transfers from failing schools, the report said. Nor had Missouri required evidence that districts were giving the right amount of federal money to each school. And while Missouri had monitored schools for test-score progress, it hadn't held districts accountable for low scores.

And when schools failed tests, Missouri hadn't forced them down the federal improvement path that begins with tutoring and transfers and leads to "restructuring," where schools must shut down and start over with new leaders and staff.

"The whole point of this requirement, these stages of corrective action, was not to let these schools slide for so long before they got help," McClure said.

"Why have they been letting that go on for five years?" she asked.


Becky Kemna, Missouri's new coordinator of school improvement, said No Child Left Behind greatly increased requirements for schools.

Not only must their entire student bodies now meet yearly testing goals, but each group of students — black, white, Asian, low-income, special-education and those learning English as a second language — are held to the same standards.
And those standards increase each year.

It has been difficult, Kemna said, for state employees to interpret all of the new rules. Federal guidelines initially encouraged interpretation. Now this report, she said, has shown her the federal government doesn't tolerate as much
flexibility as first thought.

Kemna said the state must send its responses to the U.S. Department of Education by the middle of this month. State officials fixed many of the problems cited before the federal team even left, she said, but others will take more effort.

The state will now ask to see letters before districts send them to parents. It will compile yearly lists of districts that missed state testing goals and must be penalized.

School administrators grumble that No Child Left Behind demands the impossible.

A 2007 survey shows state employees across the country say they simply don't have enough people to monitor every school district.

Schools, however, have no choice but to work toward the goals they're given.

At the Patrick Henry Downtown Academy in St. Louis, a new principal pores over test results, seeing which individual questions tripped up students in key subject areas. Just 4 percent of Henry students passed the English test; only 1 percent passed math. The principal hopes to find out why.

In Webster Groves, the school district sent parents a letter last month saying the district had barely missed the state's annual progress goals, and would have to develop a plan for improvement. Administrators there have already broadened expensive, one-on-one math and reading lessons for students who need to boost test scores.

The Normandy School District had four schools cited this year for low test scores, adding to two it already had on the list. "I think the state was catching up," said Sheila Williams, the district's executive director of school programs.

"All these designations, I don't want to say they don't mean anything to us, but we're striving to get all these kids proficient, regardless," she said.
— David Hunn

From My Districts Website

Success again accompanied by confusing designation

Lee's Summit R-7 School District students again excelled on the annual Missouri Assessment Program (MAP) tests, which measure academic achievement in various grades and subject levels. According to information released today by the state, R-7 students scored significantly above the state average in both communication arts and math at every grade level. This is based on the percent of students scoring in the MAP test's top two levels of advanced and proficient. Students also took MAP tests in science last spring, and these results will be released during September.

This achievement follows a recent series of successes for Lee's Summit R-7. During July, the R-7 School District was named seventh best school district in the nation in Money magazine's ranking of districts throughout the United States (small cities listing). Last winter, Lee's Summit R-7 was one of just a handful of Missouri school districts to receive the state's Distinction In Performance Award all seven years it has been offered by earning a perfect score each year.

While the R-7 School District continues to experience annual improvement in academic achievement and is recognized as one of the best public school districts in the nation, the challenge to meet the proficiency targets of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act still exist. The R-7 School District is among 280 Missouri school districts (out of 524 districts in the state) designated as "District Improvement Level 1 or 2" based on the NCLB Act's Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) goals.

Although the goals of No Child Left Behind, including accountability for student achievement, are worthwhile, the law's punitive nature fails to recognize a district's overall progress toward meeting the objective of success for each child. A district's failure to meet NCLB proficiency targets in as few as one of nine sub-groups in either communication arts or math results in a designation of failure for the district as a whole in its effort to meet federal Annual Yearly Progress goals.

In 2008, the R-7 School District overall student population met and significantly exceeded No Child Left Behind AYP proficiency goals in both subjects tested. In addition, the district met NCLB goals in six of nine sub-groups in communication arts and in eight of nine sub-groups in mathematics. Sub-groups scoring below the standard in communication arts were black students and students qualifying for the free and/or reduced lunch program. Students in the special-education sub-group did not meet the standard for both communication arts and math. None of the Kansas City metropolitan-area school districts on the Missouri side met AYP proficiency standards in all sub-groups in either communication arts or mathematics, meaning that all area districts were designated as "District Level Improvement Level 1 or 2" this year.

Data from the MAP testing program is analyzed each year by R-7 educators and is one of many important tools used to help school staff members focus on continually improving to ensure success for each child.

Newspaper Articles From Local Newspapers

According to the Lee's Summit group, there are more than 210 students diagnosed with autism in the district. They believe that the teachers in the district should be trained in autism. "A lot of these kids with autism are in special education, so their teacher would be trained in autism," Tucker said. "But my son is not in special ed, he's in regular ed. So he has seven teachers everyday that don't have a clue and they're going to educate my son." Tucker said there have been times when her son became sick or had "meltdowns" because of the different expectations of teachers.

Jerry Keimig, R-7 director of special services, said that it is not possible to train every teacher in the district. "We provide the most comprehensive autism training than any other school district that I'm aware of," Keimig said. "It's not feasible to train every teacher for every disorder. There are 50 to 60 different medical or emotional diagnoses." (I'm pretty sure that
the other 49 to 59 don't affect 1 in 94 boys. The district's program only trains special education teachers. Not paras or regular ed teachers. They also let folks from other districts come in and they charge a fee for that. We have asked that they video tape the workshop and make it available to regular ed teachers. We have asked that they train one teacher at each grade level and have her teach our kids. They could afford an administrative building that was $8.6 million dollars and an aquatic center that cost $12 million, but they can't afford to help our kids.)

Article that appeared in the Pitch at

Today, out of the 17,000 students who attend Lee's Summit's 17 elementary schools, three middle schools and five high schools, 98 kids meet the educational definition of autism ("A developmental disability which may occur concurrently with other disabilities ... behaviorally defined to include disturbances in four areas: developmental rates or sequences; responses to sensory stimuli; speech, language cognitive capacities, nonverbal communication; and capacities to relate to people,
events, objects, and which adversely affect educational performance," according to the Missouri Autism Resource Guide by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Missouri Department of Mental Health). More than 250 other students fall somewhere on the autism spectrum, with a variety of psychological conditions characterized
by abnormal social interaction or communication.

The district doesn't have specific classes for children with autism because the symptoms differ from one student to the next. General special-education classes range from groups of 10 students to a one-on-one, teacher-student setting, though many special-needs students are in regular classrooms.

"As a subpopulation, autism is growing pretty fast. I hear all the time from parents who move here because of our special-education programs," Keimig tells The Pitch. "I think you'd certainly find people who believe it's not all it's cracked up to be, but lots of people here are very, very pleased."

Keimig has a laugh that comes suddenly and loudly, like a burst of machine-gun fire. His detractors tend to compare him to a used-car salesman.

His supporters want him to teach all Missouri administrators how to deal with their autistic students.

As proof of his program's success, Keimig cites two examples: special-ed students' high test scores on the Missouri Assessment Program (MAP) test, administered by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, and the district's program for training teachers on how to educate special-needs students.

The district's special-needs students performed well on reading comprehension exams in the last round of MAP tests in August 2007. Overall, however, their scores fell far short of the "Adequate Yearly Progress" goals set by the No Child Left Behind Act. (The same was true for students for whom English was a second language.) As a result, the entire district was given a failing grade.

District Superintendent David McGehee made sure that parents knew which students were at fault. "The scores of students in these two subgroups are the sole reason our district was designated in this category," he wrote in an August 17, 2007, letter to district parents.

Keimig touts Lee's Summit's teacher training program: two four-day sessions a year to refresh teachers on recognizing autistic behaviors and dealing with autistic students. But these sessions aren't mandatory, and there are no special incentives for teachers to attend. Of the district's 1,264 teachers, fewer than 80 attended the most recent sessions; half of those who did, Stacy Martin says, came from schools outside the Lee's Summit district.

But, Martin adds, teachers from neighboring states and school districts often pay $1,400 per person to attend the Lee's Summit training sessions. And Lee's Summit is so well-respected within the Missouri education system that Heidi Atkins Lieberman, commissioner of special education for the state's Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, has invited Keimig to speak at a conference of state administrators in August. He's scheduled to present a special session
for superintendents on effective teaching methods for autistic students.

The Missouri Department of Education does not keep records detailing the progress of autistic students. Instead, it tracks the performance of special-education students as a whole.

In choosing Keimig to lead the special session in August, Lieberman says, she relied on informed friends. "I asked people who were very knowledgeable about autism education, and they all said Jerry would be great," Lieberman says. "I don't think I'm really at liberty to identify anyone I talked to."

The announcement of Keimig's special session infuriated some members of the Lee's Summit Autism Support Group, a collection of parents that includes Joyce Lindsey.

"If he's going to be there, we are picketing that conference," Lindsey says. "There's no way that he should be in that position."

In Missouri, if a parent decides that a school district isn't meeting its obligations, the parent has several options for complaining to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. The most common method is filing a "due process" lawsuit against the school, which is then moderated by hearing officers assigned by DESE. That's costly for parents of special-ed students, who are already spending extra money on therapies and doctors. And the lawsuits are almost impossible to win, says one Kansas City lawyer who has a history of dealing with such suits.

"I don't even want to take them anymore because it's so hard to get anywhere," Kim Westhusing says. "The challenge is, you have to determine whether the child is receiving what the state refers to as 'free and appropriate education.' And the standard, as written, is 'Did the child receive some educational benefits?' OK, now what does that mean? What an educational benefit is depends on who you talk to. A student could go through a whole year of school, only learns to tie his shoes, and they could say that's an educational benefit. You almost have to show that their program has harmed a child."

DESE regulations for due process specify that a case be chaired by three hearing officers — one chosen by the school, one by the parent and one assigned by DESE. The regulations mandate that the hearing officers be chosen from a list of approximately 70 officers designated by DESE. Almost everyone on that list is a school administrator, a teacher or a lawyer retained by a Missouri school district.

Only two have backgrounds as advocates for special-needs children.

"When my hearing chair is a school district attorney, the school's representative is a school administrator, and the one I get is a parent advocate — and on the whole list, only two are parent advocates — what chance do I have?" Shaumeyer says. "The odds were stacked against me, and I was out of money, so we ended up settling."

According to Wanda Allen, a secretary with the DESE's Division of Special Education, the people listed as hearing officers are qualified people who apply to DESE for the position every 18 months. But it's been years since anyone new was considered for the positions. "Last year, we just updated the list of people we already had," Allen says.

The Division of Special Education does not track statistics comparing how many due-process complaints are filed against a particular school or district or the results of those complaints.

Keimig's name is on the list of hearing officers. He believes that DESE has set up a fair system. "The thing I like about the formalized complaint process is that you have people looking at it who are not tied up in the emotional aspect, because obviously the parents feel strongly about it, as they should," he says.

Rather than filing a due-process suit, Tucker complained to DESE's Office of Civil Rights in 2005, when she believed that Jake's teachers were not following his IEP as mandated by state law for special-needs children. The civil rights office determined that the district had violated the law but imposed no penalties after determining that damage to his education had been minimal.

Tucker's Autism Support Group now includes approximately 40 members who meet once a month to discuss their children's progress and the effectiveness of the district's special-education programs.

She decided to run for the school board, she says, because the growing number of parents with autistic children needed some representation.

At the first debate, on March 28, Tucker was the only candidate who wasn't an incumbent. She arrived at the Lee's Summit Performing Arts Building unsure of what to expect, then spent the night scrambling to collect her thoughts as the candidates were questioned.

After incumbent Jack Wiley suggested that he understood her feelings about her son because his wife taught special ed and they'd baby-sat autistic children, Tucker replied in her closing, "Saying that is like me going to a male gynecologist and him trying to tell me he understands what labor pains are. Unless he's ever had them, he doesn't know."

For the next night's forum at Lee's Summit West High School, Tucker was prepared. With the members of her support group in the audience, Tucker argued with the three incumbents. During closing statements, Jon Plaas, a board member seeking his third term, labeled the district's disabled children as a special-interest group.

"I have a great deal of empathy for Ms. Tucker and her situation," Plaas said, according to the Lee's Summit Journal. "If we set aside a board seat for this special-interest group with 300 students, then we have another six special-interest groups (that want a board seat), pretty soon we have seven seats set aside and 2,100 kids covered. What about the other 15,000 students? And, by the way, what about the other stakeholders — the parents, taxpayers, teachers, administrators?"

In her closing, Tucker shot back: "I don't want you to give me a board seat, Mr. Plaas. I just want the people to vote me into it."

Tucker almost unseated Plaas, coming within 386 votes of her closest competitor's 5,065. (All of the board members ran against one another for the top three positions.)

Martin, the district's autism education specialist, says the close election results aren't cause to believe that other parents are as upset as Tucker.

"I can't say why anyone voted the way they did," Martin says. "Some may have voted for her because of her issue, but some might've done it because she was the last name on the ballot, and some may have done it because she's a female."

My Meeting For My Son's IEP

Let's just say that it was not good. I sent the following request:

Under Assistive Technology you state that Jake has been resistive to carrying the Quick Pad to classes. He did not believe that it worked. It was kept in his 7th hour class and that teacher had to figure out how to use it each time that it was taken out of the closet that it was kept in. Therefore, Jake believed that it did not work. I stated this at the IEP meeting and wish to have that in the present level instead of saying that Jake was resistive to using it. Finally, that same teacher let Jake use a class computer, which I had suggested in middle school, and told Jake that "I have figured out a loophole around your mom's rules." That is unacceptable to me. This same teacher admitted in the IEP meeting that she had said this. Jake came home and told me that I was making things harder for him because that is the impression that he received from this teacher. My advocacy for Jake should never be discussed with Jake without my permission and should never be used as an excuse to find loopholes.

They refuse to remove it. They did change it a little to state that "Mom believes that student believes that it didn't work." But, they would not take out that he was resistive to carrying it.

I told them that I know what he thought and I know what happened. I told them that it was not acceptable to me. They told me that I am the expert on Jake at home and they are the experts on Jake at school. Those same experts didn't know which class to put him in and put him in a class that was inappropriate.

They did change the following:

Under strengths it states that Mrs. Tucker shared that she does not feel that Jacob has any strengths. That is taken totally out of context and is completely inaccurate. I was asked what strengths I felt Jake had for his future. I said that he didn't have any strengths that would lead to him living an independent "normal" life. I did state that Jake is great at math and reading. But, he was not given the tools to live within society because the district did not address his social issues when he started in the district at the age of 5. I want that statement removed.

We spent a long time discussing the following:

On the Modifications and Accommodations page I specifically stated that I was not in agreement to As Needed being used. That is defined as to be determined by the special education and/or regular education staff and that is leaving an important party out of the decisions. I do not believe that it is appropriate to use that term on this IEP.

This was not discussed at all.

Finally, we discussed a social skills class and my psychiatrist and I believe that it is totally inappropriate for Jake. He requires one-on-one instruction from a person that is HIGHLY trained in his disability. It is necessary for the person that is giving Jake services to COMPLETELY understand his disability so that they can understand the difference between one sided conversations and real conversations. Jake has made no progress in this area and has very little time left to make some progress.

We also had a discussion on Jake taking tests in a small group setting. In elementary school it was preferable. He did much better in that environment. In middle school they refused to do 90% of the time. Even though it stated in his IEP that they were supposed to. Today they said that historically Jake had been resistive to taking tests in a small group setting and would shutdown when forced to do so. I said that historically Jake had never shutdown when taking tests in small groups and that if he did now it was because the district had failed to do their job in middle school and this was the consequences. Then I got another speech about how I don't know him at school and they are the experts.

We discussed evaluations. I sent them a list of evaluations that an expert sent to me. They said that they were not obligated to use my list and that they would not purchase a test that they didn't have. I said that I understood that, but Jake is 15 years old and has a major written language issue that the district has never diagnosed or addressed. They felt that it was addressed in the PLOP. I don't believe that it is.

This is how they feel that it is addressed:
Class participation, staying on task, understanding and following instructions, completing and turning in work on time, organization, self-advocating for make-up work, taking notes, expressing himself through lengthy forms of written expression, test-taking skills, understanding the emotions of peers and teachers, and general social skills.

Jacob continues to need improvement with the following skills: following written directions, self-advocacy, writing/ editing and writing complexity, organization, study skills, pragmatic language and social skills.

Woodcock Johnson III (Given by Psychologist)

Reading fluency tested out in the high average range (Which must be 110 or higher) and in the 86th percentile when compared to his age peers.

Writing fluency tested out much lower and only in the 10th percentile with a standard score equivalent of 80.

There is over a 30 point difference between these scores. Written language continues to be an issue for Jake and he would benefit from having that addressed in his IEP as well.

These are the tests that the expert said to ask for:

I would request a comprehensive psychoeducational evaluation in all areas of functioning (there are 7). I would also request that the district autism person be present to help plan the evaluation.



health/motor- request a Sensory Processing Profile

cognitive- request a Leiter-R non-verbal test of intelligence- they would only do Adaptive Behavior is IQ is 70 or below- have them do the Leiter-R first- then determine if Adaptive Behavior is needed

achievement- request comprehensive achievement testing in all areas of academics- such as the Woodcock-Johnson Revised

speech/language- you need them to do at least 3 good tests- how did he score on the CASL?- it is a good test- could also do the CELF-IV(Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals), TOWL-2 (Test of Written Language), and TOPL-2 (Test of Pragmatic Language- only the newest versioh is good- ADOS would be good here also)

social/emotional- request the ADOS (Autism Diagnostic Scale) and a Social Skills Rating Scale- not a BASC.

I would also request a comprehensive Assistive Technology evaluation for reading and written language.