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The Cooke Special Education Blog

Cooke faculty share their knowledge to improve the education experience for all children.

Out of His Head... News from Dr. Tabone (March)

Dr. Francis Tabone


It’s Unanimous

Supreme Court Case: Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District
(Image credit: Jeffrey Fisher)

Endrew W. (a student with Autism Spectrum Disorder) made little progress attending public school in Colorado. His parents made the decision to place him in a private school and like many Cooke families sought reimbursement from the government. Their argument was that the public school had not provided a free and appropriate education.

The public school challenged the parents right to reimbursement by stating that he had received “some” educational benefit by attending their school. Since “Free and Appropriate Education” (FAPE) has never been defined within the law, there wasn’t a litmus for what the word “appropriate” meant in FAPE, thus all owing a Colorado court to rule against the parents request for reimbursement.

But the case did not end here, and went all the way to the Supreme Court. In an 8 to 0 ruling, the court found that the parents were indeed entitled to reimbursement. Why? As Judge Roberts put it;

“When all is said and done, a student offered an educational program providing ‘merely more than de minimis’ progress from year to year can hardly be said to have been offered an education at all. IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) demands more.”

The Supreme Court decided that FAPE typically means offering “a level of instruction reasonably calculated to admit advancement to the general curriculum.” Roberts also wrote that there is no reason to aim for grade level advancement but education “must be appropriately ambitious in light of a student’s circumstances, just as advancement in a “regular” classroom is appropriately ambitious from grade to grade. The goals may differ but every child should have the chance to meet challenging objectives.”**

FAPE includes all the services mandated by the Individualized educational plan (IEP) including the educational and therapeutic provisions. Thus, the Supreme Court decided that the quality of the services also matters, quality being determined by student progress. But in the day to day of special education terms like “growth” are difficult to quantify. When I analyze our students’ data it is clear that groups of students make different progress at different rates.

For example, our population data shows that students who have IQ scores between 70 to 85 and slightly below average adaptive skills achieve about 6 to 7 months of growth a year with a capacity for 7th or 8th grade reading levels. Students with Lower IQs and below average adaptive skills make about 3 months growth in a year, with a capacity for 2nd or 3rd grade reading. These numbers are average and do not account for every individual, but as a trend it seems reasonable. This is consistent despite what teacher your child has or what class your child is in.

There are other essentials within the IEP that also need attention. Therapeutic goals and transition goals are all part of FAPE and have to be addressed as well. Altogether a nice resource for how goals are developed can be found at :

Here you can see a pretty complex system of how goals are developed and managed for individual students. It is a long article and yet doesn’t even begin to address the complexities of individualizing this work for every student.


Setting Attainable, Measurable Goals for Kids

When setting goals there are important rules to follow:

1. Make the goal achievable. It's okay to shoot for the stars, but we will discuss more on that later. Once the goal is created, double check to make sure it is achievable, no matter how simple it may be. For example, if you set a goal for
a child to learn to swim, is it realistic to achieve the goal within the desired time frame? Or maybe the goal should start with "Sign up for swim classes by Friday.

2. Make the goal measurable. If you set a goal such as "play nice with others", there is no way to measure that goal. Instead you might try something like "Have
no arguments over toys today." This one is very simple to measure. Did they argue over toys? No? Then they accomplished their goal.

3. Set a time frame. Let them know how long they have to achieve the goal.
Does it need to be done by the end of class or by the end of the week?

4. Express the goal positively. “To improve spelling” is better than “Don’t spell with so many mistakes”.

5. Set priorities. Students have many goals. Prioritizing can help someone feel
less overwhelmed.

When speaking with many parents, there is a desire to know what their child will accomplish 5 or 10 years out (myself included). But there is no reasonable way to predict the future without setting realistic short term goals for our students. We need to think about the micro before the macro. It is a process that uses baby steps not leaps and bounds. Patience is required. If your child reads at level C the goal is to move to level D, not higher. One cannot get to higher levels without incremental support and growth.

Setting goals generally include steps that will help lead a child to independence. Doing something with support and doing it independently are two different things which require a different sequence of tasks. Also it is important to think of all the concepts that would go into a single goal. When we unpack a task we find that there are many steps to master, thus, what seems simple or small, is much larger and more complex. For example, a simple thing like hand washing requires lots of taxation on our executive functioning. When we teach this to students we break the process down into the OT components (movement of hands), the executive functioning components (planning the steps, following a sequence, self-monitoring), and even the language components (self- talk, following directions). These components are what the simple goal of hand washing entail and is what the clinician is thinking about when he or she directs a student.

**On a side note, Judge Gorsuch (Trump’s pick for Supreme Court) had once ruled in favor of the lower court’s ruling that the Supreme Court rejected.

Posted by rnicholson on Tuesday April 4 at 04:34PM
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