The Pros of Being Proactive

Published by Christie Schutz Vincelli, Ed.D. on

The Pros of Being Proactive

Retro toned image of silhouettes of a paper men helping each other with support while stopping the domino effect.

This particular blog is personal to me as I share my experience as both a parent and as an administrator. In my household, we have two completely opposite kids who have completely different academic needs. The child I want to focus on is an outgoing, social, fearless little diva, but presents with some issues in the area of reading, specifically in phonics. Upon exiting preschool, we noticed some concerns beginning with handwriting. She was unable to form all of her letters and numbers correctly, some with reversals. She also struggled with spelling her name and recognizing basic sight words. As parents, we did consider that all kids reach different developmental milestones at different times and so, we committed to working on those skills over the summer and letting them develop naturally with home support.

When she began kindergarten, we noticed a continuing trend as we worked with her at home: she still struggled with retention of sight words, no matter how many times we repeated them. She also had challenges recognizing the sight words that she had previously learned in text, which made her reading disfluent and choppy. To address this issue, we enlisted the support of a reading specialist for after-school support. After a few assessments, it became clear that this outgoing little one was missing all of the foundational phonics skills used to encode (write words) and decode (break down words in order or read them.) Additionally, she also did not have any reading strategies to use when she got stuck.

With continued support from the reading specialist, we decided to meet with the teacher during parent teacher conferences in the fall. During this conversation, we shared our concerns and observations of  the disconnect between home and school. We explained our concerns regarding her phonics and the areas of deficits we had been working on. Much to our dismay, the teacher said that she didn’t notice anything alarming about our little one, that she seemed to fall within the norm of the group. Furthermore, instead of working with us to solve the issue and address this at school, she discussed a lack of supplies in the classroom. When we asked if the school provides extra support for students struggling in these specific areas, we were told our little one was not in the bottom 3% of students and therefore did not qualify for additional assistance.

As an administrator, I was frustrated. Here we are, identifying clear issues and areas of need, and we’re being told too bad, she doesn’t qualify? As parents, we continued to provide the best services we could after school. We found a therapist to work on executive functioning delays and continued with the reading specialist. Yet the bottom line remained that her needs needed to be addressed during school because the repetition is crucial for her success.  

After months of stagnate reading progress and little change, we decided that if the school wasn’t going to provide support, we were going to have to request it ourselves. Against all of my gut instincts as a special education administrator, we wrote a letter requesting a Child Study Team Evaluation.  

Here’s where the school being proactive and providing a tiered system of support with a strategic and structured assessment schedule could have made a difference. If they had these tools and systems in place, the school would have been immediately able to promote student success and provide students with the academic and behavioral support they need. Instead of us needing to make the request, they would have been able to identify her needs and address them in a responsible and reasonable manner that used their resources appropriately.

As a district, how do we avoid this? Well first, do I necessarily think that she needs special education at this time? No, I don’t. However, she needs something or she will develop academic concerns later. Research shows that reading deficits that are not addressed by second grade can cause future frustration and behavioral problems as students transition from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” A parent would say, how can you sit by and watch your child struggle and do nothing about it? Here is my advice.

  1. Ensure that there is a tiered system of support in place for students in general education. Not all students that need support are disabled and require special education services. Recognizing that there may be special needs for students in general education will go a long way to ensuring that students receive the support they need – and appeasing their parents. 
  2. Ensure that there is a clearly defined system of comprehensive assessments that measure milestones in reading and writing, math, and social-emotional and behavioral issues. The key time for these assessments should take place between Pre-K and second grade, as these are the most crucial years of development.
  3. Ensure that phonics instruction and assessment is part of the general education curriculum. 80-85% of students will learn phonics quickly and naturally. As those students are identified through assessment, then the other 15% of students who need more than just the basic phonics instruction can be provided with additional support in the classroom.
  4. Lastly, parent education on multi-tiered support systems (RTI) should be a part of yearly parent training. Let parents know what support is available besides special education. The whole purpose of having a tiered model of support is to identify academic/behavioral issues and address them and exit students from the program and not over-identify students as disabled.  

It is funny how these things work – that this is my chosen field, and yet I am also experiencing it as a parent. Our family is the perfect example of a student who would succeed within a multi-tiered system of support, with an action plan that offers direct support on a specific goal. Having these interventions recognized by the school would have helped them avoid “that letter” and enable our little one to be ready for the academic challenges that lie ahead.

Our team offers expertise in RTI implementation, and would love to help you begin to implement your district’s RTI or multi-tiered system of support (MTSS),  can help. We are experts on RTI implementation.  With our combined resources at F Jones Consulting & Team, along with  recommended data analysis platforms, we can help you avoid that letter and provide the necessary support for students to be successful in general education programs. Contact us at info@fjonesconsulting.com to get started!