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Saturday, September 30, 2017

Social-Emotional Learning Helps Students Succeed, but by How Much? New Report Looks for Answers

From The 74 Million

By Kate Stringer
September 26, 2017

Taking care of students’ social-emotional needs can significantly impact their academics, boost graduation rates, and improve economic outcomes. But figuring out how to assess social-emotional learning every day in the classroom is “one of the biggest missing pieces.”

Students practice mindfulness techniques at Lafayette Elementary School
in Washington, DC. (Credit: Jabin Botsford/Washington Post via Getty Images)

That’s how researcher Clark McKown described it. McKown, a professor at Rush University in Chicago, co-authored a report released today that summarizes the promises and challenges of creating tools for educators to understand how well their students are learning skills like grit, perseverance, self-regulation, and social cues.

The new report looked at the winners of an assessment design competition hosted by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning and found some promises as well as challenges in how SEL skills are measured.

Getting these assessments right is critical if the SEL movement is to be seen as more than just a “fad,” McKown wrote in April. “I’d like it to be a data-based discussion about the extent to which SEL is helpful and how we can make it better,” he told The 74.

Among the report’s findings:

No Shared Definition for SEL

Part of the problem is that even leading researchers don’t have consistent definitions for core social-emotional skills. For example, the UChicago Consortium on School Research emphasizes ideas like “values” and “mindsets,” whereas CASEL includes “self-awareness” and “responsible decision-making” on its list of core competencies.

The design competition saw this ambiguity play out among the submitted projects. For example, one team created a program to measure self-control by looking at how careful or careless students were when responding to challenging questions. Another team focused its design on measuring how well students could pick up on cues from social interactions with their peers.

Creative Solutions for Hard-to-Quantify Skills
Social-emotional skills can’t be tested as easily as geometry. Often, schools resort to annual surveys that rely on students’ self-reporting or teachers’ observational notes. So the report’s authors shared excitement at some of the solutions that design winners conceived to measure skills you won’t find on the SAT.

For example, a design called Social Detective shows high school students a dozen videos, which they respond to by analyzing characters’ thoughts and feelings. Another tool called The Calendar Task uses an online calendar application to measure how well middle and high schoolers can organize, manage their time, and schedule ahead.

Difficult to Use Across Diverse Districts

The report said that most of the designs, while scalable and easy to use, wouldn’t work across a wide range of school districts. Part of the problem is that there’s very little funding behind this assessment research.

McKown contextualized the challenge by contrasting the millions of dollars PARCC spent to make sure its tests could remain applicable across the nation’s incredibly diverse school districts. “We’re very early in the process of developing mature SEL assessments,” he said.

More Teacher Voice Needed in SEL Development

CASEL will continue its design competition over the next two years, but before its next call for submissions, it will be reaching out to educators, McKown said. Most submissions CASEL received this year were from academics and researchers, but CASEL wants to see what teachers would find most valuable in assessments before its next go-round.

Study Shows Kids’ Test Scores Drop When Their Food Stamps Run Out

From Talk Poverty

By Rachel West
September 25, 2017

Last week, researchers released a new study that confirms what every student, teacher, parent, and human being with a stomach already knew: It’s harder to think when you’re hungry.

The study’s authors matched up the timing of math tests in South Carolina to the dates when low-income students’ families received monthly Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits (or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps). They found that kids’ test scores dropped at times of the month when nutrition benefits had run out.

Put another way, access to SNAP substantially improves students’ academic performance—but only when there are actually enough benefits for families to be able to eat.

Running out of SNAP benefits isn’t an anomaly—nearly half of participating families run out before the end of the month. That means many students who receive SNAP see their academic performance dip every single month, and then rebound once their families receive more benefits.

That’s not surprising, since SNAP benefits average just $1.40 per person per meal; it’s such a gross underestimation of food cost that nearly 80 percent of benefits are spent in the first two weeks. School meals provide a little bit of a buffer—in fact, kids get as many as half their calories from the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs—but these programs aren’t designed to provide all the food a child needs to survive. Plus, they can’t reach kids on weekends or during the summer months.

Many students who receive SNAP see their academic performance dip every single month.

This new research adds to a wealth of evidence that hunger hampers kids’ ability to learn, holds back their development of social skills, and leads to behavioral problems. And it complements many careful studies that find that access to SNAP and other programs that provide basic living standards have large, positive effects on kids’ long-term outcomes.

What’s new and different about this paper, though, is that it demonstrates the immediate difference SNAP makes to kids, rather than the long-term effects. And it joins a small but growing body of research that examines how the economic insecurity many families experience on a month-to month—or even week-to-week—basis negatively impacts their lives.

This study also reveals a massive missed opportunity: For the modest cost of boosting SNAP benefits so that they’re enough to last all month—about $15 billion per year—the US could dramatically reduce hunger and significantly boost academic achievement and educational attainment for low-income students. That’s a fraction of what Trump has proposed in tax cuts: It adds up to $1 of food benefits for every $29 he wants to give to wealthy corporations and business owners.

Instead, President Trump wants to slash SNAP by a whopping 29 percent over the next decade. That could mean an average of 3.6 million families—including roughly 1.9 million families with children—would lose access to food assistance each year.

Not to be outdone, House Republicans propose cutting SNAP by 42 percent between 2023 and 2027, which could leave 7 million families hungry in 2023.

The Roosevelt Institute’s Marshall Steinbaum calls out the irony here: Many elites insist—sometimes condescendingly—that education is the ticket out of poverty. If you’re poor, they imply, it’s because you should have gone to school longer to secure a higher-paying job. But while education does tend to provide some protection from poverty, this misses a key insight. Sometimes, the barrier to education is poverty itself.

It goes without saying that protecting children from hunger is far and away the most important goal of SNAP—and the only necessary one. But studies like this show that when Trump and House Republicans propose gutting programs that ensure basic living standards, they’re not just leaving kids hungry. They’re ripping away low-income kids’ chances to escape economic insecurity and experience upward economic mobility.

How can we expect our nation’s next generation to focus on a dream—especially one as ambitious as the American Dream—when they’re hungry?

Friday, September 29, 2017

The Value of a Correct Diagnosis

From Smart Kids with LD

September 24, 2017

Peter was in the fifth grade when one of his mother’s friends asked her what he was receiving special education services for. “I don’t know exactly,” she responded. “But what was his diagnosis?” the friend asked. “He’s never been diagnosed. He just gets help in the resource room.”

Peter’s mother would never let her child take medicine for an illness the doctor hadn’t diagnosed. Yet Peter has spent five years receiving treatment for an unspecified learning problem. Who’s to say if the services he’s receiving are appropriate for his needs?

Getting effective help begins with a clear and accurate diagnosis. Without knowing the problem, it’s impossible to know what services are appropriate for your child. 

A diagnosis states the disability (“dyslexia,” “nonverbal learning disability,” etc.) and is based on an evaluation that takes into consideration test results and observations made by you, your child’s teachers, and the evaluator.

Is the diagnosis correct?

The diagnosis should make sense to you in light of what you know about learning disabilities as well as what you know about your child.

The evaluator should be able to explain the findings in a way that is convincing to you. If they don’t, it’s possible that the diagnosis is incorrect or the evaluator does not understand the nature of the problem.

If what is being done for your child doesn’t seem to be working, you must find out what is wrong—and the best place to start may be with a psychoeducational evaluation or a review of the initial diagnosis.

We Must Recognize Bullying as a Broad-Ranging Societal Challenge, Not Just Confined to Young People in Schools

From The 74 Million

By Catherine Bradshaw
September 27, 2017

"How can we directly confront the generalized notions of aggression and confrontation that have been popularized in television and film, and which are affirmed daily on social media?"

Think of news clips showing attack-minded politicians levying insults and threats, TV shows depicting abusive bosses shouting down their employees, and movies that show “jocks” terrorizing “nerds” and “mean girls” doling out cruelties.

The list goes on, proving bullying behaviors are nothing if not pervasive across our society.

Beyond the images of bullying we see in the media and in popular culture, it has become a major concern across the country for children as well as adults. The negative immediate and long-term impacts of bullying on behavioral, academic, and social-emotional outcomes have been well documented. In fact, all 50 states have enacted policies to try to address the issue.

Boston Latin School eighth-grader Judy Ayala, left, and fifth-grader Wendell
Summer, right, from Winship School in Brighton, attended Boston Public School’s
Saturdays for Success bullying prevention workshop in Hyde Park on
Saturday, March 3, 2012. (Photo credit: The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Our national concern about bullying is perhaps nowhere more apparent than in the context of our schools, where an estimated 30 percent of school-age youth either engage in or are victims of in-person or online bullying in the form of physical attacks, verbal threats, or other forms of relational and social aggression.

Encouragingly, school leaders are actively developing strategies — including training parents and educators to recognize warning signs and implementing prevention frameworks such as positive behavioral interventions and supports — to combat bullying. This work is critical to reducing the incidence of bullying in our schools, and it can play an important role in mitigating the bullying that occurs in a variety of settings later in the life course.

In conducting research for my recent book on bullying prevention across the life course, it became clear that we too often overlook how bullying takes root in preschool, how our children internalize this social and relational form of aggression, and how it manifests itself outside of school.

Bullying can also “get under the skin,” as a host of genetic and biologic factors play a role in bullying and its impacts. We can also conceptualize issues like race- and gender-based harassment, hazing, sexual assault, and dating violence at our colleges and in the workplace.

These behaviors just don’t go away as youth transition out of school into college and the world of work.

So, then, how can we better prevent bullying in schools in such a way that accounts for the broader cultural forces that have a propensity to aggrandize bullying behaviors? How can we directly confront the generalized notions of aggression and confrontation that have been popularized in television and film, and which are affirmed daily on social media?

First and foremost, we need to pay greater attention to young children’s aggressive behaviors, even as early as pre-K, and act to ensure these behaviors don’t develop into the types of bullying we see daily in our elementary, middle, and high schools.

In the early grades, educators and school leaders can discuss the aggressive behaviors that characters may display in books. As youth get older, they can link academic lessons back to what students see on television and experience in social media, openly confronting the credence that society gives to displays of assertiveness and conflict.

Educators can continue to interweave school-based social and emotional learning models and provide behavioral interventions and supports across our children’s curricula at all grade levels. Not only do these approaches reduce bullying and other aggressive behavior problems in schools, but they also improve school climate, help students regulate their emotions, and encourage them to display empathy.

Fundamentally, any efforts to address bullying must recognize it as a societal challenge that spans a broad range of age groups and settings; it is not restricted to young people in schools. By keeping in mind this broader understanding of bullying, we can better design school-based interventions that help us to curb it not only in our classrooms — but across our society as well.

Dr. Catherine Bradshaw is a professor and associate dean for research and faculty development at the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education. She served as principal investigator and the editor of Handbook on Bullying Prevention: A Life Course Perspective. Her primary research interests focus on the development and school-based prevention of aggressive behavior, including bullying.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

What Does the Environment Have to Do with Autism?

From Ensia

By Liza Gross
September 23, 2017

The search for autism’s causes is daunting — but researchers are investigating a variety of factors that might play a role.

If you look just at the numbers, you might think autism rates are spiraling out of control. The rates seemed high enough at 1 in 150 in 2000, when public health officials started tracking a steady rise in the syndrome in the United States.

And, by the time estimates finally flatlined in 2012 at 1 in 68, many parents had embraced unfounded theories blaming vaccines for an autism “epidemic,” helping to fuel outbreaks of measles and other once rare diseases.

Experts, however, attribute most of the upsurge to increased awareness, better access to services, and expanded criteria to diagnose the neurodevelopmental syndrome, which is characterized by restricted interests or behaviors and problems with communication and social interactions.

Autism is remarkably diverse, encompassing a wide spectrum of disabilities and gifts. “If you’ve met one child with autism,” parents and clinicians like to say, “you’ve met one child with autism.” That heterogeneity, which also includes a range of physical ailments, has made the search for autism’s causes a daunting task.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Autism and
Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network. Graph by Sean Quinn

Most studies have focused on genes, and suggest that hundreds of gene variants may increase risk. So-called copy number variations, which include long stretches of duplicated or deleted DNA that can alter gene expression, appear especially common in autism.

Clear evidence of autism’s genetic roots came when a 1977 study showed that identical twins, who share the exact same genome, were far more likely to also share an autism diagnosis than fraternal twins. We now know that a younger sibling of a child diagnosed with autism faces a higher risk of developing the condition than other children.

But twins also share the same environment, including the womb. And that shared environment, as a 2011 study of twin pairs reported, appears to play a greater role than previously appreciated.

One way environmental factors might influence autism risk is by changing “epigenetic factors” — proteins and other molecules that affect the way genes are expressed without changing the DNA sequence. Such factors, which are critical for normal brain development, respond to diverse exposures in the environment, from endocrine disruptors to folic acid in the diet.

Scientists hope that by identifying genes or genetic profiles that increase susceptibility to specific environmental exposures they’ll be able to find ways to alleviate disabling aspects of autism. But the science is “really just beginning,” says Lisa Croen, director of the Autism Research Program at Kaiser Permanente Division of Research.

What causes autism, and how environmental agents interact with genetic and epigenetic factors to increase risk, remains an open question.

Casting a Wide Net

Multiple factors likely interact to cause any one child’s likelihood of developing autism. And though scientists agree that genetic and environmental factors both play a role, genetics research has far outpaced work on environmental links.

“Up until 2007, we had virtually no research on what I think of as the world of environmental hazards and autism,” says Irva Hertz-Picciotto, who directs the MIND Institute Program in Environmental Epidemiology of Autism and Neurodevelopment at the University of California, Davis. Starting around 2010, she says, “suddenly everybody was studying it.”

To scientists, environmental risks include anything beyond the genome. So far they’ve investigated a potential role for air pollution, pesticides, parental age, medical conditions including infection and diabetes, prenatal care, lifestyle factors like the mother’s diet, smoking and alcohol consumption, and time between pregnancies.

Results from many of these studies have been mixed. Even when a study finds an association between an environmental factor and increased risk, it doesn’t imply causation, but suggests that factor might increase risk.

In a recent review of epidemiological studies of nongenetic autism factors, researchers reported advanced parental age and preterm birth as established risk factors, and short intervals between pregnancy and prenatal exposure to air pollution as potential risk factors. They concluded that a long list of other possible environmental factors, including endocrine disruption, warrant further investigation.

Endocrine disruptors have come under scrutiny because they can interfere with hormonal pathways involved in brain development. But studies of endocrine-disrupting chemicals, including flame retardants and perfluorinated compounds, have produced conflicting results.

“There’s not a consistent evidence base yet,” says Croen.

Evidence of increased risk appears stronger for phthalates, chemicals found in diverse consumer products from cosmetics to teething rings. Yet even these results vary. “The reasons for these different findings relate to study design, methodology, how exposures are ascertained, the way people are studied, the way cases are ascertained,” Croen says. “It’s kind of messy.”

Air pollution has so far received the most scrutiny, Hertz-Picciotto says. And though air pollution contains many known neurotoxicants, there’s also a bit of a streetlight effect: that’s where the data are. Federal, state and local agencies have monitored a range of air pollutants since passage of the Clean Air Act in 1970, giving researchers a treasure trove of data to map against where pregnant women live and infer potential exposures.

Several well-designed studies have found an association between air pollution and autism, including the Childhood Autism Risks from Genetics and the Environment, or CHARGE, study, which Hertz-Picciotto has run since 2002. But a few equally solid studies have not. “I think the jury’s still out on air pollution,” Hertz-Picciotto says.

Several studies have found an association between air pollution and
incidence of autism — but others have not. Photo courtesy of steinphoto

In a CHARGE study of organophosphate pesticide exposure during pregnancy, Hertz-Picciotto’s team found that women who lived within 1.5 kilometers (just less than a mile) of treated agricultural fields during their pregnancy had a 60 percent higher risk of having a child diagnosed with autism. The pesticide chlorpyrifos was associated with heightened risk during the second and third trimester.

Recent studies in mouse models developed to study autism risk factors (e.g., here and here) reported that prenatal exposure to pesticides, including chlorpyrifos, can interfere with the animals’ normal social, exploratory and vocal behaviors. Extrapolating from mice to humans is notoriously fraught, but scientists hope the models will help them screen for exposures that disrupt autism susceptibility genes and identify gene-environment interactions linked to increased risk.

Scientists with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommended restricting all uses of chlorpyrifos in 2015 based on evidence that the neurotoxic pesticide could place infants and children at risk. EPA administrator Scott Pruitt overturned that decision in March.

Dr. Hertz-Picciotto is vice chair of the Department of Public Health Sciences and
principal investigator for the Childhood Risk of Autism from Genetics and the Environment
(CHARGE) Study. In this video, she discusses new research assessing the risk of having a
child with autism posed by exposure to agricultural chemicals for expectant mothers.

Because pregnant women living in agricultural communities can’t fully avoid pesticide exposures, researchers have looked at factors that might reduce pesticide-associated autism risks. Hertz-Picciotto’s team considered folic acid as a potential mitigating factor based on evidence that it helps buffer the toxic effects of environmental contaminants.

And, several studies have reported that mothers who took folic acid supplements were less likely to have children with autism than those who didn’t, though a large study found no such association.

In a paper published earlier this month, Hertz-Picciotto and her colleagues reported evidence suggesting that folic acid supplements may indeed reduce autism risk associated with pesticide exposure. For women exposed to pesticides before conception or during the first three months of pregnancy, they found, taking folic acid supplements during the first month of pregnancy appeared to reduce the likelihood of having a child diagnosed with autism.

Whether supplements truly modify the harmful effects of the pesticides remains to seen.

Untangling the multiple ways that genes and environment might interact to contribute to autism has proven challenging.

Still, Hertz-Picciotto says women of reproductive age should take folic acid supplements. Solid evidence shows that taking prenatal vitamins fortified with folic acid before and during the first trimester helps guard against neural tube defects, malformations of the brain and spinal cord. And genetic variations that disrupt folate metabolism are fairly common.

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development also recommend that women take vitamins with folic acid before and during pregnancy to help protect their babies’ developing brain and nervous system.

Factors to Reduce Risk

Untangling the multiple ways that genes and environment might interact to contribute to autism has proven challenging. Genetic or epigenetic risks could lie with the child, the mother or possibly the father, all interacting in a dizzying array of combinations with exposure to environmental factors.

And, these interactions could go in two directions: Genetics could determine whether an exposure causes adverse effects, or an exposure could influence how the genes are expressed.

“There are a lot of different mechanisms going on here, and you need the right biologic samples to look at all the mechanisms,” Croen says. That’s exactly what the Early Autism Risk Longitudinal Investigation, a collaboration between Kaiser Permanente and three other research centers, set out to do.

EARLI aims to explore why autism tends to run in families by studying pregnant women who have a child with autism and then following their newborn children. The study design will allow them to identify potential risk factors if the new baby develops autism as well. Researchers collected biological specimens from the parents, assessed children in the clinic at key developmental windows, and visited homes to collect dust for chemical analysis.

They also conducted in-depth parental surveys focusing on the mother’s diet, routines, and use of pesticides and other potentially toxic products in the home. In a 2015 paper, the project linked epigenetic changes in the father’s sperm with risk of autism in the children.

The authors detected similar changes in postmortem brain tissue of people diagnosed with autism, which they say suggests such epigenetic factors may be at work in the child’s brain.

Both EARLI and CHARGE have joined a National Institutes of Health initiative called the Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes, or ECHO. The NIH initiative has awarded nearly US$300 million in grants since 2015 to study a wide range of children’s health conditions, including autism. This initiative aims to identify environmental factors at the earliest stages of development that could be modified to improve children’s health.

Epidemiologists hope that one day a technological breakthrough will allow them to read a person’s entire history of environmental exposures from biological specimens, just as they can determine a person’s genetic profile by genome sequencing. Until then, epidemiologists must settle for the messy tools of their trade. Still, Hertz-Picciotto remains hopeful that progress is on the horizon.

“I look back at things we’ve been studying for 20, 30, 40 years and, in some cases, there hasn’t been a whole lot more progress than we’ve had in the past 10,” she says. Hertz-Picciotto points to breast cancer researchers who now recognize that the changes leading to cancer likely start in childhood or puberty. “They’re trying to reconstruct things 30 years earlier. We’re just going back a few years.”

Coaches Could Face Liability on Student Concussions, Appeals Court Rules

From Education Week's Blog
"School Law"

By Mark Walsh
September 22, 2017

A federal appeals court has ruled that coaches or other school personnel may be liable when they expose student-athletes to further harm by having them return to play after a suspected concussion.

The unanimous decision by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, in Philadelphia, is significant amid the growing concern about concussions in football and other youth sports. 

But that holding did not help revive the legal claims of a Pennsylvania high school football player who experienced two separate "helmet to helmet" hits during a practice and later suffered traumatic brain injury.

The appeals court said it was not clearly established as of late 2011 that a coach violates a student's constitutional right to be free from state-imposed bodily harm by requiring the student to continue to play after showing signs of a concussion.

"No case has been called to our attention where a state-created danger was established after a student-athlete was required to continue to compete after sustaining a substantial hit, the results of which were observed by the coach and could potentially signal a head injury, yet where the student-athlete told the coach that he was fine to continue to play, all of which is the evidence in this case," the 3rd Circuit panel said in its September 21 decision in Mann v. Palmerton Area School District.

Sheldon Mann was a 17-year-old junior at Palmerton Area High School in November 2011 when he was hit and likely experienced what court papers call a "shoulder stinger," when his head went one way and his shoulder another.

At least one teammate testified later that the initial hit left Mann dizzy and stumbling, a sign of a likely concussion. Under protocols in use then, as well as today, such a potentially concussive hit call for a player to not return to play until at least being given a concussion check.

Head coach Chris Walkowiak claims in court papers that he did not see the initial hit to Mann. He asked Mann after the hit if he was all right, to which Mann replied, "I'm fine," court papers say.

About 20 plays later during the practice, Mann suffered another big hit to his upper body, and this time he left the field. As a result, Mann suffered the traumatic brain injury that includes slowed motor activity, altered sleep patterns, auditory hallucinations; recurrent headaches and head pain, nausea, dizziness, episodic aggressive behaviors, impaired peripheral vision, seizure activity, and other symptoms, court papers say.

Mann and his parents sued Walkowiak under the 14th Amendment's due process clause, based on the so-called state-created danger theory of liability. They also sued the Palmerton district, claiming its policies and customs failed to assure that injured student-athletes were medically cleared to resume participation in the sport, failed to enforce and enact proper concussion policies, and failed to train the coaches on a safety protocol for head injuries.

A federal district court granted summary judgment to both defendants.

The 3rd Circuit panel, in its ruling this week, held that a coach at a public school may be held liable where the coach requires a player who shows signs of a concussion "to continue to be exposed to violent hits."

"We hold that an injured student-athlete participating in a contact sport has a constitutional right to be protected from further harm, and that a state actor violates this right when the injured student-athlete is required to be exposed to a risk of harm by continuing to practice or compete," U.S. Circuit Judge Thomas I. Vanaskie wrote for the panel.

However, the court went on to hold that the right it described was not clearly established in 2011, and thus the coach was immune from liability.

As to the municipal-liability claim against the school district, the court rejected the Manns' claims that coaches in the district were not adequately trained on recognizing concussions.

"In this case there is no evidence of a pattern of recurring head injuries in the Palmerton Area football program," the court said. Also, it was significant that the Pennsylvania legislature did not pass a measure requiring that coaches undergo training to recognize concussions until November 2011, with that measure not taking effect until the next year.

"Under these circumstances, there is no basis for concluding that a policy or custom of Palmerton Area [school district] or its failure to provide more intense concussion training to its coaches caused a violation of Sheldon's constitutional rights," the court said.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

How to Have a Successful IEP Meeting

From the Harvard Graduate School of Education's Blog
"Usable Knowledge"

By Leah Shafer
September 15, 2017

For families whose child has a documented disability, the start of a new school year brings a new meeting with teachers and school officials to talk about the child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP).

These meetings can be nerve-wracking for families, who may be worried that their dreams for their child will go unheard, or that they’ll be criticized for behavioral problems. And, they might be utterly bewildered by the jargon used to describe their child’s needs.

By keeping these concerns in mind, teachers can use IEP meetings to strengthen school-family partnerships, rather than strain them. Here, we offer strategies for teachers to make families an equitable partner in IEP meetings. This advice comes from Powerful Partnerships: A Teacher’s Guide to Engaging Families for Student Success, by family engagement experts Karen Mapp, Ilene Carver and Jessica Lander.

"IEP meetings are tremendously significant in the lives of families and students, helping to shape students’ educational futures and chances for success," write Mapp, Carver and Lander. Here's how to make them effective.

Setting Up the Meeting

The way teachers reach out to families to schedule the IEP meeting sets the tone for their partnership. This communication can change a family’s thinking from “the school requires me to attend” to “my child’s teacher needs me in order to understand my child.”

To make families feel valued, Mapp, Carver, and Lander suggest that teachers:

  • Call home ahead of time to discuss the meeting, rather than sending an informational letter home with the student.
  • Describe what the meeting will entail, and how the family can prepare.
  • Explain who will attend: the teacher, the parent, a learning or behavioral specialist, and a district official.
  • Arrange the meeting around the family’s schedule.

Planning the Meeting

Schools are often intimidating places for families, especially those who are low-income, immigrants, or people of color.

To avoid the dynamic of “school versus family,” teachers should:
  • Think carefully about where the meeting will take place: Will a classroom be more comfortable than a specialist’s office? Is there a way to arrange the seating so that everyone is on equal ground?
  • Brainstorm how to position the family as an active participant, rather than just a listener. Prepare questions to ask the family about their dreams, expectations, and concerns for their child.
  • Create an “IEP one-pager” to use at the meeting. This document should leave space for the teacher, specialist, and family to list together what the student can do independently, what she can do with support, what areas of growth they will focus on, and the key accommodations they’ll use.

Holding the Meeting

“IEP meetings should be anchored in listening to each other and sharing goals,” say Mapp, Carver, and Lander. Their suggestions:
  • Regulations and legal requirement are important — but don’t let them dictate the structure of the meeting.
  • Talk together about the student’s strengths and areas of growth. Create supports and accommodations that can be used in school and at home. Connect accommodations to the family’s dreams for their child.
  • Avoid jargon, which can be alienating. Watch out for body language that reveals family members are confused or uncomfortable. Don’t be afraid to step-in with clarification or reassurance.
  • When working with low-income or minority families, keep in mind how their children, particularly boys, are often overidentified as having learnning or behavioral challenges. Make sure you’re getting to know each family’s history, experiences, and culture, and frame that background as an asset for your classroom.

Following Up

The start-of-year IEP meeting is only the beginning of this partnership.
  • Schedule regular follow-ups with families. While regulations require these yearly check-ins, a student may be more likely to make progress if their teacher, specialist, and family are continually updating one another.
  • Be flexible with how you communicate with one another. In-person meetings can be difficult to schedule. Ask parents if texting, calling, or emailing would work better.
  • Use the IEP one-pager throughout the year to update families on their child’s progress.

Additional Resources

Nowhere to Go: Young People with Severe Autism Languish Weeks or Longer in Hospitals

From Kaiser Health News
via The Washington Post

By Christina Jewett
Kaiser Health News

September 23, 2017

Teenagers and young adults with severe autism are spending weeks or even months in emergency rooms and acute-care hospitals because of a lack of community treatment programs able to deal with their outbursts, according to interviews with parents, advocates and physicians from Maine to California as well as federal and state data.

These young people — who may shout for hours, bang their heads on walls or lash out violently at home — are taken to the hospital after community social services and programs fall short and families call 911 for help. Once there, they sometimes are sedated or restrained for long periods as they wait for beds in specialized facilities or return home once families recover from the crisis or find additional support.

While the data on extended hospital stays are limited, national numbers on people with an autism diagnosis who were seen in hospital ERs nearly doubled over five years to 159,517 in 2014, according to the latest figures from the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. The total admitted for a behavioral or medical issues also nearly doubled, to 26,811 in 2014.

That same year, California recorded acute-care hospital stays of at least a month for 60 patients with an autism diagnosis. The longest were 211 and 333 days.

“As more children with autism are identified, and as the population is growing larger and older, we see a lot more mental-health needs in children and adolescents with autism,” explained Aaron Nayfack, a developmental pediatrician at Sutter Health’s Palo Alto Medical Foundation in California who has researched the rise in lengthy hospitalizations. “And we have nowhere near the resources in most communities to take care of these children in home settings.”

Sixteen-year-old Ben Cohen spent 304 days in the ER of Erie County Medical Center in Buffalo. His room was retrofitted so the staff could view him through a windowpane and pass a tray of food through a slot in a locked door. His mother, who felt it wasn’t safe to take him home, worried that staff “were all afraid of him . . . [and] not trained on his type of aggressive behaviors.”

The problem parallels the issue known as psychiatric boarding, which has been an increasing concern in recent years for a range of mental illnesses. Both trace to the challenges of deinstitutionalization, the national movement that aimed to close large public facilities and provide care through community settings. But the resources to support that fell short long ago, exacerbated by the 2008 recession, when local, state and federal budget reductions forced sharp cuts in developmental and mental-health services.

The hospital “is the incredibly wrong place for these individuals to go in the beginning,” said psychiatrist Michael Cummings, associate medical director at the Erie County facility. “It’s a balancing act of trying to do the . . . least harm in a setting that is not meant for this situation.”

Ben Cohen lived for months in a hospital
emergency room where food was passed
through a slot in a locked door.
(Courtesy of Mary Cohen)
Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder typically diagnosed at a young age and characterized by impaired communication, difficulty with social interaction and repetitive behaviors that fall along a spectrum of mild to severe.

Adolescents and young adults with severe autism may still have the mental age of a child, and short-term care to stabilize those in crisis who are nonverbal or combative is practically nonexistent.

Longer-term care can be almost as hard to find. It must be highly specialized, usually involving intensive behavioral therapy; someone with severe autism gets little benefit from traditional psychiatric services.

[People with autism, intellectual disabilities fight bias in transplants]

In New Hampshire this summer, 22-year-old Alex Sanok spent a month in Exeter Hospital after he became violent at home, breaking windows and hurling objects at walls. His mother called 911, and paramedics spent half an hour trying to calm him before restraining him.

At the hospital, his wrists and ankles were strapped to an ER bed for the first week, and he spent several more weeks in a private room before he could be transferred, according to his mother, Ann Sanok. State agencies that handle developmental disabilities and mental health offered little help, she said.

As the days passed, she and her husband wondered: “What if [Alex] escalates again, what are we doing to do? We were getting no answers. Everyone seemed to kick the can down the road.”

Exeter Hospital said in a statement that its policy is not to use restraints unless there is an “imminent threat to patient or staff safety” and that any use is reviewed hourly.

Sanok was moved in June to a special-needs residential school in Massachusetts, where his mother said he is doing well.

Alex Sanok’s mother says he was restrained for a
week in an ER bed. Weeks more passed until he
was moved to a special-needs residential
school. (Courtesy of GeskusPhotography )
The government does no routine tracking of how autism is treated in ERs, but experts say the problem of lengthy, inappropriate stays is nationwide and growing.

Kaiser Health News identified some of the more extreme cases through interviews with autism and disability advocates, physicians and families in New Hampshire, New York, California and six other states — Maine, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maryland, Michigan and Arizona.

Nancy Pineles, a managing attorney with the nonprofit group Disability Rights Maryland, said a group home took one young adult to a Baltimore ER earlier this year after he hit a staff member. And that’s where he remained for several weeks before the hospital moved him to a room in its hospice wing, she said — not because he was dying, but because there was nowhere else for him to go.

Such cases have been “on the increase,” Pineles said. “People with autism and more intense behavioral needs are just being frozen out.”

In Connecticut, the head of the state’s Office of the Child Advocate told lawmakers during a hearing on disability issues in May that the problem had reached a “crisis” level.

Private insurance data underscore the concerns. In a study published in February in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, researchers from Pennsylvania State University found that young people ages 12 to 21 with autism are four times likelier to go to the emergency room than peers without autism. They also are 3½ times more likely to be admitted to a hospital floor — at which point they stay in the hospital nearly 30 percent longer.

The analysis, based on a sample of 87,000 insurance claims, also showed that older adolescents with autism are in the ER more than their younger counterparts. The percentage of their visits for a mental-health crisis almost doubled from 2005 to 2013.

Tyler Stolz, a 26-year-old woman with autism and a seizure disorder, was stabilized after a few weeks in a Sacramento hospital. Yet she remained there for 10 months, according to Disability Rights California, an advocacy group that described her case in its 2015 annual report.

Ultimately, Mercy San Juan Medical Center went to court to demand that Stolz’s public guardian move her. Although her conditions no longer required her hospitalization, they still “represent dangers to defendant and possibly to others if she were discharged to the community,” the facility contended. “There is no safe place for the client to go.”

The advocacy nonprofit helped place Stolz at a Northern California center that offered intensive behavioral therapy, recounted Katie Hornberger, the nonprofit’s director of clients’ rights. The medical center did not respond to a request for comment, but two years after an investigator found Stolz in a bed covered by a mesh tent, the case remains vivid in Hornberger’s mind. “I don’t believe we put people in cages,” she said.

[People on the autism spectrum live an average of 18 fewer years than everyone else, study finds]

Across the country in Buffalo, Mary Cohen struggled to care for her teenage son. Ben’s 6-foot-1, 240-pound body dwarfed her petite frame.

She began locking herself in a basement room to escape his outbursts, while still monitoring him via cameras she’d installed throughout the house to make sure he was safe. As the lock-ins became more frequent, she realized, “I can’t keep going like this.”

She found a nearby group home, covered by his disability and Medicaid payments, that could accommodate Ben.

On Aug. 1, 2016, it all imploded. Medication changes and an ear infection triggered a rage, Cohen said, and Ben hurt one of the staff members. Someone called 911, he was taken to the psychiatric emergency room at Erie County Medical Center, and a waiting room there is where he lived until early this summer.

Though a 304-day stay is a record there, cases like this have surged at the hospital, said Cummings, its executive director of behavioral health, who worked on Ben’s case. They spurred him to launch a grant-funded home-visit program aimed at keeping families with autistic children from reaching a breaking point. He and his clinical partner have counseled nearly 400 families to help manage their youngsters’ medications and find services, and their ER visits have dropped by nearly 50 percent, he said.

A bed finally opened up for Ben at Baltimore’s Kennedy Krieger Institute — a private, highly regarded facility that offers intensive therapy, psychiatry and family coaching. Cohen held out for a placement there, hoping the staff could turn Ben’s behavior around. The teen and his mother made the 360-mile trip in June by ambulance and plane.

“I want to do the right thing for him,” Cohen said. “Because one day I’m not going to be there for him.”

Kaiser Health News, a nonprofit health newsroom whose stories appear in news outlets nationwide, is an editorially independent part of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Serious and Long-Lasting Impact of Disaster on Schoolchildren

From The Washington Post

By Valerie Strauss
September 11, 2017

Children caught in natural or man-made disasters can suffer from trauma and bereavement far longer than adults realize, and this can affect not only how well they perform at school but also the trajectory of their lives, researchers have said.

The Rockport-Fulton High School gymnasium in Rockport, Texas was ripped
apart by Hurricane Harvey. (Wagner Austin/American-Statesman via AP)

Floodwaters eventually recede, power is restored, buildings are repaired and daily routines begin again, but many children struggle, finding it difficult to concentrate, do schoolwork and sleep. Some are scared to leave home for school, fearful something will happen to them or their families.

And at school, some will act out, leading to suspension and expulsion, while others can’t concentrate, said David Schonfeld, head of the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement at the University of Southern California.

Adults don’t always see how children react internally and expect them to bounce back quickly when routines are restarted, but the effects can linger years after the disaster.

“It’s not like it gets all better quickly and everyone can move on,” Schonfeld said. Though it is often said that children are flexible and get used to living in difficult conditions, in many cases, they don’t.

“Communities still have ongoing challenges to rebuild,” he said. “People may have died, and there is grief related to that. Children don’t easily get over it. They don’t forget it. They don’t go back to the way they were before.”

Researchers say academic performance and graduation rates generally drop after a disaster, although precise numbers on how many children are affected and in what ways are not available, and great variability exists in how children respond. That’s why schools are urged to write notes to colleges explaining why a student’s performance dropped during a period of trauma.

As for catching up, well, Schonfeld said, that doesn’t really happen in the sense of making up for all the lost work.

“They don’t catch up in the sense that they can do everything they would have done in the absence of the crisis and make up for all of the lost time, but they will catch up in their rate and capacity to learn, and that is really what your goal is,” he said.

He told one administrator to think of it as if someone running a marathon hurt her ankle and had to sit out awhile. That runner might be able to get back to running at the same speed as before the injury but can’t really make up for what was lost.

“It’s just not realistic,” Schonfeld said. “Why would you ever think they could make up for it? I will say this to administrators, and they will say that makes sense. So I say, ‘Don’t hold yourself to that expectation. Don’t think you can help kids do that. Just meet your kids where they are and help them get as far as they can.’ That is what education is.”

In 2010, the Congress-mandated National Commission on Children and Disasters reported that state and local governments needed to better identify the needs of children — including those with special needs — before disaster strikes and develop long-term recovery plans that address their housing, education, health and mental-health needs.

It offered 81 recommendations, but the most recent assessment of how much state and local governments took that to heart, a 2015 report by the nonprofit Save the Children, found that only 17 recommendations had been “fully met.”

Some cities have had to scramble to keep school going after hurricanes, such as by sending students to temporary housing or even to different districts. And some students, such as those in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, wound up in new schools in their own city after virtually the entire school system was converted into charter schools.

In poor communities and those that have no post-disaster plans, kids suffer more.

A 2010 meta-analysis of 96 studies that examined post-traumatic stress disorder or post-traumatic stress symptoms in nearly 75,000 youths found that in many cases, the effects of the disaster last years and that it is not just the disaster that causes trauma:

"The first year post-disaster constitutes what have been referred to as the recoil, postimpact, and initial recovery phases … during which time many children are forced to relocate, change schools, and/or cope for the first time with the loss of a loved one. These forms of disaster-related life disruption can, in turn, be associated with increased risk of developing post-disaster PTS."

Another 2010 study found that it took several years after Katrina for children who went through the storm to see a lessening of post-traumatic stress and depression symptoms. It said the most important way to help children recover was to build and maintain supportive relationships, which was evident at Stone Harbor Elementary in New Jersey, a school that closed October to March after Hurricane Sandy.

Stacey Tracy, superintendent of the district that contains Stone Harbor, said the young students there easily moved to the middle school they would attend later and the small and close community came together to handle any issues that arose. “We were lucky,” she said. “We were fine. We are fine. The kids are all fine.”

It turns out children around the world react similarly to disaster despite differences in cultures and resources. A 2016 research brief by the Center on Conflict and Development at Texas A&M University titled “The Impact of Natural Disaster on Childhood Education” looked at devastating earthquakes’ effect on young people in Nepal. It found the same dynamic despite the very different cultures in that country and the United States.

The poorest were the hardest hit, and young people were affected in these primary ways:

"Based on our literature review, there are four main channels through which natural disasters may impact education: psychological impact, shifts in child labor, infrastructure damage, and poverty.

The psychological impact of natural disasters can hinder a student’s ability to perform well in school. After a natural disaster, survivors have shown symptoms similar to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which can last up to five years following the disaster and decrease academic performance."