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Sunday, September 30, 2018

Special Education Law: Mistakes People Make - Independent Evaluators

From Wrightslaw

By Robert K. Crabtree, Esq.
January 31, 2012

As informed and articulate as particular parents may be, they usually cannot make a case for particular services or programs for their child without the help of a competent and credible independent evaluator. In due process hearings, there is usually no more important witness for the family.

In this light, the most serious mistakes evaluators can make are the ones that undermine their credibility or which render their opinions powerless for lack of follow-through.

Here are some serious mistakes independent evaluators should try to avoid:

1.) Failing to assess the student's testing performance in the larger context of his/her educational history, family situation, school setting, psychological make-up and other factors. An evaluation can only provide a snapshot of a student. A report that only describes current test scores explains nothing and provides little foundation for the evaluator's recommendations.

2.) Not contacting the student's teacher(s), special education administrator, or other school personnel involved with the student as key sources of information in the evaluation. Evaluators should not simply assume that the parents' perceptions are more accurate than the school's; sometimes the evaluator's most important role is to reassure parents that their child's public school program is essentially sound.

3.) Writing reports that are poorly organized, full of jargon, carelessly proofread, or in which the recommendations do not connect logically to the testing results; using boilerplate recommendations that are obviously not specifically geared to the student and his/her particular circumstances.

4.) Limiting program and service recommendations only to those the evaluator knows are available in the student's particular school system and/or taking the potential cost of providing recommended services into account. Worse, failing to make any educational recommendations at all on the misguided premise that only school employees can decide how to meet identified needs.

Special education law entitles the student to services that will enable him/her to progress educationally. The evaluator's job is to recommend appropriate services, not to limit recommendations to those that are convenient for school systems.

5.) Failing to consider and report on the likely risks for a student if recommendations are not implemented.

6.) Not clarifying for parents that there is often a real difference between recommendations that are clinically desirable and recommendations that are legally mandated (e.g., the best educational program for Johnny may be at a private school catering to his specific needs, but the public school program, which offers less intensive special education services in the "least restrictive" setting may be what the law entitles Johnny to).

7.) Not referring parents to a competent special education attorney or advocate to evaluate and advocate for their legal rights.
8.) Refusing to leave the citadel: not following through after the report is written; e.g., not attending team meetings, observing programs, and/or testifying when those activities are necessary to ensure that the evaluator's recommendations will be understood, accepted, and implemented.

8.) Working exclusively as a parents' or as a school system's evaluator; this is a sure way to lose credibility as an evaluator over time.

More "Mistakes People Make" Articles

Mistakes Independent Experts Make. Read what to do to avoid feelings of betrayal and the retaliation that results when independent experts in your corner make mistakes. Read this article by Pete Wright, Esq.

Mistakes People Make: Parents. Because the stakes are so high, it is difficult for parents of children with special educational needs to advocate calmly and objectively for the educational and related services their children need. To learn about mistakes parents make, read this article.

Mistakes People Make: School Districts. What makes parents angry? Parents are angry when school personnel take actions that undermine trust, create a negative climate that destroys peace of mind, and deliver inadequate services to the child. Want to learn more? Read article.

Mistakes People Make: Advocates. Because the non-lawyer advocate plays an extremely important role in the special education process, advocates must be mindful of the power of their role and the trust parents place in them. The more serious mistakes advocates may make are generally ones of excess . . . Read article.

More Articles by Robert K. Crabtree, Esq.

The Paper Chase: Managing Your Child's Documents. "If you have kids with special educational needs, you can be overwhelmed with paperwork in no time at all . . ."

Discipline: Suspension, Expulsions and IEPs. Read this article by parent attorney Robert Crabtree to learn about functional behavioral assessments, behavior intervention plans, long-term suspensions and expulsions, the child's rights, and what parents can do to protect these rights. Learn how to request a behavior assessment, an expedited hearing, and how to invoke "stay put."

What Does School Funding Buy? Lower Discipline Rates and More Learning

From the Education Law Prof Blog

By Derek Black
September 24, 2018

A month ago, I tried to show how school quality and school discipline are intertwined. I talked about my prior research, put up a fancy color-coded map of school funding and achievement gaps from Bruce Baker and another fancy color-coded map of school suspensions by the ACLU and UCLA Civil Rights project.

A rough mashing together of these two maps showed that the funding and achievement gaps had substantial overlap with school suspensions. But of course, it would take a much more sophisticated analysis to make any firm conclusions. And the average reader or parent might very well start to feel their eyes glaze over with all the numbers if we did that.

For a lot of people and policymakers, simple examples rather than sophisticated data are better. That's what makes this new story out of Nashville Public Schools so helpful (and disheartening).

The Nashville Public Schools have been operating under a grant from the state that funds trauma informed services in 10 of the district's schools. That grant is up and local advocates are worried about what comes next. They are asking the school district to replace those funds out of their own budget and increase them.

The Tennessean reports that "[t]he increased support for students has helped almost every school see a reduction in office discipline referrals, helping keep kids in the classroom." The first school to implement the trauma informed practices saw "the most promising results, with a 97-percent reduction in discipline referrals."

All but one of the other schools also saw impressive reductions:
  • Fall-Hamilton Elementary — 97 percent reduction in year one and a 53 percent reduction in year two over the previous year.
  • Eakin Elementary — 73 percent reduction.
  • Waverly Belmont Elementary — 29 percent reduction.
  • Napier Elementary — 15 percent reduction.
  • Hermitage Elementary — 60 percent reduction.
  • Inglewood Elementary — One percent reduction.
  • Tulip Grove Elementary — 52 percent reduction.
  • Meigs Magnet Middle Prep — 37 percent reduction.

So if someone asks what money buys, it buys district and school coordinators for the program, reduced suspensions, and more time in the classroom. 

And for those keeping score, it doesn't look like Tennessee schools have enough money as a general principle. The national School Funding Fairness report card shows that Tennessee ranks 43 in terms of school funding levels (even after making regional and cost based adjustments).

The level of effort it exerts to fund its schools (based on available resources in the state) similar ranks in the bottom, earning it an "F" on the report card. And Bruce Baker's study of what it would cost to achieve average outcomes shows that even the wealthiest districts are under-funding education in Tennessee. The poorest districts are short about $3,500 per pupil.

But when you understand the connection between school quality and student achievement, this might very well be an investment that Nashville needs to make no matter where the money comes from.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Boys Don’t Read Enough

From The Atlantic

By Alia Wong
September 28, 2018

Girls read more than boys in just about every developed country, and it's a big reason they have better educational outcomes.

Developed countries like the United States have seen a remarkable transformation in education over the last century: Girls and young women—once subjected to discrimination in, and even exclusion from, schools and colleges—have “conquered” those very institutions, as a report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) put it.

Today, for example, women comprise a growing majority of students on college campuses in the U.S., up from around 40 percent in the 1970s.

One understated contributor to this development has been that girls routinely outstrip boys at reading. In two of the largest studies ever conducted into the reading habits of children in the United Kingdom, Keith Topping—a professor of educational and social research at Scotland’s University of Dundee—found that boys dedicate less time than girls to processing words, that they’re more prone to skipping passages or entire sections, and that they frequently choose books that are beneath their reading levels.

“Girls tend to do almost everything more thoroughly than boys,” Topping told me, while conversely boys are “more careless about some, if not most, school subjects.” And notably, as countless studies show, girls are also more likely to read for pleasure.

But it’s not just a phenomenon in the U.K.: These trends in girls’ dominance in reading can be found pretty much anywhere in the developed world. In 2009, a global study of the academic performance of 15-year-olds found that, in all but one of the 65 participating countries, more girls than boys said they read for pleasure.

On average across the countries, only about half of boys said they read for enjoyment, compared to roughly three-quarters of girls. (The list generally excludes less-developed countries where girls and women tend to have lower rates of literacy than boys and men.)


But that girls read more than boys the world over doesn’t mean that biology is the driving force. As Lise Eliot, a neuroscientist at Chicago Medical School, said at the Aspen Ideas Festival in June: The brain “is a unisex organ,” meaning gender differences are mostly a result of socialization, not genetics. After all, boys tend to be more vulnerable than girls to peer pressure, and that could discourage them from activities like reading that are perceived to be “uncool.”

Are male and female brains biologically different?

David Reilly, a psychologist at Australia’s Griffith University who co-authored a recent analysis on gender disparities in reading in the U.S., echoed these arguments, pointing to the stereotype that liking and excelling at reading is a feminine trait.

He suggested that psychological factors—like girls’ tendency to develop self-awareness and relationship skills earlier in life than boys—could play a role in the disparity, too, while also explaining why boys often struggle to cultivate a love of reading.

“Give boys the right literature, that appeals to their tastes and interests, and you can quickly see changes in reading attitudes,” he says, citing comic books as an example.

Topping suggests that schools ought to make a more concerted effort to equip their libraries with the kinds of books—like nonfiction and comic books—that boys say they’re drawn to. “The ability to read a variety of kinds of text for a variety of purposes is important for life after school,” he says.

Understanding why girls are so much more inclined to read might help eradicate what is proving to be a stubborn gender gap both in the U.S. and around the world: the lagging educational outcomes of boys and men. Reading for pleasure is, as the OECD has concluded, a habit that can prove integral to performing well in the classroom.

“Any cognitive skill can be improved with practice,” Reilly says. “If girls are reading more outside of school”—if they’re doing so out of an intrinsic motivation rather than because they have to—“this provides them with thousands of hours of additional reading over the course of their development.”

And those extra hours pay dividends for years to come in the classroom.

America’s Achievement Gap — Made, Not Born? What a Study of 30,000 Students Reveals About Lowered Expectations and Poorer Quality Instruction for Kids of Color

From The 74 Million

By David Cantor
September 25, 2018

Students of color consistently receive less challenging instruction and schoolwork than do their white and more affluent classmates, a new study has found, often leaving them unprepared for college even if they have received top grades.

The report used extensive surveying of students, who wore vibrating watches that prompted them to take surveys during class. Their responses suggest that the failure to challenge young people from low-income and minority families in middle and high school helps explain why the rise in high school graduation rates in recent years has not translated to better college outcomes.

“While many students do have barriers to overcome to succeed in school, some of the biggest barriers are created by decisions very much within our control,” said the advocacy nonprofit TNTP, which released its report, “The Opportunity Myth,” on Tuesday.

“As a field, we’ve covered up the racist, classist, and just plain unfair choices we’ve made by telling parents and students — particularly students of color — that they are doing fine, when all the evidence from their classroom work and their exam scores suggests that they are not,” the report says.

TNTP said it surveyed 30,000 students between grades 6 and 12, analyzed 20,000 student work samples, and observed 1,000 lessons in five school districts, primarily during the 2016-17 school year. It did not name the districts but described them as “rural and urban, district and charter.” It said charter “district” referred to a charter network.

Perhaps most strikingly, the report found that most students in these districts were typically given below-grade-level class assignments designed for students several years younger, often because teachers did not believe they could succeed at a higher level.

They completed the assignments successfully more than two-thirds of the time. With little opportunity to tackle appropriate material, however, they submitted work that met grade-level standards only 17 percent of the time.

TNPT said ability was not an obstacle. In classrooms with more grade-level work, students gained about two months of learning compared with their peers.

College Readiness “a Myth”

The report said more than 90 percent of students it surveyed in each district planned to go to college, a nearly identical figure across different groups. Adding a cri de coeur, it described remediation rates in four-year colleges for black students at 66 percent and Latinos at 53 percent as a broken promise made by a society that oversells the value of a high school diploma.

Students interviewed by TNTP believe that “showing up, doing the work, and meeting their teachers’ expectations will prepare them for what’s next,” the report says. “They believe that for good reason. We’ve been telling them so. Unfortunately, it’s a myth.”

TNTP determined that college struggles are rooted in inequities in four overlapping areas: middle and high school assignments that reflect grade-level standards; teaching that demands deep thinking; student engagement, described as a “cognitive and emotional investment” in schoolwork; and high expectations by teachers.

Racial differences cut across each of these. White students had a 65% success rate on grade-level work, while students of color had a 56% rate. But 4 out of 10 classrooms where students of color were the majority, or 40%, never received any grade-level assignments, compared with 12% of mostly white classrooms.

Teachers in mostly white and higher-income classrooms offered three and a half to five times as many of what TNTP called “strong instructional practices” that forced students to come up with answers rather than have them watch passively.

Greater levels of engagement and expectations were also reported in classrooms with mostly white students.

The biggest variations in these areas were within, not across, districts, the report said.

Accomplished teaching and grade-level assignments were in short supply for everyone in the districts: TNTP calculated that students received strong instruction for just 29 of 180 hours over the course of a year in a core subject, and spent 133 of 280 hours on assignments that were inappropriate for their grades.

All students benefited from better practice, but students who started the year behind grade level made outsize gains, the report said. Access to stronger instruction and on-grade assignments added the equivalent of six and seven months of learning, respectively.

“The ‘achievement gap’ is not inevitable,” the report says. “It’s baked into a system where some students get more than others.”

Vibrating Watch Means It’s Survey Time

TNTP recommended that districts undertake “equity audits” of their schools, incorporate student experience into school decision-making, commit to diversity in hiring — the report finds that teachers have higher expectations of students of the same race — and make grade-appropriate assignments “an urgent priority for all students.”

While visiting participating schools at different times in the school year, TNTP surveyed students in grades 6 through 12 over the course of the day about their school activities.

“During the entire week of our second and third site visits, all students with parental consent were provided a vibrating watch and a survey at the beginning of class,” the report says. “At six points during class, a handful of watches would vibrate. When a student’s watch vibrated, it was his or her signal to complete the survey about their current activity and perceptions.”

It continued: “We could capture experiences throughout class instead of at one distinct point in time.”

As to the surprisingly variable quality of lessons in districts with strong standards — four of the five use the Common Core — TNTP’s CEO Daniel Weisberg said, “Just signing on to a set of standards or adopting a curriculum doesn’t ensure that students are receiving grade-level assignments.

“That’s why it’s so important for district leaders to do what we’ve done here: take a close look at what students are really experiencing day in and day out. If you don’t know exactly how much time students spend on work that’s aligned with the standards you’ve chosen, chances are you’re letting a lot of inconsistency and inequity slip through the cracks.”

Friday, September 28, 2018

A Blood Test for Autism? Not So Fast, Experts Say

From Spectrum News

By Hannah Furfaro
September 10, 2018

A new study suggests that its results could lead to a simple test for some children with autism, but statisticians say the test — even if validated — could not be used to screen for autism in the general population.

The study, published Thursday in Biological Psychiatry, says about 17 percent of children with autism have unusual proportions of amino acids — the building blocks of proteins — in their blood (1). A test that looks for these molecules correctly identifies nearly 94 percent of this subgroup of children.

However, those results only hold because of the study’s statistical design, experts say. In the general population, the test’s accuracy would be less than 8 percent.

This number “isn’t what you would want for a general population,” says Keely Cheslack-Postava, a statistician and research scientist in psychiatry at Columbia University, who was not involved in the work.

The test is most promising for children at high risk of autism — including those who have older siblings diagnosed with the condition, lead investigator David Amaral, professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at the University of California, Davis.

“We understand that there’s more steps to go before there’s a definitive blood test,” even for the subset of children with the distinctive patterns of molecules, Amaral says. “But what I think is interesting is a blood test for this subtype of autism isn’t decades away; it could literally be months away.”

Finding Clusters

Clinicians typically diagnose autism using behavioral measures, but the process is subjective and time-consuming. So there is enormous interest in a test for autism that is based on biological markers.

The new findings stem from the Children’s Autism Metabolome Project, a study of 1,100 autistic children designed to find blood signatures of the condition. The work, funded in part by Stemina Biomarker Discovery, a company based in Madison, Wisconsin, has so far cost $8 million.

The work is based on the idea that problems with metabolism, which can show up in the blood, accompany autism. For example, some people with the condition show overactivity in mTOR, a molecular pathway involved in breaking down nutrients.

In a 2014 pilot study, Stemina researchers reported that a panel of molecules could predict autism with 81 percent accuracy in a group of 61 children (2). The new work builds on those findings by looking for patterns in a much larger sample.

Amaral and his colleagues recruited 516 autistic children and 164 typical children aged 18 months to 4 years. The team confirmed the children’s diagnoses using the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule.

The children fasted for 12 hours before clinicians collected their blood. The researchers then measured the levels of individual molecules and groups of molecules of various types in the samples.

The team found an association between autism and the proportions of three clusters of amino acids. An unusual set of ratios in any one of the clusters, which each contain between two and eight amino acids, accurately flags autism 7 to 10 percent of the time; 16.7 percent of the autistic children had atypical ratios in least one cluster.

Measuring these amino acids could aid in the diagnosis of autism in some children, says Elizabeth Donley, chief executive officer at Stemina. “We think it’s a very good first step in validating biological biomarkers for autism and for future diagnosis tools and also potentially precision medicine,” Donley says.

False Flags

However, the calculation of accuracy — known as the positive predictive value — depends greatly on the composition of the sample. In particular, it depends on the proportion of people in the sample who have the condition in question. In the sample tested, the proportion of children with autism is 76 percent; in the U.S. population, it is less than 2 percent.

“They could get that kind of positive predictive value in this sample where there’s a ton of cases [and few typical children], but that’s probably not the population it would be applied to,” says Craig Newschaffer, director of the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute in Philadelphia, who was not involved in the research.

This sort of study design isn’t unusual when looking for a biomarker, Cheslack-Postava says. But even those who are supportive of the study’s aims say the findings are preliminary.

“This has the potential to open up whole new areas of diagnostics and treatments for autism,” says Joseph Gleeson, professor of neurosciences at the University of California, San Diego, who was not involved in the work. “But it’s very early and needs to be interpreted very cautiously.”

Stemina’s goal is not to create a screen for the general population but rather a diagnostic test for a subset of children with autism based on the metabolite panel, Donley says. “If we were using this as a broad signature of autism and trying to identify every child with autism in the population, then we would be concerned with that.”

The researchers plan to analyze the amino acid levels in another 420 children. They also intend to search for associations between autism and another panel of molecules in their samples.

  1. Smith A. et al. Biol. Psychiatry Epub ahead of print (2018) Abstract
  2. West P.R. et al. PLOS One 9, e112445 (2014) PubMed

Parents are Leery of Schools Requiring 'Mental Health' Disclosures by Students

From NPR's Health Blog "Shots"

By Julio Ochoa
September 21, 2018

"If you do say, 'Yes, my child has seen a counselor or a therapist or a psychologist,'
what does the school then do with that?" asks Laura Goodhue, who has a
9-year-old son on the autism spectrum and a 10-year-old son
who has seen a psychologist. Andrea D'Aquino for NPR

Children registering for school in Florida this year were asked to reveal some history about their mental health.

The new requirement is part of a law rushed through the state legislature after the February shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

The state's school districts now must ask whether a child has ever been referred for mental health services on registration forms for new students.

"If you do say, 'Yes, my child has seen a counselor or a therapist or a psychologist,' what does the school then do with that?" asks Laura Goodhue, who has a 9-year-old son on the autism spectrum and a 10-year-old son who has seen a psychologist. "I think that was my biggest flag. And I actually shared the story with a couple of mom friends of mine and said, 'Can you believe this is actually a thing?'"

Goodhue worries that if her children's mental health history becomes part of their school records, it could be held against them.

"If my child was on the playground and something happened," she says, "they might think, 'This child has seen mental health services. This must mean something' — more than it really means."

The question was largely overlooked until parents started filling out school registration forms this summer. It was five words in a 105-page school safety bill that contained controversial measures like increasing the minimum age to buy a gun, and arming school employees.

Parents worry that the information could fall into the wrong hands and may follow children throughout their education, says Alisa LaPolt, executive director of the Florida chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

"In a perfect world, getting treatment for mental health challenges would be no different than getting medical treatment for a skin rash or a bad cold or a broken leg," LaPolt says. But that's not the world we live in right now. There is stigma around mental illness and getting treatment for it."

School districts say counselors will use the information to help Florida students get the services they need.

Some districts will only share the information with psychologists and administrators. Others say they will provide access to teachers and front office staff as well.

School counselors say they understand the stigma surrounding mental illness. Some say the way the law was written doesn't help. The mental health question was grouped with requirements to report arrests or expulsions.

"I can certainly understand parents having a reaction when they see those questions, sort of, asked back to back, says Michael Cowley, manager of psychological services for Pinellas County Schools.

But in order to help students, Cowley says school officials must first determine who needs mental health services.

"The process we're trying to develop and everything we're trying to do is just with an eye toward reducing stigma, increasing awareness and getting students access to more care," Cowley says.

The requirement has school districts worried about more than just stigma. The state left implementation of the provision up to local districts.

At a meeting in Tampa, Hillsborough County School Board member April Griffinraised the issue of patient privacy and a federal law that protects it, known as HIPAA.

"I could foresee some lawsuits around this," Griffin said.

Still, counselors say more parents may support the law once they start to see children getting the counseling they need.

The school safety law provides nearly $70 million dollars to increase access to mental health services in schools.

National experts say the money is long overdue.

Florida has historically been among the worst states in terms of providing money for mental health care, says Ron Honberg, senior policy adviser for the National Alliance on Mental Health.

"We know that the symptoms of mental health conditions and serious mental illnesses in particular tend to surface during the teen years and early 20s," Honberg says. "And that's a time when we should be putting the most resources into interventions."

In Broward County, where Parkland is located, the district is using part of the $6 million it received to hire 50 staff members — many of them counselors, psychologists and social workers.

Their ability to reach students in need could depend on whether parents feel comfortable checking "yes" on a registration form.

This story is part of NPR's reporting partnership with WUSF and Kaiser Health News, which is an independent journalism organization and not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

'Our Lives are in Danger': Mother with Autistic Son Faces US Deportation

From The Guardian (U.K.)

By Francisco Navas
September 22, 2018

Woman who fled poverty and violence in El Salvador more than 10 years ago says leaving would devastate her son’s care.

Immigrants after crossing the US-Mexico border near McAllen, Texas.

She gets to work at 4am, puts on her boots, hard hat and respirator and goes straight through noon. Drywall finishing is demanding labor but it pays better than housekeeping ever did. More importantly, the hours are better for her three children.

After 3pm, two of her children get on with their day’s homework and a few chores, as Blanca expects, and as she needs them to do, because in the afternoon her full attention must turn to her middle child.

Alfonso, 11, a US citizen by birth, is autistic and lives with severe motor, speech and emotional impediments. Together, the single mother and her son tie the knots of his shoes, regrip his fork as he eats. If a seizure strikes, she’s there to hold him. But in a week’s time, she may not be there.

Blanca waded across the Rio Grande in 2005 initially to escape poverty and after 2012 stayed away to avoid the growing violence in her native El Salvador, and settled successfully in the US.

'People will die': Obama official's warning as Trump slashes refugee numbers.

She had been allowed to stay on humanitarian grounds, presenting herself to her local Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) office annually and always routinely being rubber-stamped to remain in the US. But something suddenly changed.

In late July 2018, she walked into the Ice office as normal, but there was a new officer overseeing her case. He refused even to take her usual reapplication form for a stay of deportation out of her hand. Instead he told her to report back with a plane ticket to El Salvador by Wednesday, 26 September.

“In El Salvador, me and my sons’ lives are in danger. And Alfonso wouldn’t receive any of the therapy and help he gets here. None of it. I can’t send them to school there. They won’t come back,” she told the Guardian.

Two of Blanca’s sons in El Salvador in 2012.
Photograph: Courtesy of Linette Tobin
She doesn’t understand why, as a hard worker with a proudly unblemished record in society and an American son who relies heavily on her care and on the stability offered by his school, the government is trying to sweep her out of the country.

Blanca shared her identity with the Guardian but asked that her last name and images of her or her teenage children not be used, out of security fears.

Since she and her family have made a life in Maryland since 2005, they have only gone back to El Salvador once, briefly – after her father’s sudden death in 2012. Blanca got the call from El Salvador while walking to mass and was shocked and mystified. “I spoke to him just four hours earlier,” she said.

When she got the next call, from a relative, “I was told to stop asking what happened.”

She took her younger son and Alfonso to El Salvador – and found the truth in her father’s open casket. “He had a gunshot wound in his head and a scar around his neck.” He had been choked and shot dead at 48. He had kept his struggle with local gangsters and extortionists to himself.

“I thought it was strange that the money I sent him ran out very quickly,” Blanca said. She was told he refused to carry on paying them, and was killed. Ten days later, the gangsters came for her, too. “They came to my family’s house saying that if I reported to the police they would kill me and my little sister,” she said.

Meanwhile, Alfonso had become gravely ill, vomiting anything he ate. A high fever and hives followed. Three local doctors couldn’t diagnose him, Blanca said. “They just told me to go back where he was healthy.”

Blanca’s father, who was killed by local gangsters. Photograph: Linette Tobin

In February, 2012, Blanca crossed the Rio Grande for the second time and Alfonso adjusted well once back home.

“Autistic people often have sensitive gastro-intestinal systems. Anxiety and disruption of routine can cause us to get sick,” said Sam Crane, the director of public policy at the Autistic Self Advocacy Network.

Now, despite no changes in immigration law or the circumstances of her case, Ice will not review Blanca’s routine reapplication to stay, her lawyer, Linette Tobin, said.

Tobin has filed a Freedom of Information Act request to see if Ice can suggest an avenue for her to file to reopen Blanca’s case. She is awaiting a response, but the clock it ticking.

Blanca fears for Alfonso’s wellbeing most of all. “I can’t leave [Alfonso] with someone strange he doesn’t know,” she said.

El Salvador’s infrastructure for people with autism is much less robust than the US system, said Crane. Blanca fears Alfonso would not survive there with her, and will suffer without her in the US.

“It’s an extremely compelling humanitarian case for avoiding deportation,” Crane said. “Alfonso’s school in Maryland is crucial to connecting the boy with speech and occupational therapies that will help him live independently as an adult,” she added.

Cases like Blanca’s have become increasingly common since February 2017, when the Department of Homeland Security issued a policy memorandumthat critics say has undermined a tradition of prosecutorial discretion when someone is in the US unlawfully.

The Rio Grande river near Brownsville, Texas. Blanca has crossed the river twice.

Prosecutorial discretion refers to the decision the Department of Homeland Security or its subsidiary agency Ice makes about when to apply the full scope of immigration law or not.

“The idea that someone like Blanca is protected as part of historical prosecutorial discretion has existed for six decades in our country,” according to Shoba Wadhia, a professor of law at Penn State University.

The memorandum followed two executive orders by the Trump administration implying all undocumented immigrants are a priority for removal. These have put Ice under “a lot of pressure to arrest and jail people during these check-ins”, says Benita Jain, a supervising attorney at the advocacy group Immigrant Defense Project.

“We have received reports that people who have been checking in to Ice as requested for years are [now] more frequently being arrested,” Jain said.

Ice’s public affairs office did not respond to a request for comment.

“Why don’t they worry about the people doing harm in this country? I came to work and I never stopped working,” Blanca said.

“Unfortunately, we [immigration lawyers] have been hearing stories like this, [that] DHS stopped allowing people to stay who are deportable but have compelling situations,” said Nadine Wettstein, an immigration specialist at the Maryland public defender’s office.

Some will have to go back into the shadows for a while. Blanca doesn’t want to keep secrets from her children. She said: “I tell them the nice aspects [of El Salvador], but keep the rest. But they say they’re not going anywhere. ‘I’m from here. I go to school here. My friends are here,’ they tell me. I can’t live without them, either.”

Research Adds Heft to Link Between Autism and Obesity

From Spectrum News

By Nicholette Zeliadt
September 17, 2018

Nearly half of American children with autism aged 10 to 17 are overweight or obese, compared with less than one-third of their typically developing peers, according to a new study (1). And those with the most severe autism features appear to be at the greatest risk of being obese.

The study, based on data from nearly 26,000 children, is among the largest of its type. A 2010 analysis looked at weight in 85,000 children, including 483 with autism, in the United States (2).

The findings confirm a pattern reported by other studies, says lead investigator Seán Healy, assistant professor of behavioral health and nutrition at the University of Delaware in Newark. Of the 21 studies on this topic published since 2012, 16 indicated that children on the spectrum are at an increased risk of obesity.

Most of those studies did not look at autism severity, however. The new study found that the risk of obesity is highest among the children with the most severe autism features. The results appeared 13 August in Autism.

“That is kind of a new contribution to this topic, recognizing that those that have a more severe presentation may be at even higher risk,” says Carol Curtin, co-director of the Healthy Weight Research Network at the University of Massachusetts in Worcester, who was not involved in the study. “We’ve got to delve into why that might be, and how we can help those kids and their families.”

A second paper published in the same issue of the journal suggests that children with autism are more likely to gain weight rapidly during infancy than their typical peers (3). And those who do are the most likely to be overweight or obese at 2 to 5 years of age.

“Rapid weight gain may be one of the risk factors as to why kids with [autism] may be at higher risk for obesity,” says Tanja Kral, associate professor of nursing at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, who led the second study but was not involved in the first.
Weighty matter:

Healy and his colleagues analyzed data for 750 children with autism and 25,173 typical children aged 10 to 17 years. The data were collected in 2016 as part of the National Survey of Children’s Health.

Parents completed a questionnaire about various aspects of their child’s health, including height, weight, autism diagnosis, severity of autism features and medication use. The researchers used a statistical method to extrapolate the responses to represent a population-sized sample containing 875,963 children with autism and nearly 32 million typical children.

They calculated that 19.4 percent of children with autism in this projected sample were overweight, and 23 percent were obese. (Overweight is defined as having a body mass index between the 85th and 95th percentile for the age group, and obesity is greater than the 95th percentile.) By comparison, about 15 percent of typical children were overweight, and 16 percent were obese.

After controlling for race, ethnicity, income, age and sex, the researchers estimate that children with autism have 1.48 times the odds of being overweight, and 1.49 times the odds of being obese, compared with their typical peers.

Among autistic children, those with severe autism traits — based on parent reports — are more than three times as likely to be obese as those with milder traits. This subset of children may be at increased risk of obesity because they tend to be less active and have more restricted diets than other autistic children.

However, some experts say the results should be interpreted with caution because they rely solely on parent ratings. “It will be important for future studies to replicate these findings using standardized criteria for [autism] severity,” Kral says.

Risk Factors

It is unclear why children with autism are more likely than their peers to be overweight or obese. Some medications prescribed for autism have been linked to weight gain, but medication use does not track with weight in the new study.

The risk may originate early in life, according to the second study. Maternal obesity and rapid weight gain during infancy are known risk factors for obesity in typical children, but their role in autism has been unclear.

Kral and her colleagues analyzed height and weight data from 2,466 children enrolled in the Study to Explore Early Development, an ongoing study of children aged 2 to 5 years with autism or other developmental conditions. The analysis includes 668 children with autism, 914 with developmental delay and 884 controls.

The researchers used the children’s medical records to determine how rapidly they gained weight in the first six months of life. The children’s mothers self-reported their own height and pre-pregnancy weight; their weight at delivery was extracted from medical records. The researchers used these data to classify each woman as either meeting or exceeding established recommendations for weight gain during pregnancy.

Women who were overweight or obese before pregnancy were about 2.4 times as likely to have an overweight or obese child as those who were not. Women who gained more weight than recommended during pregnancy were about 1.5 times as likely to have an overweight or obese child as women who met weight-gain recommendations.

These trends appeared across all the children in the study, regardless of whether they have autism, suggesting that increased maternal weight does not underpin the risk of obesity in autistic children.

The study also revealed that children with autism are more likely than their typical or developmentally delayed peers to experience rapid weight gain during infancy: Among children with autism, those with rapid weight gain during infancy were 3.5 times more likely to be overweight or obese than those who did not gain weight rapidly.

Kral and her colleagues are trying to understand how rapid weight gain in infancy relates to obesity risk in childhood. “It may reflect a genetic predisposition to obesity and early feeding patterns that evolve during infancy and other metabolic or endocrine effects that we don’t really understand very well,” she says.

With additional reporting by Jen Monnier.

  1. Healy S. et al. Autism Epub ahead of print (2018) PubMed
  2. Curtin C. et al. BMC Pediatr. 10, 11 (2010) PubMed
  3. Kral T.V. et al. Autism Epub ahead of print (2018) PubMed

Only a Fraction of Students Consistently Get Grade-Appropriate Assignments

via Education Dive

By Linda Jacobson
September 25, 2018

Low-income students, English learners, students of color and those with disabilities are far less likely to be given the chance to do grade-level work.

Successfully completing class assignments doesn’t mean students are meeting grade-level standards that will put them in a strong position for college-level work, according to a new report released Tuesday by TNTP, a research and advocacy organization that usually focuses on teacher policy and equity issues.

Specifically, The Opportunity Myth finds that almost three-fourths of the time — 71% — students are doing the work that teachers give them, but less than a fifth of those assignments meet standards for college-readiness.

That’s why there’s a myth, the authors say.

Students who predominantly plan to go to college, and might even be told they are doing rigorous work, are often “being woefully underprepared to meet their ambitious goals,” the report says.

TNTP conducted observations and surveys for the project in four school districts and one charter network that was fairly representative of the demographics of U.S. students, Daniel Weisberg, CEO of TNTP, said in a conference call with reporters.

The research team followed 250 teachers, watched close to 1,000 lessons in progress, reviewed nearly 5,000 assignments, analyzed thousands of work samples, and collected real-time surveys from 4,000 students to get “a better grasp” on how students perceive the work that they’re doing in class.

"Students actually are the best experts we have on the quality of education we are providing," Weisberg said on the call. He said while the research team saw students "working really hard," many were not getting a chance to "succeed at the highest level."

Just last week, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, released a study that reaches a similar conclusion. Based on a sample of all public school students who took algebra I in North Carolina from the 2004-05 school year through 2015-16, the research showed that while many students get good grades in the subject, far fewer earn top grades on end-of-course algebra tests, and grade inflation has grown worse over time at schools serving more affluent students.

"Earning a good grade in a course is no guarantee that a student has learned what the state expects her to have learned in that course," the report says. The results matter to students because the end-of-course exams are a stronger predictor of ACT scores than grades during the school year, the report said.

The authors also wrote that grade inflation masks students' true abilities.

"This means grades may mislead students, parents, and subsequent educators — not to mention potential employers and policymakers — about how children and schools are performing and how well students are prepared for what follows, be it work or postsecondary education," the report says.

Allowing Students to 'Stretch'

In the TNTP report, the authors say four components are necessary for students to benefit from their classroom experiences — consistent opportunities to complete grade-appropriate assignments, strong instruction that puts the responsibility for most of the thinking on the students, a feeling of being deeply engaged in the lesson and teachers with high expectations.

But on average, only 16% of the lessons observed in core subject areas met these criteria, amounting to 29 hours per subject (out of a possible 180) over the course of the school year.

These four elements, they write, are especially important for students who start the school year behind their peers. When they were consistently given grade-level assignments, they were able to close the gap in seven months. But even in these classrooms, teachers were assigning grade-appropriate work only about half the time.

The researchers also found a strong relationship between high expectations from teachers, higher-quality assignments and stronger student performance.

During the research, they viewed classrooms with these questions in mind: Were students doing the work they were assigned, were they being assigned grade-level content, and were teachers allowing students to do what is sometimes described as the “heavy lifting?”

"When students are asked to try in school, when they are asked to push their thinking even when they’re stuck, to explain why they’ve arrived at an answer, to help a classmate, they also have the chance to stretch their sense of their own capabilities and see themselves grow," the report says.

The Variable 'is Not the Kids'

The researchers, however, found instances of teachers interrupting students when they were trying to give answers or students copying answers from the board, Weisberg said. The report contrasts two assignments at the same grade level, in the same district.

In one English language arts class (ELA), students read "A Mighty Long Way," written by one of the students who integrated Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957. They wrote an informational essay, allowing them to meet multiple grade-level standards.

But in another 8th-grade ELA class, the students read a 5th-grade text and were only asked to fill in the missing vowels in a word — a task that "isn't aligned to any 8th grade literacy stand," Weisberg said, adding that the "variable between these two classrooms is not the kids." Instead, it's the choices that educators make at the classroom level.

The report also highlights "bright spots," such as 12th graders at a school in the West working in groups to discuss evidence from a text and 4th graders spending a class period working on equivalent fractions and explaining their thinking while the teacher provided clarification if needed.

Low-income students, English learners, students of color and those with disabilities are far less likely to be given the chance to do grade-level work, the report shows.

In 38% of the classrooms where students of color made up the majority, no grade-level assignments were given, compared to 12% of classrooms made up mostly of white students. But when students of color were given grade-level assignments, they succeeded 56% of the time — not that far below the 65% rate for white students.

Hoping to Inspire Other Districts

TNTP is working with the districts involved in the study to help them address the concerns raised in the results.

"We’ve shared the data with all the districts that participated, and several have already started making some changes based on it," Andy Jacob, a partner for communications and publications with TNTP, said in an email. "We’re hoping the report will inspire other districts to replicate some of what we’ve done and get a clearer sense of what their students are experiencing day in and day out."

The study raises the question of how teachers respond to feedback, especially from students. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) study showed that student surveys were a reliable measure of the learning environment within classrooms. An internal report involving the Tripod survey, which asks students for their feedback and was used as part of MET, also suggests teachers will use survey results to improve their practice.

"Teachers alluded to developing improvement plans and implementing new ideas after identifying a particular area of needed improvement," says the report, which is being peer reviewed by two research journals. The paper also quotes a teacher who received lower scores in "caring," which is one of the seven areas measured by Tripod.

"But I'm like, 'Okay. So, how do I change this then?' Then I went home over the summer, and I devised this plan that I had was to try to talk to every kid ... that I can every single day," the teacher said.

While some might be more likely to dismiss what students stay about their teaching, Alka Pateriya, vice president of Tripod Education Partners, said in an email, "Anecdotally, as we talk with folks, we find that teachers who are reflective can set goals and improve over time."

The TNTP report also comes as other experts are urging schools to give teachers more time to work with curriculum and instructional materials, during time set aside for professional learning communities, for example, so they can design lessons that meet grade-level state standards.

The TNTP report includes survey results showing that while 82% of teachers support their state's standards, 44% say they expect that their students can reach those standards.

The authors, however, don't lay all the blame on teachers and note that most students feel their teachers want them to do well. "This problem doesn’t start or end with teachers," Weisberg said on the call. "These are systemic issues."

The authors include five actions for schools that would improve the chances of more students working in classrooms with those four key components: directly asking students and families about their goals, giving all students grade-appropriate assignments, giving students who are behind challenging material that makes them think, giving educators a chance to see that students are capable to succeeding at high-level work, and conducting an "equity audit" to determine what is keeping some students from accessing grade-level instruction.