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from the Winter 97 issue

Plan Ahead for Your Child's ARD Meeting

by Kate Moss, Family Training Specialist, TSBVI Deafblind Outreach

Families often ask for help in preparing for their child’s Admission, Review, and Dismissal (ARD) meeting. They are not sure about their rights in the development of the Individual Educational Plan or feel unprepared to participate fully in the process. Parents need to remember the development of the plan as outlined by State Board of Education rules follows a step-by-step process. It is important to understand that process to be sure your child’s IEP is developed correctly.

The best way to understand the process and the rights of the parents and student in this process is to review the booklet Special Education Rights and Responsibilities: A Parent Manual published by Advocacy, Inc. This booklet is currently being updated and will be ready for distribution at the end of January. You may order it by calling any of the regional Advocacy, Inc. offices. These numbers are listed below:

Austin - (800) 252-9108 or (512) 454-4816
Pharr - (800) 880-8401 or (210) 783-8400
Houston - (800) 880-0821 or (713) 974-7691
Dallas - (800) 880-2884 or (214) 630-0916
Lubbock - (800) 880-4456 or (806) 765-7794

The booklet Special Education: Parent and Student Rights published by Texas Education Agency, which parents received in previous years, is no longer being used. Your school should, however, provide you with a copy of Explanation of Procedural Safeguards before your ARD. If you are needing more detailed information about your rights, I would encourage you to contact Advocacy, Inc. for their manual.

Agencies and organizations such as Partners Resource Network (P.A.T.H.) and Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (formerly known as Texas Commision for the Blind) can also help you if you have questions about your rights or the rights of your child in special education. They may also be available to attend the ARD meeting with you if you provide them with enough notice. State and local parent support groups are additional resources. TSBVI Outreach Family Support Specialists are available to assist parents of children with visual impairments who have questions or need support in preparing for the ARD meeting. Often times another parent in your school’s special education program can be a resource to you.

THE ARD COMMITTEE

The ARD Committee is made up of at least the following individuals for a child with a visual impairment:

(SBOE§89.1050(c))

If the child is deafblind, this group would also include a teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing. (SBOE§89.1050(c)) Without these people present, the ARD should not take place. Sometimes one person may wear more than one hat, so you may have to ask who is serving each of these roles. As a parent you may invite someone to attend the ARD with you as a support or as someone who has worked with your child or has valuable knowledge about your child.

SCHEDULING THE MEETING

Parents should receive written notice about the ARD meeting early enough to ensure they may attend (typically five school days in advance). This notice should tell you the purpose of the meeting (e.g., to develop the IEP, to determine placement, etc.), the time and place of the meeting, and who will be in attendance. If you want to attend, but cannot on the date or at the time proposed, the school should work with you to reschedule this meeting. You may also ask to participate in the meeting by conference call or through some other method. (CFR§300.45)

An interpreter should be provided (e.g., sign, Spanish, etc.) if you need one to be able to participate fully in the meeting. (CFR§300.45) This should be at no cost to you. However, you must be responsible for informing the school of this need prior to the day of the meeting so they will have time to arrange for the interpreter to be available. I would recommend two or three days in advance at a minimum.

DEVELOPING THE IEP

Assessment/Evaluation

Assessment or evaluation is the foundation of any child's educational programming and should be the basis for all of the decisions that are made about the child's education. For this reason, an annual ARD meeting will generally begin with a review of the assessment. Assessment or evaluation means "procedures used to determine whether a child has a disability and the nature and extent of the special education and related services the child needs." (CFR 300.500 (b))

Assessment may include standardized tests, observations, information from you, and samples of the students work. A child should be evaluated in all areas related to the suspected disability. This may include evaluation in the following areas, if they are appropriate: health, vision, hearing, social and emotional status, general intelligence, academic performance, communication, and motor abilities.

The following guidelines are provided regarding evaluation procedures and/or materials:

For children with visual impairment evaluation would include: an ophthalmological exam, a functional vision evaluation, and a learning media assessment. If the child has a hearing impairment this would include: an otological and audiological examination, and a communication assessment. These tests must be completed by a qualified person (e.g., the vision teacher, a speech pathologist, audiologist, etc.). (SBOE§89.140 (d) & (l)) If a vision or hearing impairment is found, other tests which could be impacted by a vision or hearing loss should be appropriately adapted or chosen. This information must be updated every three years, but may be updated more often if necessary.

Additional assessment is done to determine what needs to be done educationally for the child. This will include his/her strengths and weaknesses in the areas of academic or developmental skills, physical skills, behavioral skills, prevocational or vocational skills. Adaptations/modifications of instructional content, settings, methods, or materials which are required by the student to achieve and maintain satisfactory progress are noted here. This also determines which of these adaptations/modifications can only be provided through special education services. (Advocacy, 1994)

If you disagree with the assessment (in part or in whole) you may ask for an independent educational evaluation. This means the testing is done by a qualified examiner who is not employed by the school. The cost of this evaluation must be paid by the school unless the school requests a hearing to show their assessment was appropriate. If their assessment is determined to be appropriate, the school is not responsible to pay for a new assessment. If you choose to pay for additional assessment, that assessment information may be considered by the ARD committee when making decisions. If you decide to have an independent assessment done, you need to clarify who will be paying for that assessment.

It is helpful to summarize your child's present level of performance based on the assessment information from all the various assessment sources. An assessment summary includes information on the child's particular disabilities, his areas of strength, and helps you understand his educational needs in the context of his family and peers. (Hudson, et al, 1992) It may be helpful to develop a list of what you see as your child's strengths, greatest areas of needs, preferred activities, and activities that his/her typical peers might choose. When you sit down to write goals and objectives with your ARD team, this information can be very useful.

Assistive technology

Children with disabilities may need assistive technology services to help them meet their educational goals. Assistive technology is more than computers, although many children will benefit from computers. It would include switches, CCTV, braille devices, wheelchairs, etc. Many schools and all Regional Education Service Centers have assistive technology teams that evaluate the child's need, make recommendations about technology, and provide ongoing training and support to the child, the instructional staff, and the family (if needed).

Assistive technology services include help in a number of areas. Federal Regulations define these services in the following way:

(a) the evaluation of the needs of a child with disability, including a functional evaluation of the child in the child's customary environment;

(b) purchasing, leasing, or otherwise providing for the acquisition of assistive technology devices by children with disabilities;

(c) selecting, designing, fitting, customizing, adapting, applying, retaining, repairing, or replacing assistive technology devices;

(d) coordinating and using other therapies, interventions, or services with assistive technology devices, such as those associated with existing education and rehabilitation plans and programs;

(e) training or technical assistance for a child with a disability or, if appropriate, that child's family; and

(f) training or technical assistance for professionals (including individuals providing education or rehabilitation services), employers, or other individuals who provide services to, employ, or are otherwise substantially involved in the major life functions of children with disabilities. (CFR § 300.6)

Writing the goals and objectives

Your child's educational needs are identified during the assessment/ evaluation process. The goals, objectives and the related services your child receives should address these identified needs. Suggested goals and objectives may be prepared before the ARD meeting; however, the whole ARD team is responsible for finalizing these together at the actual meeting. Never feel obligated to agree to goals and objectives that you as a parent have not been involved in developing.

An annual goal can be defined as a broad statement of what the ARD team thinks is reasonable for your child to learn within a school year based on what assessment information indicates he or she can do currently.

Some indication of how success will be measured and how the child will be taught should be included in a goal. For children with deafblindness or multiple disabilities, a curriculum or an assessment tool (such as the Brigance) may not be a meaningful measure to reference. It is better to tie the completion of the annual goal to the success measured in the objectives as the example below provides.

"Bobby will be an active participant in a communicative exchange with peers and adults as indicated by the completion of the objectives listed below..."

Those children with fewer disabilities may follow a regular school curriculum with some modifications and have goals and objectives written only in the area of vision and/or orientation and mobility.

Objectives are the short, measurable steps the child will take to move from where he is currently performing toward the completion of the annual goal. These should be active and not passive, that is they should not describe what will be done to the child (e.g., be positioned in a standing frame), but rather what the child will do. Using the example above as the annual goal in the area of communication, the objectives for the goal might be as follows:

  1. During familiar routines and activities, Bobby will increase the number of different signals he initiates with staff and peers from 5 to 10 signals to request continuation of an activity.
  2. When given an object symbol representing a familiar routine or activity, Bobby will use his vision to travel independently to the area of the room where this activity occurs 3 out of 4 times.
  3. During familiar or unfamiliar activities, Bobby will vocalize to get the attention of an adult or peer involved with him in the activity when he needs assistance 100% of the time.

Specific skills (e.g., using vision to travel, using signals to communicate, vocalizing to get attention) are typically worked on through the objectives and describe what the child will do. The activities your child participates in during the day (e.g., routines, play centers, a science experiment) provide opportunities for your child to work on these goals and objectives. They also provide opportunities for staff to evaluate his/her progress on goals and objectives.

It is not unusual for children with deafblindness or multiple disabilities to occasionally have the same annual goal for more than one year. Children who only have visual impairments typically progress more rapidly. However, if you see the same objectives year after year for any child, be alarmed. If a child is not progressing with his objectives it is because: (1) the objectives are not appropriate and likely too difficult for him/her to complete; (2) the objectives are not being taught in a way that proves meaningful to him/her; or (3) the objectives are not the focus of instruction as they should be.

There should also be some indication how each of the objectives will be evaluated. Be concerned if assessment instruments (e.g., Brigance, FSSI, etc.) are listed as the method of evaluation for your child's specific goals and objectives. Those types of instruments assess the child's level of performance in certain developmental areas and not his level of success in completing an objective. Periodic progress reports should address the child's specific individual objectives.

A better evaluation method is to collect data on the individual objectives contained in his IEP. The child's progress with his objectives is sampled in a number of different activities at frequent intervals and averaged out for a regular reporting period. In the first objective we used as an example, the first time data was taken Bobby used 6 different signals throughout the day in his routines. The next time he used 4 signals and 6 the third time. This averages out to 5 different signals used in routines during that reporting period. During the next reporting period his average was 8. He made some progress, but the objective was not completed. During the next period his average increased to 10. At that point the objective could be considered completed as the objective had been written. A new objective might be added or the level of proficiency increased (e.g. to 15 signals).

Make sure your ARD team discusses how progress will be documented. You should also be clear about who will be responsible for the completion of each goal and objective, and how frequently you will be updated on this progress.

Related services

Related services means the developmental, corrective and support services your child needs to benefit from his education. These services include: audiological services, counseling with students or families, early identification and assessment of disabilities in children, medical or psychological services, occupational therapy, physical therapy, recreational services, rehabilitative services, school health services, speech and language services, special transportation, social work services, orientation and mobility, and interpreting services for students who are deaf. (CFR§300.16 and SBOE§89.1060)

These services should be determined based on your child's educational need. For example, if a school had a policy which allowed physical therapy services only when cognitive skills are higher level than motor skills that would not be allowed. According to the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services (OSERS) a state's education policy or guidelines can not categorically deny any related service which a child needs to benefit from public education. Services must be based on educational needs of the individual child.

Transportation services for your child should be provided at no cost to the parents for travel to, from and between schools if they are deemed necessary by your ARD committee. This can include reimbursing the parents for providing this transportation or contracting for transportation services, if the school can not provide the needed services. Advocacy, Inc. provides a detailed explanation of how transportation services should be provided in their handout titled "A Student's Right to Transportation". Should your child need specialized equipment (lifts, air conditioning, travel aide, etc.) that should also be provided. However, the need for these services must be determined by the ARD committee. (Advocacy, 1991)

Other related services such as physical therapy, orientation and mobility training, speech therapy, etc. may be provided in a number of ways. The staff person may work directly with your child, consult with the staff who will carry out the direct instruction, or some combination of the two. This is also true of services from your teacher of the visually impaired or teacher of deaf and hard of hearing although their work is not considered to be "related services".

Parents frequently have concerns about the consultative model of service delivery since they view it as less service to their child. In fact this may be the best model for children with multiple disabilities because these children need many opportunities to practice skills throughout the day. An hour or two of direct services alone may not provide the child with the opportunities for practice of the skills in functional activities. However, consultative services require a great deal of planning and coordination between the related service staff, VI and/or AI teacher, and the classroom staff. The PT, OT, VI teacher, etc., still have the responsibility for the completion of those specific goals and objectives. They need to assure that documentation is done. They need to oversee and train the classroom staff in carrying out activities that they have helped design. Consultation should not mean "less service".

It is also important to note in the IEP document the dates for the initiation and duration of related services. Before you sign the IEP be sure that information is clearly indicated on the document.

Placement

Do not be mislead into believing that because your child has visual impairments or deafblindness that placement options are restricted. The law directs that placement should be in the least restrictive environment. It is up to the ARD committee to determine what that environment would look like for that individual child based on the assessment information and the goals and objectives that have been developed. In other words, legally there should not be "mentally retarded classrooms" for the students with mental retardation or "visually impaired campuses" where all children with vision problems must be placed.

You should start by considering where your child would attend school if he/she had no disabilities and work from there. The law provides for a range of placement options, and where your child is placed should be based upon his/her individual needs. Remember, placement should not be discussed until you have reviewed the assessment and developed the goals and objectives. Placement does not come first in the process. (CFR§300.522)

EXTENDED YEAR SERVICES

Extended year services (EYS) provide individualized instruction that extends beyond the regular school year to students eligible for special education. The ARD committee decides to provide EYS services if: (1) the student will loose critical skills that can not be regained within 8 weeks of the start of school, (2) be placed in a more restrictive environment, (3) become significantly less self-sufficient in his daily living skills, or (4) loose access to an independent living environment, job training or employment option without EYS services. Priority for EYS services is to be given to the most severely disabled students in the district. (Advocacy, 1994)

It is important for parents to know that EYS and summer school are two very different things. Summer school is an enrichment program. Summer school does not have to take into consideration your child's special needs. EYS is meant to be a continuous structured program based on your child's unique individual needs. Before you sign the ARD document, be sure you are agreeing to EYS services (if that is deemed appropriate) as opposed to summer school service. (Advocacy, 1994)

Your ARD meeting notice should tell you that EYS will be discussed. You also have the right to request an ARD to discuss EYS services if your school district does not suggest this is needed. EYS service determination must be based on progress reports, observations by parents and staff, and/or test results. This makes documentation throughout the regular school year critical. Review progress reports and other documentation to determine if your child lost skills when regular programming stopped for an extended period of time and the time needed for him to recoup those skills after he returned.

If you are refused EYS services, be sure to have the ARD committee document in the IEP notes why EYS services were refused and indicate upon what they based that decision. Lack of school district funds is not sufficient justification to deny EYS services.

INDIVIDUAL TRANSITION PLAN

Students must have an Individual Transition Plan (ITP) developed by the time they are 16 years old if they are in special education. This document is meant to be a plan to assist the young adult in making a smooth transition from his/her school-life to adult-life in the community. This plan should be developed and/or updated prior to the development of the annual IEP. The reason for this is to insure that the goals of transition are addressed in the programming that is provided for the young adult. The ITP may be developed earlier than 16 years of age, especially for children with multiple disabilities who may require more time to achieve skills and find services. For more detailed information about the ITP, please contact David Wiley at TSBVI Deafblind Outreach (512)206-9219.

REFUSAL OF SERVICES

Should your school refuse to provide services that you feel are necessary, they should document that refusal and explain why. They should also note other options that were considered to address the need that has been identified. Again the refusal of services should be based on information provided through assessment.

SIGNING THE AGREEMENT

Before you sign the agreement, make sure you read it carefully. Use your pre-ARD notes to determine if your key points were included. Are the goals and objectives written clearly and do they indicate who will be responsible for each of them? Are modifications and adaptations necessary for your child's instruction specifically listed? Are all related services listed? Make sure the IEP specifically states the amount and frequency of the related services, how the related service will be delivered (direct consultation to the child or consulting with the teacher or a combination of both methods), and when services will begin and end.

Be sure to review supplemental documents such as behavior management plans, vision supplement, etc. Do not feel pressured into signing the document until you are comfortable with it. If your spouse was not able to attend the ARD, you might want to adjourn the ARD and reconvene after he or she has had time to review the document, too. If the ARD bogs down and no agreements can be reached, you should feel comfortable in calling for an adjournment. The committee must then reconvene within ten school days.

If you disagree with the decision of the committee you do have a grievance process. Contact TEA or Advocacy, Inc. if you have questions about that process.

WHAT PARENTS CAN DO BEFORE THE ARD

Review assessment information

Decisions of the ARD committee in planning for your child's education are based on assessment information that has been collected. You have a right to see all of the assessment information prior to your ARD meeting. I would encourage you to ask to see or have copies made of all assessments before the meeting. You may also want to schedule an informal pre-ARD with the teacher and some of the assessment staff to have time to review the information with them.

Write down questions you have about the assessment. If there is information you do not understand, ask for an explanation from your school or the individual who performed the assessment. Make sure that assessment gives you information about your child's strengths as well as areas of need. Programming should build on his strengths while addressing areas of delay.

You may also contribute information about your child during the assessment discussion. You know more about your child than anyone else. Come to the meeting prepared to share your observations about your child's strengths and his educational needs. Sharing anecdotal logs and home videos are two ways to offer information about how your child functions in his most familiar surroundings.

Setting priorities for goals & objectives

Family members can contribute significantly to identifying and prioritizing their child's annual goals. You can do this by thinking of the activities you would like to see your child be able to participate in more fully. You may want to get input from your child's brothers and sisters and/or his friends or peers. Begin to prioritize these activities by asking yourself the following questions:

1. Will he need to be able to do this or part of this as an adult?

2. If he is more independent in this activity will it be helpful to you as a family?

3. Do his peers or siblings without disabilities take part in this activity typically?

4. Is this an activity he will enjoy?

5. Will he use the skills from this activity immediately?

6. Does this activity occur in a variety of environments?

7. Does this activity include his peers?

Give one point for each "yes" answer you give related to a particular activity. For example, if the activity were preparing a sandwich, you might answer "yes" to questions 1, 2, and 5. If the activity were dressing himself, you might answer "yes" to questions 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6. Dressing himself seems to be more of a priority right now than preparing a sandwich.

When you prioritize the activities, select 3 or 4 that are most important to you. Think about how your child currently performs these activities. At what point in the activity is he unable to do the activity as you would. For example, at dinner your child is able to locate his food, pick up some food items with his fingers, place them in his mouth, chew, and swallow his food. He is unable to grasp eating utensils to scoop food. In another activity where a joy stick is used to play slot cars with his brother and his friends, he can follow the movement of the cars and take turns with others, but he can't grasp the switch independently to start and stop the cars.

In both of the activities above the child would be more independent if he could control his grasp. A skill identified in these activities is grasping objects. By looking at concerns common to activities, you can begin to identify basic skills that need to be developed.

For children who do not have multiple disabilities or who are able to complete a typical curriculum, you may want to look at the course work that is difficult for them. Could they access their learning environment better if they knew how to use adaptive technology or if they had all of their materials in large print? Could they participate in sports if they had some individual support or special equipment? Could they do math better if they learned Nemeth code?

Contact your child's teacher to set up a pre-ARD meeting so you can share the priority activities and basic skills you feel are important for your child to focus on during the coming school year. After reviewing the assessment information from the school and from home ask for help in developing the annual goals and objectives. Start well in advance of your ARD date so both you and the educational staff are able to discuss differences of opinion and gather additional information that may be needed during the actual ARD meeting.

Thinking about related services

Before your ARD, list the types of related services you feel your child will need and why; how you think the services need to be delivered (such as consultation to the teacher, direct instruction by a specialist); and how frequently or during what period of time the services should be provided. Your ARD committee should discuss related service needs and make decisions about what is required.

Investigating placement options

When considering placement, there are many things to consider---interaction with nondisabled peers, appropriate programming, transportation, etc. Decide how you would like to see your child participate with peers who are not disabled. Consider the benefits of being in a neighborhood school with children who might live nearby and could visit after school hours. Where can those kinds of interactions best occur?

You must also evaluate programming. Even though specialized programs are often at a segregated site, is that where the most appropriate programming can occur? There is no "one answer" to placement for children with visual impairments or deafblindness. Programming can be provided in a regular classroom, resource room, self-contained special education class, or some combination of these instructional arrangements. For some children at specific times a residential program such as Texas School for the Blind & Visually Impaired or Texas School for the Deaf may be the best placement option. The classroom placement should be as individualized as the child's goals and objectives.

You may want to visit a variety of classrooms and programs before the ARD. These might include your neighborhood schools, specialized programs, or any other educational option available to children who are the same age as your child.

FIND HELP WHEN YOU NEED IT

Do not be reluctant to ask for help from your school, TEA, Advocacy, or other resources. Your child's education is critical to the quality of his whole life. There are many people who are available to help you if you have enough lead time; so get going on your ARD preparations right away. Your participation in your child's ARD meeting is critical. Be prepared; your child's education is too important.

REFERENCES

A student's right to transportation. Advocacy, Inc., 1991

Programming during the summer months. Advocacy, Inc., 1992.

Rules and Regulations for Providing Special Education Services, Texas Education Agency, 1996.

Special Education Rights and Responsibilities: A Parent Manual, Advocacy, Inc., 1994.

Developing programs for students with severe handicaps using basic skills in the context of age-appropriate priority activities (draft copy), Hudson, Melissa and Leatherby, Jennifer, 1992.

RESOURCES

Communication: The Key to Building Parent/Professional Partnerships, Partners Resource Network.

Educational Rights And Responsibilities Under P.L. 94-142, Partners Resource Network.

Filing a TEA complaint. Advocacy, Inc., 1991

How to request an appeal hearing for an OBRA/PASARR determination. Advocacy, Inc., 1992

How to understand actions your school is proposing (or refusing). Advocacy, Inc., 1991.

Individual transition plan - Senate Bill 417: It's the law, but what is it about? David Wiley, author. Published in P.S. News!!!, Vol. III, No. 3, April, 1990.

It starts with a dream: making transition work for your child. . Wiley, D.author. Published in P.S. News!!!, Vol. IV, No. 4, 1992.

Modification and Support Services in the Classroom, Partners Resource Network.

Parent Manual On Education Services Under IDEA (also available in Spanish), Partners Resource Network.

Setting Priorities: Developing Goals; Writing Objectives, Partners Resource Network.

Transdisciplinary Teaming. Smith, M. and Moss, K. authors. Published in P.S. NEWS!!!, January, 1994, Vol. V, No. 4.

Understanding the special education process. Advocacy, Inc., 1991.

Editor's Note: Articles published by Partners Resource Network are available by contacting them at (800) 866-4726 or (409) 898-4684. Articles by David Wiley available by contacting TSBVI Outreach at (512) 206-9219. Contact Advocacy, Inc. at the numbers listed at the beginning of the article for copies of their documents.

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