"MODIFICATIONS" -do you know what this means? It is important if your child is on an IEP.

Parents you have seen this term on school documents and heard it multiple times. I just finished reviewing many new IEP's for this term. It is very important that you understand why "modifications" have been put in place and what is the long term plan. What areas of weaknesses are the modifications targeting? What are your sons/daughters underlying weaknesses? Is the school modifying the program to intensely target the area of need? Kids with learning differences should not stay in modifications forever. This should be assessment based, with a clear plan and a projection forward.

Too often I see the same IEP goal/learning expectation move with the student, term to term, year to year. This should give you a clue that specific interventions in specific areas of need are not happening. You should ask yourself- do I really understand why my son/daughter is being modified, and if they are learning specific skills within that area of weakness. What should you do if you are unsure? Ask, request a meeting, write an email. Make sure you understand what is being taught and how. What materials are the special education teachers using? How is the teacher assessing progress? Ask to see the material, and you can reinforce this learning at home.

An example - If a child has "phonological awareness" weaknesses and listed as an area of need - let's make sure they are actually being taught phonemic awareness and letter-sound knowledge, which really helps kids with their reading abilities. Let's teach them for a period of time and then retest them - does it help, are we seeing growth? Sometimes, they just haven't had the opportunity to pick this up in class, focus and attention, noise may be affecting their learning (internal or external stressors). Sometimes it may be a cognitive weakness - but we have to figure this out! When we can provide effective targeted instruction, we often see quick gains for these kids. Search Balanced Literacy Diet- this is a great place to start to learn more about interventions around literacy, research-based, from OISE.

Another example - ORAL COMMUNICATION - how is this being targeted in a modified program? An IEP I reviewed for a Grade 5 student was "communicate in a clear, coherent manner, presenting ideas and information in an understandable form" -this is a great outcome, but how is this being taught? Strategies on this IEP state "student will take an idea and elaborate or embellish it using detail." Again, how will this be taught specifically? How is it being monitored, assessed? How will we know if the student has progressed? In this specific instance, we discussed with the teacher a more specific goal, related to students ability to construct meaning of a selected text through small group discussions. Ideas about the plot, events, characters and setting of the text were highlighted and clarified first in writing, then orally, by the student. The student can be taught specifically how to do this with specific materials which scaffold the learning so they can speak to peers/teachers intelligently about the passage - this is Oral Communication! Making connections and predictions and discussing personal experiences related to the text could be a second learning expectation, once the first was mastered.

I think you get the idea with these examples.

So understand why modifications are needed, how areas are being targeted, with what curriculum/intervention. Do not be afraid to ask what your child is learning specifically in withdrawal, resource or a community class. Collaborate and dig in...there is way too much to lose and our goal is to get all kids growing and thriving, and moving towards good, specific accommodations and differentiated instruction. L.Cesaroni


Victoria Bevilacqua