News from National Convention—Resolutions

At the 2018 National PTA Convention in New Orleans, delegates adopted one new resolution and amended another existing resolution. The first resolution addresses students with disabilities, while the second focuses on mental health programs and services. The links to the resolutions here are to the proposed text and amendments, which were only slightly modified by the convention delegates. The final text of the resolutions will be posted on the National PTA Resolutions pagein the near future.

Resolution on High Expectations for Students with Disabilities

As the new resolution on high expectations for students with disabilitiesnotes, more than half of all students with disabilities spend at least 80% of their school day in general education classes. These students need both quality general education instruction and targeted interventions and accommodations. For students with disabilities, time in general education classes lead to fewer absences, less disruptive behavior, and better outcomes after high school, as well as new learning opportunities for students without disabilities.

Yet for students with disabilities, there continues to be a gap between the achievement of these students and those without disabilities. Research has shown that teacher expectations for students with disabilities, parental expectations for their children’s academic achievement, and students’ own mindsets all play key roles in their success.

The resolution directs National PTA and all PTAs under it (including local PTAs) to:

  • Collaborate with school communities to include students with disabilities and their families in all school activities.
  • Support peer mentoring, collaborative problem solving, cooperative working groups, and more casual or unstructured interactions between student with disabilities and those without disabilities.
  • Include a relevant general educator present at Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings.
  • Support funding for teacher professional development regarding adapting instruction to meet the needs of students with disabilities, accommodations that improve access to the general curriculum, and high expectations for all students regarding both academics and behavior.
  • Support implementation of best practices to meet the needs of diverse students, including Universal Design for Learning (UDL), inclusion, Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS), and Response to Intervention (RTI).
  • Support students with disabilities access to accommodations, including assistive technology.

Amended Resolution on Children’s Emotional Health and Mental Health Awareness

The convention delegates amended the 1969 resolution on Children’s Emotional Health to address mental health issues as well. The amended resolution notes that mental health issues in children have increased in recent years, with 20% of youth ages 13 to 18 living with a mental health condition. Furthermore, 79% of students ages 6 to 17 with mental health disorders do not receive mental health care. The average delay between the onset of symptoms and the beginning of treatment for these children is 8 to 10 years.

The amended resolution calls on National PTA and its constituent associations to:

  • Support efforts to establish comprehensive community mental health providers that offer preventative and treatment services to children and adults, as well as comprehensive school mental health programs that include adequate access to school psychologies, school counselors, and school social workers.
  • Advocate for teacher and administrator training to improve the understanding of child emotional and mental health needs, with an emphasis on the importance of establishing a school climate conducive to good mental health.
  • Promote education programs for parents and families to strengthen understanding and supportive home environments.
  • Support efforts to provide education and other supports for school staff and professional development to assist with addressing and early detection of mental health issues.

Toolkit Helps Parents Advocate for Teacher Training on Special Needs

If you are the parent of a child with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or Section 504 plan, you are probably used to advocating for your child. But there is one area that many parents overlook—teacher training or professional development. Understoodand the National Center for Learning Disabilitieshave created a parent toolkit to help advocate for improved teacher training to better support the one in five students with learning or attention issues.

The toolkit focuses on four key strategies that are designed to bring about system-wide changes that can help kids with learning and attention issues thrive. The four strategies are:

  • Strengths-Based IEPsthat can help shift the mindset of every member of your child’s IEP team. This approach can help the team start thinking about how to leverage your child’s abilities. Training can help the team develop IEP goals that use strengths to address a particular need.
  • Multi-Tier System of Supports (MTSS)that can help schools improve the performance of all students by identifying needs early and modifying instruction quickly. It can also reduce disciplinary incidents. But many schools need more training on how to collect, interpret and respond to student progress data.
  • Personalized Learningthat aims to customize education. The what, when, where and how of learning are tailored to each student’s abilities, needs and interests. If done well, it can help students take ownership of their learning and meet rigorous standards. If not done well, struggling students can fall further behind.
  • Universal Design for Learning (UDL)that is a framework for how to optimize teaching and learning for all students, not just those who struggle. UDL is based on insights from the science of how people learn and helps teachers instruct a diverse group of learners by providing different ways for students to access the material, engage with it and show what they’ve learned.

For each strategy, the toolkit provides a fact sheet that you can provide to a school administrator, a letter template, and a set of talking points for parents to support you in your conversations on the issue. The toolkit also provides an overview of teacher professional development, covers federal funding to support professional development, and gives five tips for parents on how to advocate with your school board. See the full toolkit for all of this information and resources.

 

Understanding the Barriers to High School Graduation

Today’s guest post comes from the Real Learning for Real Life Coalition, of which Illinois PTA is a member, and is by Stephanie J. Schmitz Bechteler, Ph.D., the Vice President and Executive Director of the Chicago Urban League.

High school graduation is one of the most important milestones teenagers must achieve as they transition into late adolescence and early adulthood. While there are many critical changes to be made regarding the quality of high school programs, curriculum, teaching strategies and school climate—particularly for our most vulnerable students—it is an undeniable truth that earning a high school diploma is the first step along the pathway to college or professional training and career development.

Some reformers believe that in the short term, we might have to grudgingly accept lower graduation rates as we increase educational standards and implement true college and career readiness in the high schools. This solution feels unsatisfying and potentially harmful to the students and parents most impacted by the resource and talent deficits found in many underperforming schools. The solution should not be to penalize students for the challenges faced by the schools and teachers, but to ensure that the schools can provide the students with the comprehensive set of services and supports that they need to succeed.

For students that face barriers or challenges above and beyond what their peers face, the attainment of a high school diploma is not always a guarantee. There are many factors, both individual, academic, and community-based, that can stand between a student and their diploma. Research over the past few decades has shown that these factors are more likely to impact groups often identified as the most vulnerable in our schools: students of color, students living in low-income household, students with disabilities and students with limited English speaking abilities. What are their challenges, and what do they need to succeed?

It is difficult to do all of the potential barriers justice in a short article, so this will summarize some of the main areas, and provide links to learn more. Academic barriers can begin very young for some students. Research has shown that access to quality pre-K and Kindergarten programming can provide students a foundation that lasts for the remainder of their academic career. Not performing at grade level in reading and math, even as early as 3rd grade, can be indicative of struggles that will be hard for students to overcome later on in their schooling. It’s clear that investments in early and elementary education are critical to high school success. Once students enter high school, student performance in the freshman year can predict how the student will fair during their remaining years. Students that are chronically truant and scoring low grades in core subjects are candidates for further assessment and intervention. And all students in high school should also be taught not just how to study and prepare for tests, but how to think critically can build what is known as an “investigative” approach to life and to studies. All students, not just those in the best schools, should have their curiosity nurtured and be rewarded for asking, “why?” or “how?” or “what if?”

Students also face personal and community barriers that are not as readily solved by schools, but need to at minimum be recognized and considered by teachers, administrators and education policymakers. Personal experiences faced by students—homelessness, trauma, health or mental health issues, lack of caring adults, needing to contribute financially to the home, involvement in the criminal justice system, racism and other forms of discrimination—significantly impact school performance and educational outcomes. It is hard enough to be a consistently engaged student, let alone if you are a student that has to balance these other factors with your learning. Schools that have the resources to provide supportive services above and beyond academic help, such as counseling or special programming, may be able to offset some of these challenges. But many schools in under-resourced communities lack the resources to scale the programming to fit student need. This is where community-school partnerships and adequate funding mechanisms are necessary. Community leaders, education reformers, policymakers and elected officials must work together to accurately and honestly examine equity gaps across the state and districts and then provide an influx of resources based on school or district need. This means that not all schools will get the same level of resources to support their students, nor should they. Schools get what they need, based on need and the statewide commitment to support all students equitably.

LINKS

 

Organizing an IEP Binder

Any parent who has attended an Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting for their child can tell you what an overwhelming and confusing experience it can be. Understood, a website in English and Spanish dedicated to helping parents support their child with special needs, has resources to create an IEP binder.

An IEP binder provides parents with a great way to track their child’s progress and keep key information readily at hand during IEP meetings. Understood suggests including:

  • IEP Binder Checklist
  • School Contact Sheet
  • Parent-School Communication Log
  • IEP Goal Tracker

Downloadable versions of all of the above are also provided, as well as a short video on how to put it all together and use it.

Understood also suggests using six tab dividers to separate materials into communication, evaluations, IEP, report cards and progress notes, sample work, and behavior. They also suggest including a supply pouch to ensure you have pens, sticky notes, and highlighters readily available at your meeting. You might also consider including the list of over 500 accommodations for an IEP or 504 plan from A Day in Our Shoes that Illinois PTA has highlighted before.