Family Assessment Portfolios: A New Way to Jumpstart Family/School Collaboration

Article excerpt

"What can I do to help the new IEP team members get to know my child?"

"Can I help my son's new teacher understand his idiosyncratic ways of communicating?"

"Can we help parents share their perceptions about their daughter's strengths, needs, and dreams?"

Many parents and educators have questions before individualized education program (IEP) meetings. However, barriers to effective family/school partnership continue to exist (Lake & Billingsly, 2000). despite widespread consensus regarding the merits of a family-centered approach to providing services and supports, decades of research documenting positive outcomes from family participation in a child's schooling, and federal special education legislation that strongly encourages parental involvement in educational planning [Tlirnbull, Tlirnbull. Erwin. & Soodak, 2006). For example, the majority of parents in Spann, Kohler, and Soenksen's (2003) study reported that they did not believe schools were doing enough to address lheir child's most pressing needs. Parents in Stoner et al.'s (2005) investigation reported that entering the special education system was very difficult, initial IEP meetings were confusing, and obtaining needed services was complicated.

There is a wealth of information available regarding professional practices that can promote positive working relationships with families (e.g.. see O'Shea, O'Shea, Algoz/ine, & Hammitte, 2001; Turnbull et al., 2006). It is evident that establishing effective family/ professional partnerships is not an episodic event, but rather a process requiring good faith efforts over time. Unfortunately, there is no isolated intervention (e.g., preconference meetings); professional disposition (e.g., cultural sensitivity); or planning method (e.g., person-centered planning processes) that is sufficient in and of itself to assure positive home/school relationships.

A new tool. Family Assessment Portfolios (FAPs), can help promote good home/school collaboration. Although FAPs are not a panacea for all of the challenges associated with home/ school communication and collaboration, they can be used to (a) empower families by involving them in the assessment process; (b) enhance opportunities for families to communicate the information they most want schools to know; (c) familiarize future educators with students (e.g., likes, dislikes, strengths, needs, and communication skills); and (d) increase the likelihood that special education services and interventions will truly address a child's most important needs.

What Are Family Assessment Portfolios (FAPs)?

For several years we have worked with a number of parents in central Illinois who created materials to encourage local schools to include their children in general education classrooms. They developed scrapbooks and student profiles to present information about a child to future teachers and administrators. A student's scrapbook might include photographs of a child in a variety of settings, lists of things to know about the child, insights from family and friends, descriptions of activities enjoyed by the child, and samples of preacademic work (e.g., writing name) and artwork. The student profile was a more focused document that included a list of important information about the child (e.g., likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, abilities and skills).

Although some of the information in scrapbooks and student profiles paralleled what one would expect to find in typical assessment reports (e.g., information about how the child communicates, functional descriptions of motor abilities and challenges, and specialized equipment used), the information was presented in an accessible, personal, and "user-friendly" format. Parents, teachers, and administrators consistently reported to us that these materials not only promoted greater understanding of children with disabilities, but also increased a school's commitment to include students in general education classrooms. …