Improving Special Education Documentation to Enhance Parent Understanding

By Kerry-Henkel, Laura; Eklund, Katie | National Association of School Psychologists. Communique, September 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

Improving Special Education Documentation to Enhance Parent Understanding


Kerry-Henkel, Laura, Eklund, Katie, National Association of School Psychologists. Communique


Parental involvement is an essential component of promoting successful students and schools. Increased parental involvement in school systems has been positively correlated with academic achievement, school climate, and positive postschool outcomes in both general and special education contexts (Becker & Luthar, 2002; Hornby & Lafaele, 2011; Spann, Kohler, & Sorenson, 2003). Parental involvement includes not only inviting parents to participate in meetings and events, but also ensuring that parents are active participants in each aspect of the school community.

A unique aspect of special education is the mandate for parent involvement. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1990 (IDEA) and its reauthorization in 2004 require professionals to involve parents of students with disabilities in the educational decisionmaking process. Whether the student is engaged in initial assessment procedures for special education eligibility or is currently being served as a student with special needs, schools are required to involve parents throughout each step of the process. IDEA has specifically validated an emerging role for parents as collaborators, where families are expected to be "equal and full partners with educators and school systems" (Turnbull & Turnbull, 1998, p. 265). From assessment and eligibility, to program placement and learning goals, the policy recommends that school professionals not only inform parents of their rights, but also incorporate parents' knowledge of their child in the special education process.

Current research has identified a number of barriers that have made meaningful parental involvement difficult. Cultural insensitivity, linguistic differences, race, and socioeconomic issues have all been shown to affect parents' levels of trust and involvement in the schools (Banks, 2004; Peña, 2000; Salas, 2004). Additional obstacles to collaboration have included scheduling meetings at times that are inconvenient for parents, professionals making little effort to seek parental input when making decisions about a student's education, and English-only materials being provided to non-English speaking families (Harry, Allen, & McLaughlin, 1995; LinanThompson & Jean, 1997; Weiss & Coyne, 1997). The paperwork generated during special education procedures has also created a significant barrier to effective parental involvement. The sheer amount of printed materials, along with unfamiliar vocabulary, densely written forms, and high readability levels, can overwhelm parents and contribute to a sense of frustration with the process of obtaining support for their child (Fish, 2008). This paper seeks to clarify reasons why materials produced through the special education process may be limiting parental involvement and to identify strategies to improve access to such materials for parents of students in special education.

SPECIAL EDUCATION DOCUMENTATION

A typical special education referral, evaluation, and determination of eligibility for a specific learning disability may easily contain more than 50 pages of printed material that is required by law to be provided to parents.

* Prereferral intervention report ................................................................3 pages

* Permission for evaluation .........................................................................1-3

* Procedural safeguards................................................................................10-15

* Prior written notice....................................................................................1-2

* Multidisciplinary evaluation team report ...............................................5-10

* Psychological evaluation report ...............................................................5-10

* Educational evaluation report ..................................................................3-5

* Additional evaluation reports from related service providers . …

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