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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Another Enthusiastic Testimonial (Client Names Redacted)

From an International Client Family

September 25, 2014

Hello, everyone!

I want to give a BIG THANKS to all of you for this absolutely complete and super professional report. I just checked it but not yet read it deeply …actually I stopped reading it to write this short message, since I feel so grateful and I wanted to share that feeling with you.

Kate (DellaPorta) and Kelley (Challen): you did a great job, thank you so much!!! G. and me already wrote Dr. Ann (Helmus) telling her how well we felt with you during our visit and how professional, serious and kind you are … but now I wanted to say it directly to you.

Seriously, I don’t have words to express our thankfulness. 

For sure we will be getting in touch with you when we finish reading the report deeply. I guess we will have a lot of questions and comments.

Warmest regards,

M.

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The family that sent this note traveled to NESCA from East Asia for both neuropsychological evaluation and transition assessment.  

NESCA clinicians have now evaluated children and adolescents from 23 different countries, most in our Newton offices but also in Manila (The Philippines), Istanbul (Turkey) and Eleuthera (The Bahamas).

Educating Traumatized Children: ATN Learning Center FREE Online Summit

From the Attachment and Trauma Network

September 29, 2014

Please register for this FREE online summit, taking place from September 30th through October 10th, that will bring together the leading authorities and latest information on creating Trauma-Sensitive Schools.

Register HERE.

As a parent, teacher, school administrator or child welfare professional, you know that a child’s early trauma can have significant impact on his/her ability to learn in a typical classroom. And the behaviors and struggles of traumatized children are often overwhelming. What can we do?

 ATN is presenting 22 audio interviews during our 10-day summit that will explore these topics and give examples of some very exciting programs and strategies being implemented across the United States. Listen in for FREE or buy the entire summit as audio recordings (mp3) and/or as transcripts.

Summit Speakers
  • Jen Alexander, M.A., nationally certified school counselor
  • Robert Anda, M.D., co-founder of the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) Study
  • Patsy Anthony, teacher and EFT practitioner
  • Robert Burroughs,Ph.D, Academic Director for CALO
  • Chris Bye, M.S., co-founder of MeMoves
  • Susan Craig, Ph.D., teacher, consultant and author of “Reaching and Teaching Children who Hurt”
  • Lark Eshleman, Ph.D., trauma therapist, former school principal, counselor and librarian
  • Heather Forbes, LCSW, Beyond Consequences Institute, and author of “Help for Billy”
  • Jenny Kendall, Head of Special Programs for K12.com
  • Wendy Klimbal, M.S.,special education advocate, teacher and adoptive mom
  • Megan Marcus,M.A., M.Ed., founder and CEO of FuelEd Schools
  • Ann McMahon, Ph.D., engineer and educator
  • Jody McVittie, M.D., founder of SoundDiscipline.org
  • Christine Moers, therapeutic parent and parenting coach
  • Brice Palmer, special education advocate
  • Susan Reedy, TRM/CRM trainer, Trauma Resource Institute
  • Joel Ristuccia, co-author “Helping Traumatized Children Learn” – www.traumasensitiveschools.org
  • Melissa Sadin, M.S., special education consultant, school administrator and adoptive mom
  • Roberta Scherf, co-founder of MeMoves
  • Avis Smith, LCSW, Director of Trauma Smart program at Crittenton Children’s Center
  • Lawrence Smith, LCSW-C, founder of AttachmentDisorderMaryland.com
  • Jane Ellen Stevens, founder/editor of ACEsTooHigh.com and ACEsConnection.com
  • Barb Trader, M.S., Executive Director of TASH
Topics include:
  • Trauma Sensitive Schools
  • The Impact of Trauma on the Brain’s Ability to Learn
  • How to Recognize Children with Attachment Disorders in Your Classroom
  • Teaching Self-Regulation
  • The School Counselor’s Role
  • Trauma Smart Preschools
  • Using Engineering Education to Teach Empathy
  • Is it ADHD or Trauma?
  • Virtual Schooling as an Attachment-Focused Option
  • Alternative Approaches to Teaching Those with Attachment Trauma
  • Reducing Restraints & Seclusion by Using Trauma-Informed Practices
  • Special Education Basics

VERY IMPORTANT: Please watch for and respond to the confirmation email you will receive after registering! If you do not respond to the confirmation email, you will not be registered. International (Outside the US) Participants: If selecting “not applicable” for State does not work during registration, select “Alabama” (the first state on the list), then select your Country and your registration should go through.


Buy recordings and transcripts HERE.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Bill’s View: Ten Supreme Court Special Education Cases You Need to Know

From Massachusetts Advocates for Children
Bill's View - A New Blog

By Bill Crane, Esq.
September 25, 2014

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Bill Crane is Of Counsel to Massachusetts Advocates for Children. He works with other MAC attorneys on systemic special education issues, consults to attorneys representing low-income parents and students in special education disputes, and writes for the MAC blog.

Bill was a Hearing Officer at the Bureau of Special Education Appeals from 1999 to 2014.

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This is the first of what I hope to be a (more or less) monthly posting on special education law and practice. In this posting, I begin by reviewing the United States Supreme Court’s first special education decision, which in many ways remains the single most important judicial decision regarding special education. I then briefly cover all of the remaining Supreme Court decisions pertaining to special education.

In my October posting, I plan to provide an overview of all of the relevant First Circuit decisions. In subsequent postings, I will discuss other important court decisions, state law and regulations that may extend beyond the federal floor, as well as practice suggestions.

I welcome reader feedback, particularly any suggestions as to how these postings could be improved, including what other areas of special education law or practice I might address.

Readers may contact Bill directly at bcrane@massadvocates.org

The Rowley Decision

In Board of Education v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 176 (1982), the Supreme Court rendered its first opinion regarding the contours of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and, importantly, the “free appropriate public education” (FAPE) mandate within it.

The Court opined that the IDEA requires proposed special education and related services to be “reasonably calculated to enable [the student] to receive educational benefits.” The phrase “reasonably calculated” has generally been understood to mean that the IDEA does not guarantee any particular result—rather, the educational services proposed by a school district must only be reasonably likely to provide sufficient benefit to the student. The key remaining question, of course, is how much benefit is sufficient under the IDEA’s FAPE mandate.

In language that lower courts continue to quote, the Supreme Court explained: “Whatever Congress meant by an ‘appropriate’ education, it is clear that it did not mean a potential-maximizing education.” The Supreme Court added that a student must receive “some benefit”, and several Circuit Courts have adopted this language in a manner that tends to limit the FAPE entitlement. But, the Supreme Court also used the term “meaningful” to describe what education must be provided, and referenced a standard of meaningful access to public education.

Many courts (including the First Circuit in its two most recent IDEA decisions) have adopted a meaningful benefit standard. Importantly, the Bureau of Special Education Appeals (BSEA) hearing officers have also adopted a meaningful benefit standard. (Occasionally, BSEA hearing officers also use a standard of “effective” educational progress—a standard found in federal special law, lower federal court decisions, Massachusetts special education regulations, and the Massachusetts standard IEP form.)

Two other parts of the Rowley decision help one understand the contours of the FAPE standard. First, the Court wrote that FAPE must be “tailored to the unique needs of the handicapped child by means of an individualized educational program (IEP)”, thereby emphasizing the critical principle of individuality. (The requirement of designing special education services to meet a student’s unique needs is also found within the IDEA’s purpose section and its definition of “special education”.)

In many situations where a student’s special education services may appear to be ineffective, an important question to ask is whether the student’s educational program has been sufficiently tailored to meet his or her unique special education needs.

Second, the Supreme Court explained the central importance of considering each student’s educational potential when seeking to determine whether a student is receiving sufficient educational benefit. I quote here extensively from Rowley because of the importance of this point:

"The determination of when handicapped children are receiving sufficient educational benefits to satisfy the requirements of the Act presents a more difficult problem. The Act requires participating States to educate a wide spectrum of handicapped children, from the marginally hearing-impaired to the profoundly retarded and palsied. It is clear that the benefits obtainable by children at one end of the spectrum will differ dramatically from those obtainable by children at the other end, with infinite variations in between. One child may have little difficulty competing successfully in an academic setting with nonhandicapped children while another child may encounter great difficulty in acquiring even the most basic of self-maintenance skills. We do not attempt today to establish any one test for determining the adequacy of educational benefits conferred upon all children covered by the Act."

Lower courts (including the First Circuit) have adopted and clarified this principle to mean that under the IDEA, one cannot determine the sufficiency of a student’s educational progress in a vacuum. Rather, educational benefit can only be understood appropriately within the context of what each particular student would be expected to be able to learn if provided an appropriate educational program.

In assessing whether educational progress has been sufficient, it is therefore essential to understand (often with the help of an expert) the student’s potential to learn.

Judges and hearing officers cite to and are governed by the above-described legal standards, as well as elaborations of these standards found in countless federal court decisions. But, what is apparent from reading many, many IDEA decisions is that a relatively subjective factual analysis is usually determinative in a FAPE dispute. This reflects the reality that each student’s educational needs, in fact, are unique.

As a result, what often becomes critical is the judge’s or hearing officer’s understanding of the educational facts and the opinions of educational experts (including teachers, service providers and evaluators) who know the student’s particular special education needs and how those needs should be met so that the student’s educational program will be appropriate.

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Panel Discussion 10/7 - Register Today!
  • October 7 (Tuesday) 7:00 - 9:00pm: Stressed-Out Students: How Boarding Schools Can Help. Panel discussion with admissions officers from five schools at the Wellesley College Club. Co-sponsored by NESCA and Hunnewell Education Group. FREE and open to the public; advance registration required. Details HERE. Please call 617-658-9800 or email arenzi@nesca-newton.com 
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Subsequent Supreme Court Decisions

What follows is an overview of the Supreme Court’s subsequent IDEA decisions, listed in reverse chronological order. Although none of these decisions has the breadth of Rowley’s analysis, each of these decisions establishes an important principle regarding the rights and responsibilities of parents and school districts.

And, as with Rowley, a number of these decisions provide an important backdrop to the lower court decisions that have filled in much of the details of special education law.

Winkelman v. Parma City School Dist., 550 U.S. 516 (2007). The Court held that “[p]arents enjoy rights under IDEA; and they are, as a result, entitled to prosecute IDEA claims on their own behalf.” Some may find the Court’s recitation of parental rights to be useful.

Arlington Cent. School Dist. Bd. of Educ. v. Murphy, 548 U.S. 291 (2006). The Court held that non-attorney expert’s fees for services rendered to prevailing parents in IDEA action are not costs recoverable from school districts under the IDEA’s fee-shifting provision.

Schaffer v. Weast, 546 U.S. 49 (2005). The Court held that the party seeking relief bears the burden of proof in an administrative due process proceeding, such as the BSEA.

Buckhannon v. West Virginia Dept. of Health and Human Resources, 532 U.S. 598, 121 S.Ct. 1835 (2001). The Court ruled that in order to obtain attorney fees as a “prevailing party”, the party must secure either a judgment on the merits or a court-ordered consent decree.

Cedar Rapids Community School Dist. v. Garret F. ex rel. Charlene F., 526 U.S. 66 (1999). The Court held that continuous nursing service is a “related service” that the school district is required to provide under the IDEA. The Court also noted that an IDEA dispute “is about whether meaningful access to the public schools will be assured”, thereby repeating the “meaningful access” standard originally articulated in Rowley.

Florence County School Dist. Four v. Carter, 510 U.S. 7 (1993). The Court discussed the standards pursuant to which a parent may obtain reimbursement for a private educational placement. Importantly, the Court determined that reimbursement does not necessarily require that the private school meet the IDEA’s definition of free appropriate public education—for example, the private school does not necessarily have to meet the state education standards.

There are now a number of Circuit Court decisions (including a First Circuit decision that will be discussed in my next posting) that have relied on this decision to describe more specifically the requisites of a private educational placement that can be reimbursed.

Honig v. Doe, 484 U.S. 305 (1988). The Court addressed the IDEA’s stay-put provision, explaining that in enacting stay-put, Congress intended “to strip schools of the unilateral authority they had traditionally employed to exclude disabled students … from school.”

The Court also noted that the IEP is the “centerpiece of the [IDEA's] education delivery system” and explained that “Congress repeatedly emphasized throughout the Act the importance and indeed the necessity of parental participation in both the development of the IEP and any subsequent assessments of its effectiveness.”

School Committee of Town of Burlington, Mass. v. Department of Educ. of Mass., 471 U.S. 359 (1985). The Court established, for the first time, the right of parents to be reimbursed for their expenditures for private special education. This decision (together with the Court’s decision in Florence v. Carter, discussed above) generally stands for the proposition that a school district may be required to reimburse parents for tuition and other expenses related to a private school placement when:
  • (1) the IEP and placement offered by the school district were inadequate or inappropriate (in other words, where the school district failed to offer FAPE)
  • (2) the parents’ private placement was appropriate for their child’s needs; and,
  • (3) the balance of the equities favors reimbursement.

The Court also explained that in an IDEA dispute, a court has broad authority to fashion appropriate relief considering equitable factors, which will effectuate the purposes underlying the Act, and that the IDEA provides “procedural safeguards to insure the full participation of the parents and proper resolution of substantive disagreements.”

Irving Independent School District v. Tatro, 468 U.S. 883 (1984). The Court held that provision of clean intermittent catheterization was a “related service” under the IDEA and not a “medical service,” because the service was necessary for the student to attend school. The services requested did not fall within the medical exclusion because they need not be performed by a physician. The Court noted that “Congress sought primarily to make public education available to handicapped children and to make such access meaningful”.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Nearly 8 In 10 Kids Don’t Get Developmental Screenings

From Disability Scoop

By Shaun Heasley
September 11, 2014

The vast majority of American children may not be receiving recommended screenings for developmental delay, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

In a government survey, parents of 79 percent of young children reported that they had not been asked to participate in screening efforts in the previous year. This, despite recommendations that children are routinely checked at pediatrician visits for signs of developmental issues.

The findings come from an analysis of data collected in 2007 and 2008 through the National Survey of Children’s Health published this week in a supplement to the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The issue includes a broad review of preventive care services recommended for children and adolescents ranging from newborn hearing tests to hypertension screening.

Parents of children ages 10 to 47 months were asked if their child’s health care provider had them complete a developmental questionnaire within the previous year. The surveys, which ask about development, communication and social behaviors, are part of the recommended screening procedures for young children.

Though most said they did not participate in screening, parents of slightly more than half of children did say that their doctor asked about whether they had concerns with their child’s learning, development or behavior, suggesting that physicians rely on more informal conversations to assess their patients.

These conversations did not appear to prompt additional screening in cases where parents expressed concerns.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that doctors use a developmental screening tool to assess all children at ages 9, 18 and either 24 or 30 months. Developmental screenings are significant, the report said, because children who are at risk for delays are more likely to receive early intervention if they participate in such efforts.

“We must protect the health of all children and ensure that they receive recommended screenings and services,” said Stuart K. Shapira, chief medical officer and associate director for science at the CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities.

“Increased use of clinical preventive services could improve the health of infants, children and teens and promote healthy lifestyles that will enable them to achieve their full potential.”

The report did note that data was collected prior to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Under that law, most insurance plans must cover developmental screening at no cost to patients.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Book Talk 10/16 by Judy and Carson Graves: Parents Have the Power!

Sponsored by NESCA
September 26, 2014
Parents Have the Power to Make Special Education Work is an "elegantly written and wisely pragmatic" guide to navigation for parents adrift in today's storm-tossed seas of special education.
Authors Judith Canty Graves and Carson Graves "learned the ropes" by advocating successfully for their own child from preschool through high school, and by engaging extensively with many other parents and professionals along the way.
The will join us at NESCA from 7:00 to 9:00pm on Thursday, October 16th to discuss their experiences, following introductory remarks by renowned Special Education Attorney Robert K. Crabtree, who wrote the book's robust Foreword.


L-R: Carson Graves, Robert K. Crabtree, Esq.,
Judith Canty Graves

A question and answer period and book signing will follow the presentation. Copies of the book will be available for purchase. Refreshments will be served.


When:   7:00 - 9:00pm Thursday, October 16, 2014


Where: NESCA, Lower Lobby Meeting Room

                 55 Chapel Street, Newton, MA 02458

This program is free and seating is limited; reservations are required. RSVP to Amanda Renzi at 617-658-9800, ext. 0, or email arenzi@nesca-newton.com


There is ample, free, off-street parking in the lot opposite the main, Chapel Street entrance to NESCA's offices.


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NOTE: In their acknowledgements, the Graves cite NESCA's Jason McCormick, Psy.D. as "the best neuropsychologist we have ever worked with." 

"Turn It Off Right Now!"

From Great Schools

By Connie Matthiessen
September 15, 2014

Parents today are the first generation to raise kids in a world dominated by screens. Our parents ordered us to turn off the TV and stop yammering on the telephone — but such struggles seem easy compared to the battles today’s parents face, with TV, the internet, and the textaphone available anywhere and everywhere — and never very far from our kids’ hot little hands.


What effect does all this screen time have on kids’ academics? Many parents and experts have suspected that the effects aren’t good and now there’s hard evidence to prove it.

A three-year research project, known as “The Learning Habit Study,” identified a direct link between screen time and declining grades.

Think this study only pertains to little screen addicts? Hardly. Even just half an hour of screen time a day caused grades to fall. Four hours of screen time a day caused kids’ GPA’s to fall by an entire grade. (This seems like a lot until you consider that American kids’ average screentime diet is seven hours).

The study of 46,000 American households was conducted by a team of researchers from Brown, Brandeis, Children’s National Medical Center, and New England Center for Pediatric Psychology and published in the American Journal of Family Therapy, and in a book, The Learning Habit.

The study also found that kids who spent more time on screen were less able to persist at difficult tasks, and exhibited more emotional volatility than those who engaged in less screen time.

Now that the evidence is in, what should parents do? The study authors suggest parents make a conscious effort to balance screen time with chores, activities, and family time — dinners, game nights, and outings, for example.

Kids won’t be the only ones to benefit, since most adults I know (including me) spend a good part of each day glued to the screen, too. So make a family meal, wash the dishes together, take your kids for a walk, get out the board games, and make a night of it.

I’m right behind you (as soon as I finish this post, check my email, and return a few text messages!)

Friday, September 26, 2014

Stressed Out = Left Out? Panel 10/7: How Boarding Schools Support Anxious Students

Co-sponsored by NESCA
and Hunnewell Education Group

September 25, 2014

Please join NESCA Neuropsychologist and Anxiety Specialist Angela Currie, Ph.D., Educational Consultants Oakes Hunnewell and Chris Overbye and admissions officers from Proctor Academy, Dublin School, Cushing Academy, Brewster Academy and New Hampton School in a discussion of how they effectively support today’s increasingly anxious students.

When:   7:00 - 9:00pm Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Where: The Wellesley College Club (Directions)
                   Wall Room - 2nd Floor
                   727 Washington Street
                   Wellesley, MA 02482

                   There is ample, free, off-street parking.

This program is FREE and open to the public, but seating is limited and advance registration is required. Light refreshments will be served.

RSVP to Amanda Renzi by calling 617-658-9800, or by email to arenzi@nesca-newton.com. 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Is it Time to Redefine “Gifted and Talented”?

From Mind/Shift
How we will learn.

By Holly Korbey
September 16, 2013


“Schools need to provide a way of making sure that children are educated at the level that is appropriate for them.”

Manhattan mom Heather McFadden is grateful that entrance into the prized New York City Gifted and Talented program has worked out for her two kids. Her daughter cleared both hurdles – she scored in the 99th percentile on the test, and then was lucky enough to get chosen for the lottery. Her son tested in as well.

“I am thankful they [gifted programs] exist. There simply wasn’t a school in our district we would send our kids to because of their ratings,” McFadden said. “G and T [Gifted and Talented] was our only chance besides moving.” She had also heard from teachers that kids who are more advanced would not be challenged in a standard setting.

While McFadden knows that her kids will receive an extra push in Gifted and Talented, not everyone in New York is so lucky. More than 11,700 kids qualified for about 2,700 Gifted and Talented seats last year.

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Reminders - Please Register Now!
  • October 7 (Tuesday) 7:00 - 9:00pm: Stressed-Out Students: How Boarding Schools Can Help. Panel discussion with admissions officers from five schools at the Wellesley College Club. Co-sponsored by NESCA and Hunnewell Education Group. FREE and open to the public; advance registration required. Details HERE, or call Amanda Renzi at 617-658-9800.
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What does it mean to be “gifted” — at least by school standards?

The U.S. Department of Education defines gifted and talented as “Children and youth with outstanding talent who perform or show the potential for performing at remarkably high levels of accomplishment when compared with others of their age, experience or environment.”

According to the National Society of Gifted and Talented website, areas of talent include “creative ability, general and specific intellectual ability, leadership, psychomotor ability, and visual and performing arts abilities.”

But how “giftedness” plays out in the classroom for the roughly 3 million students who qualify can be hard to characterize. Some gifted and talented programs emphasize critical thinking and problem solving, others focus on creativity, and still others take what’s going on in standard classrooms and go into greater depth and complexity.

Some G/T programs have separate schools, others have students for just an hour or two a week in a special classroom, and still others try to serve G/T students in standard classrooms by differentiating instruction in classes of mixed ability.

The wide variety of programs and curricula can mean that many G/T programs may end up being essentially ineffective to high potential learners. “The field of gifted education lacks convincing research as to what works,” writes Chester E. Finn, Jr, coauthor with Jessica Hockett of Exam Schools: Inside America’s Most Selective Public High Schools.

“We found just two smallish studies focusing on the actual effectiveness of selective-admission public high schools. Worse, those two studies found scant advantage for the selective-admission schools.”

“It is just one learning style that needs to be met, due to the speed and ease at which the student learns. It does not mean they are better or likely to become more successful in life than their peers.”

Compounding the effectiveness of G/T programs is what it takes to qualify for entrance, usually IQ or other intelligence tests. According to cognitive psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman, author of Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined, the overwhelming use of IQ tests to understand student potential is limiting at best, and damaging at worst. Besides treating all students with the same IQ as having the same academic needs, Kaufman writes in the LA Times, defining students by a test only measures one aspect of their potential to be successful:

“Even done well, standardized testing has limits. Many other factors contribute to learning and real-world success, from active learning strategies to intrinsic motivation, grit, self-regulation and outside support and encouragement.”

In addition, Kaufman warns that abilities and talents can change as students get older, but often, tests that measure cognitive ability like the IQ test are taken early in life, and the scores follow children throughout their school careers, their numbers becoming immutable.

“Although no state permits a single IQ score to determine gifted eligibility, 18 states set strict cutoff scores, and testing is typically a one-shot deal,” Kaufman writes. “You’re either gifted or you’re not, for the rest of your life.” Kaufman, who was diagnosed with a learning disability early in life, went on to defy his label and attained a Ph.D. at Yale.

According to a North Carolina G/T teacher, Lisa, who asked to remain anonymous due to her district’s media policy, what many misunderstand is that being gifted is a learning need, not a privilege. “It is just one learning style that needs to be met, due to the speed and ease at which the student learns,” she said. “It does not mean they are better or likely to become more successful in life than their peers.”

In Lisa’s Academically and Intellectually Gifted program (AIG) for 4th and 5th graders, students are taken out of class for 45 minutes a week to focus on deeper conceptual understanding of what they’re already working on in standard classes. Lisa gave examples using math and reading instruction.

“When working with place value in a regular classroom, for example, in AIG I usually teach a 6-week class on alternative number systems, where we look at Roman numerals, Mayan numbers, binary numbers, as well as other number systems that don’t use a base 10,” she said. “In reading, we may work on a novel, or tie in social studies content such as doing a unit with American History that look at ‘History’s Mysteries’ such as The Abraham Lincoln Conspiracy, Lindbergh baby kidnapping, or the Lost Colony.”

Lisa’s main concern with the AIG program is time — or lack of it. “If I could change anything it would be the amount of time we are allowed to spend with the students,” she said. “In order to insure equity in the program, we are limited to 45 minutes a week in the areas identified as strong or very strong need. To say a student has these needs and only serve them 1/30th of the time they are in school seems, to me, to be problematic.”

Navigating the System

For some parents of high-ability students, navigating the Gifted and Talented programs can be frustrating. Matt Prewett of Austin, Texas, doesn’t particularly like the term “gifted,” because it is easily misconstrued. He prefers to say “advanced in particular subjects.”

He decided to pull his son, who was advanced in both language arts and math according to test scores and class performance, out of the local public school — not because they didn’t have a G/T program, but because he felt it was poorly implemented. “We pulled our son out of the district elementary school after 3rd grade, because we felt they had an inadequate system for ability-grouping,” he said.

Prewett gave an example of how the local school grouped for math ability: “They advertise a program for advanced students but there is only one chance to qualify, and it is on the first couple of days of school,” he said. “My son was very upset about attending a new school and cried during the exam, and didn’t qualify for the program. Despite good grades in math and extremely high scores on standardized exams, his teacher said there was no flexibility for students to move from the standard program to the advanced program. This is because the way they make the math program ‘advanced’ is by teaching them the curriculum from the next grade level: acceleration rather than enrichment.”

“Schools need to provide a way of making sure that children are educated at the level that is appropriate for them,” he said. “While putting all abilities in the same classroom might be easier to manage, it results in a high likelihood that at least one group of children will be neglected. With NCLB and the focus on proficiency, the odds are that the advanced students will be neglected since principals/teachers know that they will pass standardized exams.”

Prewett, who has since become a fierce advocate for more and better advanced programs in schools, founded the Texas Parents Union to advocate for more quality education options for all parents. He worries that children at the top of the achievement ladder are often under-served.

Kaufman takes it one step further: perhaps it’s time to step back and re-define what it means to be gifted and talented. “It may be time for a paradigm shift,” he writes. “Perhaps we should stop describing people as gifted or ungifted and start describing a wide range of personal characteristics and environmental factors as potential gifts — and promote an educational culture that develops them.”

Kaufman recommends the work of another North Carolina organization, Project Bright Idea, a pilot program offering Gifted and Talented curriculum to every student. According to one of the program’s founders, Duke professor at the Sanford School of Public Policy William “Sandy” Darity, Project Bright Idea “shows an extraordinary increase in overall test scores despite demographic trends toward more ‘at-risk’ students (90% poverty rate at the end of the period),” he said.

Even though some of the schools’ students wouldn’t have ever qualified for G/T programs, after two years using a G/T curriculum, nearly one in four was identified as “gifted.”

Project Bright Idea’s success has spread to 20 North Carolina public schools, and maybe the idea is growing. Brooklyn mom Karina Gauge reports that her two sons receive Gifted and Talented curriculum at their neighborhood school, P.S. 58, although they’ve never had to stress over getting in: “They have never had a G/T program, because our principal believes that all of the kids should be treated as gifted and receive the same quality education,” she said.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Children and Nature: Who Let the Kids Out?

From Great Schools

By Connie Matthiessen
September 21, 2014

Are your children spending too much time inside? Learn the high cost of nature deficit disorder - and how easily you can avoid it by getting your kids outdoors.

You’ve probably had this experience: The kids have been cooped up all morning and now you're heading out to the park, just to get them outside. In the car, they squabble and sulk — the oldest doesn't want to go, the second complains about the third's singing, the third begins to cry — and you’re on the verge of losing it. No one, you're convinced, will make it back from this outing alive.

But when the kids pile out of the car, everything changes. They begin running around, exploring, getting dirty, discovering rocks, and making up games. When it's time to pack up, everyone is cold, muddy, and hungry but miraculously transformed.

What happened, exactly? Call it the restorative power of nature. Many parents observe these positive effects every day. Since Florida mother and writer Dianne Venetta created an organic garden in her back yard, it's been a major draw for both of her children — though in different ways. "My son gets down in the dirt and finds bugs and bees and worms, and [he] wants to learn everything about them," she says. "My daughter is more of an observer — she likes to photograph and draw everything she sees."


Heather Reed, who lives in Texas, says her son Timmy begs to go outside every day, and has since he was very small. Timmy, now five, has autism and developmental delays; he doesn't speak. When he wants to go outside, he grabs her hand and leads her to the door. "He loves watching the water in the pool ripple and the shadows that are created from sunlight falling on objects," Reed says. "He doesn't need a reason to be outside; he just wants to be there." After he's spent time outdoors, Timmy is more relaxed and tends to interact more, she says.

A growing body of research supports anecdotal evidence of nature's therapeutic effects — on children, adults, and communities as a whole. Scientists at the University of Illinois' Landscape and Human Health Laboratory, for example, found that time out of doors reduces symptoms in children with ADHD. They also demonstrated a link between exposure to nature and increased self-discipline in girls, and a third study found that vegetation reduces crime in urban communities. Research by University of Rochester scientists even found evidence that nature makes people more caring.

Nature Deficit Disorder

But despite the evidence, many children today have little contact with the natural world. In his groundbreaking 2005 book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, Richard Louv explored the fundamental role nature plays in stimulating kids' imaginations and creativity, promoting health, and building resistance to stress and depression.

In Last Child in the Woods, Louv coined the term "nature deficit disorder," which he defined as "the human costs of alienation from nature, among them: diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses." Louv is quick to point out that nature deficit disorder is not a medical or psychological diagnosis, but a name he's given to what he sees as an increasingly widespread social condition. He believes this condition plays a role in rising rates of childhood obesity, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), depression, and other physical and developmental issues.

Louv points out that children today spend far more time indoors than their parents did. (According to the Children and Nature Network, a national nonprofit co-founded by Louv, only six percent of children ages nine to 13 play outside on their own in a typical week.) Increased urbanization, overscheduled calendars, parental fears about crime and other hazards, and the lure of electronic media have driven kids indoors and away from the natural world. "For a new generation," he writes, "nature is more abstraction than reality. Increasingly, nature is something to watch, to consume, to wear — to ignore."

Recent findings by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation support Louv's bleak portrait of young lives spent indoors — and plugged in. Kaiser researchers found that American children ages eight to 18 spend an average of seven hours and 38 minutes a day using "entertainment media," including TVs, movies, computers, video games, cell phones, and MP3 players. The amount of time kids spent on electronic media had increased by an hour from the previous study in 2004 — and researchers didn't even include the amount of time kids spend texting in these calculations.

Kyle Morrison, an exercise physiologist who works with obese children and teens at the Healthy Weight Center at Helen DeVos Children's Hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan, sees the effects of nature deficit disorder in his practice every day.

"A lot of the kids I see are completely out of touch with nature," he says. "Many of these kids live in areas with gang activity and other types of urban violence. Their parents are working all the time and they don't want the kids going out, even to the local park, because they think it's too dangerous. Families can't afford to go on vacation or pay for summer camp, so these kids are staying home all day, sitting in front of the TV or playing video games."

The result is teenagers with obesity and related health problems, including prediabetes symptoms and sleep apnea. Many also have asthma, a condition that Morrison believes is exacerbated by lack of exercise and lack of exposure to allergens they would routinely encounter if they spent more times outside. He estimates that 30 to 40 percent of the kids he sees suffer from depression and/or other anxiety disorders as well.

Louv’s thesis clearly struck a chord — Last Child in the Woods became a national best seller, received awards, and was translated into ten languages — and has helped inform a growing movement of parents and educators who want to combat nature deficit disorder.

Go Out and Play

Doctor's Orders — Kyle Morrison works with his patients on lifestyle changes like increasing exercise and improving eating habits; he also beats the bushes to find scholarships for summer camps, in hopes that a few of his patients will have the opportunity to spend a week of summer outdoors.

Beyond the human toll of nature deficit disorder, health professionals like Morrison are concerned about the financial costs of treating people for conditions like obesity, diabetes, asthma, and depression. A growing number of physicians are treating nature deficit disorder the way they treat other maladies: by prescribing time-out-of-doors for patients — adults and kids alike.

Green Hour — Many national environmental groups have started campaigns to encourage kids and families to spend more time outside. The National Wildlife Federation, for example, recommends that kids spend at least an hour a day out of the house, which they call the "Green Hour." The Sierra Club's Building Bridges to the Outdoors program is a nationwide effort to give every child an outdoor experience. And the Outdoor Alliance for Kids (OAK), recently kicked off a Facebook campaign called Get Your Nature On to inspire kids to spend more time outside.

Wilderness SchoolBay Area Wilderness Training (BAWT) provides wilderness training for teachers and youth leaders; it also has a lending "library" where groups and teachers can borrow outdoor equipment, including backpacks and tents, for free. Teachers and youth leaders from all over the Bay Area and as far away as Fresno and Los Angeles come to BAWT for training and to borrow gear.

Since founding BAWT eleven years ago, executive director Kyle MacDonald says he’s seen an increase in the number of schools committed to getting kids into the wilderness. Macdonald started BAWT specifically for inner city kids because, as a youth leader and wilderness guide, he’d seen the powerful effect that nature could have. "It's really profound," Macdonald says. "You see kids' faces open up, their backs straighten. You see it in their interactions with each other: the mild bullying, the frustrated nitpicky behavior — all that goes away when they connect with something larger than themselves."

For Macdonald, it's about the future — not just for young people but for the entire planet. "If we raise a generation of kids whose activities are all indoors, they'll never develop a relationship with the environment — they'll see no reason to care. Connecting kids to the out of doors in a way that makes them realize, 'this is fun, this is a place I want to be' — that's going to create a generation of environmental stewards."

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Connie Matthiessen is a San Francisco writer and editor whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, Mother Jones, Health, San Francisco, WebMD, and other publications. She has three children (who provide a close-up perspective on great and not-so-great schools) and two chubby cats.

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Upcoming Special Events
  • October 2 (Thursday) 1:00pm Eastern: "Between the Synapse" internet radio broadcast on educating students with emotional or behavioral challenges, featuring special guests Jessica Minahan, M.Ed., BCBA, director of behavioral services at NESCA, and Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi. Free app required to listen. Details HERE.
  • October 7 (Tuesday) 7:00 - 9:00pm: Stressed-Out Students: How Boarding Schools Can Help. Panel discussion with admissions officers from five schools at the Wellesley College Club. Co-sponsored by NESCA and Hunnewell Education Group. FREE and open to the public; advance registration required. Details HERE.
  • October 25 (Saturday) 8:30am - 5:00pm: "Practical Perspectives, Positives Lives" - Annual Asperger's Syndrome Connection conference sponsored by AANE at the Joseph B. Martin Conference Center, 77 Avenue Louis Pasteur, Boston, MA. Keynote Speakers: Simon Baron-Cohen, Ph.D.; Winnie Dunn, Ph.D., OTR, FAOTA; Michael Forbes Wilcox. Info, registration HERE.
  • October 25 (Saturday) 8:00am - 4:00pm: MABIDA's 7th Reaching All Readers Conference; "Dyslexia, Inattention & Anxiety." Keynote speaker: Dr. Edward Hallowell, with NESCA Neuropsychologist Angela Currie, Ph.D. Sheraton Framingham Hotel and Conference Center. Details and registration HERE.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Special Presentation at NESCA Thursday, October 16th: Parents Have the Power!

From NESCA

September 23, 2014

Judith Canty Graves and Carson Graves, authors of Parents Have the Power to Make Special Education Work, will speak at NESCA from 7:00 to 9:00pm on Thursday, October 16th. They will be introduced by renowned Special Education Attorney Robert K. Crabtree, who wrote the book's robust Foreword.

A question and answer period and book signing will follow the presentation. Copies of the book will be available for purchase. Refreshments will be served.

When:   7:00 - 9:00pm Thursday, October 16, 2014

Where:  NESCA, Lower Lobby Meeting Room
                  55 Chapel Street, Newton, MA 02458
This program is free and seating is limited; reservations are required. RSVP to Amanda Renzi at 617-658-9800, ext. 0, or email arenzi@nesca-newton.com

There is ample, free, off-street parking in the lot opposite the main, Chapel Street entrance to NESCA's offices.

Building Rapport (with Your Child's School) for the Long Haul

From Smart Kids with LD

By Marcia Brown Rubinstein
September 19, 2014

Developing a successful partnership with your child’s school is a rite of fall—especially for parents of children with LD and ADHD. Your child’s success depends on the teachers and administrators in charge of addressing his academic and emotional needs, understanding his strengths and weaknesses, and maintaining an environment that elicits the best he has to offer.

Below are guidelines to help you establish the most productive atmosphere for all involved:
  • Make sure you understand your child’s needs and all required accommodations or remediations.
  • Familiarize yourself with school programs and policies.
  • Know your rights (link to Your Child’s Rights landing page) and the Special Education Guidelines for your state and school system.
  • Monitor your child’s academic and emotional progress continually.
  • Do not wait until report cards are issued to know how he is doing. If your child is relatively uncommunicative, schedule regular short meetings with teachers or arrange for another means of communication (e.g a comments notebook that goes back and forth from school to home; texting, emailing, etc).
  • Support the school actively and consistently in order to show that you endorse its fundamental principles.
  • When interacting with anyone at the school, be respectful; follow the chain of command if you have complaints to register.
  • Recognize that first and foremost you are your child’s primary advocate. Never allow him to suffer if you see that a school policy, faculty member, administrator, or situation is intolerable.
  • Get involved. Attend as many school functions as possible, including open houses, cultural events, and PTA meetings. Volunteer for school activities. Become a room parent, field-trip chaperone, or classroom volunteer. Share your talents with your child’s classmates.
  • Communicate with school personnel when things go well, not only when they go wrong.

All students benefit when parents and teachers build partnerships and work together for stronger, more responsive schools.

Related Smart Kids Topics

Monday, September 22, 2014

School Recess Improves Behavior


From The New York Times' Health Blog "Well"





January 28, 2009

Children who misbehave at school are often punished by having to stay inside at recess. But new research shows that giving children recess actually helps solve behavioral problems in class.

Researchers from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine reviewed data on about 11,000 third graders, collected in 2002 as part of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, financed by the United States Department of Education to determine how a wide range of family, school, community and individual factors affect a child’s school performance.

Children at the the International Community School in
Decatur, Ga., playing kickball during recess.
(Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times)

The study, published this week in the journal Pediatrics, found that about one in three of the children in the group received fewer than 15 minutes of daily recess or none at all. Compared with children who receive regular recess, the children who were cooped up during the school day were more likely to be from public schools in the Northeast or South. They also were more likely to be black, from low-income and less-educated families and live in large cities.

When teachers were asked to rate children’s behavior, the kids who received at least 15 minutes of daily recess scored better than those who didn’t get recess. Dr. Romina M. Barros, a pediatrician and assistant professor at Albert Einstein, said the data were important because many new schools were being built without adequate outdoor space for students. She says it’s a “big mistake” for teachers to punish a child for bad behavior by denying recess.

“We need to understand that kids need a break," Dr. Barros said. “Our brains can concentrate and pay attention for 45 to 60 minutes, and in kids it’s even less. For them to be able to acquire all the skills we want them to learn, they need a break to go out and release the energy and play and be social."

Schools need to recognize that recess is an essential part of a child’s learning experience, Dr. Barros said. At recess, students “use all the things they learned in the classroom. When they are doing hopscotch they use math skills. Kids learn a lot about social skills during recess, such as playing, sharing, being the leader, following somebody. It’s all very important.’’

It’s not clear from the data whether teachers also were affected by a lack of recess. It may be that teachers who were stuck in the classroom had less patience and gave children harsher scores for relatively benign behavior than teachers who received recess breaks themselves.

“If the teacher, an adult, is tired of being inside the classroom,’’ Dr. Barros said, “can you imagine how it must feel to a 7- or 8-year-old?’’

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Upcoming Special Events
  • October 2 (Thursday) 1:00pm Eastern: "Between the Synapse" internet radio broadcast on educating students with emotional or behavioral challenges, featuring special guests Jessica Minahan, M.Ed., BCBA, director of behavioral services at NESCA, and Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi. Free app required to listen. Details HERE.
  • October 7 (Tuesday) 7:00 - 9:00pm: Stressed-Out Students: How Boarding Schools Can Help. Panel discussion with admissions officers from five schools at the Wellesley College Club. Co-sponsored by NESCA and Hunnewell Education Group. FREE and open to the public; advance registration required. Details HERE.
  • October 25 (Saturday) 8:30am - 5:00pm: "Practical Perspectives, Positives Lives" - Annual Asperger's Syndrome Connection conference sponsored by AANE at the Joseph B. Martin Conference Center, 77 Avenue Louis Pasteur, Boston, MA. Keynote Speakers: Simon Baron-Cohen, Ph.D.; Winnie Dunn, Ph.D., OTR, FAOTA; Michael Forbes Wilcox. Info, registration HERE.
  • October 25 (Saturday) 8:00am - 4:00pm: MABIDA's 7th Reaching All Readers Conference; "Dyslexia, Inattention & Anxiety." Keynote speaker: Dr. Edward Hallowell, with NESCA Neuropsychologist Angela Currie, Ph.D. Sheraton Framingham Hotel and Conference Center. Details and registration HERE.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Helping Today's Stressed-Out Students: FREE Panel Discussion Tuesday, October 7th

Co-sponsored by NESCA
and Hunnewell Education Group

September 21, 2014

Stress and anxiety may be adversely affecting your child’s organizational skill and academic performance. Discover how independent boarding schools can help.

Kids today are under more pressure than ever. Increasing in both prevalence and severity among students, and manifesting at earlier ages, anxiety actively undermines executive function and exacerbates many underlying conditions, including ADHD.

Please join NESCA Neuropsychologist and Anxiety Specialist Angela Currie, Ph.D., Educational Consultants Oakes Hunnewell and Chris Overbye and admissions officers from five prominent independent boarding schools in a discussion of how their schools effectively support today’s highly-stressed students, and scaffold their academic and social success.

Using representative case studies, our panelists will describe how their schools would meet the needs of three bright but anxious and underperforming students who need support. A Q&A period will follow the presentation. Light refreshments will be served.

When:   7:00 - 9:00pm Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Where: The Wellesley College Club (Directions)
                   Wall Room - 2nd Floor
                   727 Washington Street
                   Wellesley, MA 02482

                   There is ample, free, off-street parking.

This program is FREE and open to the public, but seating is limited and advance registration is required.

RSVP to Amanda Renzi by calling 617-658-9800, or by email toarenzi@nesca-newton.com.