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Wednesday
Jun302010

Unique Needs

This page covers:

  • Getting your child tested for Special Education
  • The basics of how the PPS special student services program works
  • The talented and gifted (TAG) identification process
  • Program possibilities for TAG
  • Your rights as a parent

One reason to seek a school outside your neighborhood is to accomodate child with a particular set of  issues or talents.  This unique need may be one of many things – a high interest or degree of talent in a certain area, emotional issues that need accommodation, or physical needs that only some buildings can accommodate.  While we can’t cover every situation, below we offer basic information on two programs for children with unique needs:  special education services and the talented and gifted program (TAG).

More: On a less unique note, Is Educating Boys Different?

Special Education

The term “special education” is one that applies to an enormous range of disabilities and differences, both physical and cognitive – children in wheelchairs, children with emotional issues, children with ADHD, children with developmental disorders, and children with learning disabilities, among them.  As you can imagine, the special education machine is a complicated one.

If you suspect or know that your child is a special education student in one way or another, you need to be proactive and get informed.  If your child is not yet in school, you can get your child tested by the Multnomah Early Childhood Program for free, or go to an independent agency and pay for an assessment.  The advantage of a private assessment is that you have more control over how the results are used or shared – a county or district assessment will automatically be shared with the school district and becomes a permanent part of your child’s record. 

Most students are identified in kindergarten due to a parent or teacher expressing concern about an area of deficit.  Depending upon what the tests reveal, an Individual Educational Plan (IEP) is constructed.  This plan is revised at least once a year and includes specifics on how a child’s needs are met by the school.  Eligibility for special education services must be reviewed every three years.

A child that is eligible for special education can receive a range of services, depending upon his or her needs.  Children with learning disabilities are often included in the general education classroom and then pulled out for specialized lessons to help them overcome or compensate for their disability.  Those children with moderate or severe learning issues or delays often spend at least a portion of their day in a self-contained, highly staffed “focus classroom.”  There are several types of these classrooms, at least one of which is found in each school “cluster” (a collection of schools in a given part of town).

Talented and Gifted (TAG)

To qualify for the talented and gifted label a child must be tested, and preliminary screening for TAG potential now happens for every 2nd grader in PPS to insure equity and thoroughness.  Parents can make a special request for TAG identification testing before then, or at any time in their child’s school career, through the TAG office within PPS.

To qualify for the TAG label, a student must test at the 97th percentile in at least one of the three parts of the TAG test, which is administered by teachers from the TAG office at the school site.  Students can also be identified as having “TAG Potential,” which means they are close to meeting the criteria, and often is based on other measures.   Each school site has a TAG plan articulating how instruction will be adjusted to challenge their TAG students.  Parents can request individual TAG plans to articulate the details about how this would look for their child in particular. 

In addition to the TAG plan, some schools have extra activities that TAG students participate in outside of class.  For example, a group of students might be pulled into the library for a special project, or even play math games in the hall with a volunteer parent. Each school has its own approach, although there are basic requirements that every school must satisfy to be “in compliance” with state requirements.  One Portland Public school called The ACCESS Alternative Program, currently housed at Rose City Park school building in NE, is exclusively for TAG identified students.

Once a student has been identified as TAG, the label sticks for the rest of their public school career, no matter what his or her school performance.  Although most parents dream of their child being identified as gifted, being so is not without its pitfalls, particularly those that are identified as highly or exceptionally gifted.  These students are often irregular in their school performance – they have one or more areas where they excel and others where they are average or even below average.  Additionally, gifted students sometimes have high sensitivities that must be negotiated – high emotionality, frustrations with noise, or even social issues.  And finally, all levels of gifted students may find school boring or unengaging, and as a result underperform.

What does all this mean for school choice?

It depends upon what is going on with your child.  Your child being identified as a Special Education or TAG kiddo doesn’t give you any special rights in school choice.  You enter the lottery just like any other parent, or apply to any other private school along with the others.  The only catch is that if your school of choice can’t provide for the needs of your child, then the Special Education department can override your placement in favor of a school that is more suitable. 

Remember and know that every child has a declared right to a “free and appropriate public education,” as determined by law.  Most parents of special education or TAG students that we know are very involved in their kids’ learning to make sure this right is being fulfilled.  When you are visiting schools ask about its special education or TAG programs, get a sense of their attitude towards these students, and meet the appropriate coordinator. 

If you think your child may fall into one of these categories, do some further research and learn how the system works.

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