Shoring Up The Cracks

For parents who have children who struggle in some or all academic areas, I have some thoughts I’d like to share about reporting student progress – in particular about reporting progress as it relates to IEP goals and objectives, so their child won’t be one of those who falls between the cracks.

Spiral Curriculum:

A spiral curriculum is an area of study, like math, where students will have that same subject throughout their school career. Each year the content of that subject will increase in complexity, reinforce, and very often depend upon, the student’s prior learning. For example, to be able to multiply and divide, it certainly helps to be competent in addition and subtraction. If a student is missing one or more of those foundation building blocks, then as the curriculum continues to spiral, learning new material becomes more difficult and the greater liklihood of falling through the “wait and see” crack.

The Matthew Effect (The rich get richer, the poor get poorer):

The Matthew Effect is the term used to describe the situation where, once a student falls behind their peers, the gap in learning between the stuggling student and their peers, tends to grow greater over time. This is especially true in areas where the curriculum spirals. In Grade Three he is one year behind. By Grade Eight he is three years behind – and so it continues with the gap ever increasing and catching up becomes impossible. A key argument for early intensive intervention to prevent a child falling though the “Matthew Effect” crack.

Reporting Rates of Progress – a Critical Aspect of Reporting:

A student who has fallen behind and is receiving intervention may well be making progress. What is often not not stated when reporting on the success of an intervention plan is the rate of that progress. At the same time the struggling student is making gains, his peers are also progressing though the curriculum. If their pace of progress is similar to the struggling student’s, then the student will remain behind. If their pace is quicker, due to their accumulated advantage, then the Matthew Effect comes into play, and the gap will widen for the struggling student. Being told that your child is making progress isn’t enough information to know if they will be able to catch up to their peers at some point. Knowing the pace of progress is an important factor in preventing a student from falling though the “she’s making progress” crack.

Measurable Goals and Objectives:

If there is an expectation that a student who has fallen behind is capable of performing at grade level, then it is important to include in the plan (IEP) criteria for measuring and reporting – not only progress – but also the rate of progress. There should be concrete criteria established that clearly shows progress is being made, and an estimated time-frame that helps you to know if the plan is on track towards completion on time. Without this information, you really have no way of knowing if the plan is working. These are the things that should be in the reports you receive. That way, if you see things aren’t going as planned, you can ask for the plan to be evaluated to find out what isn’t working. There could be many reasons why the plan isn’t working and each should be examined to see if changes are in order….because the, “nothing changes, if nothing changes” crack is an annual one.

In some cases, where the gap is already quite wide (several years behind), it may take several years to catch up. The IEP should specifically identify there are long-range goals so that each fall, rather than a fresh new IEP with new/different goals and objectives, the current plan can be carried forward. For students who are working on highly modiified curriuculum, establishing measurable goals and ojectives and a time-line for completion are no less important. Don’t let them fall into the “We have all the time in the world” crack.

– Cathie Camley