Individualized Instruction is Not One-Size-Fits All

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As a teacher, how can I advocate for a third grade student who receives resource support services, but failed to make any progress in reading or math this year?

Her parents paid for a daily specialized reading program for three months. She made astounding progress.

She learned to read and her scores improved greatly. Her parents have now requested the school fund the continuation of this program for reading comprehension and the LMB math program.

The school district says “No.” They say they have a solid reading and math program, while not “a cadillac,” it works.

The program they use may be good, but it has not been adequate for this child to learn or reach her potential.

You are right. A program the school considers “good” may not be adequate for every child, depending on the child’s needs.

The bottom line is the child has a right to a free appropriate public education (FAPE). If she did not learn and make progress in the district’s program, the district did not provide her with FAPE.

The parents were faced with a choice:

  • keep her in the district’s program where she isn’t learning the most basic skills, or
  • pull her out and pay for the services she needs.

Fortunately, the parents took the second option. But this is not what Congress envisioned when they enacted the IDEA in 1975.

What the Courts Have Said

The district should reimburse the parents for the cost of the child’s education retroactively and prospectively. Courts have held that while children are not entitled to a Cadillac, they are entitled to a serviceable Chevrolet that runs. Courts have also held that if a child isn’t learning, the school provided a lemon and the school should reimburse.

Of course, schools are not inclined to do this. This is especially true when they claim that their program, which didn’t teach a child to read, “works.”

The special education law is based on the fact that children learn differently.

A standardized one-size-fits all reading and math program may “work” for most kids, but it won’t work for every child. This is why the law requires schools to provide services that are individualized to meet the unique needs of each child.

For reasons that are not clear to me, many schools don’t seem to understand the requirement that they must individualize instruction. If a child isn’t learning in a particular program, that program doesn’t “work.” The school must provide a different program that does work.

Thanks for caring about the kids!

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  1. The reading adoptions that are used in the public schools are not supported by what we know about reading in the brain. How can I become involved with a movement to lobby for reading programs that work for more children?

  2. I have a high functioning autistic grandchild and apparently he is the only one in this school district, or so we are led to believe. We have been told that since he is the ONLY one, the school does not have to provide behavioral therapists, or interventionists, does not have to have teachers nor shadows certified or trained to deal with him and his sensory issues, outbursts, etc. He has been placed in a contained classroom with other kids who have severe learning disabilities and is not learning at his full capacity because the teachers say they do not have the time nor training, nor inclination to deal with his issues. Been fighting this for 5 years, no help, Superintendent is no help, turns blind eye. Do not have money for private teaching and help. His father is talking about homeschooling him from now on. What do you do?

    • Not a chance he is the only one. Reach out to your districts SEAC Special Education Advisory Council. Every district is suppose to have one. I guarantee
      you’ll find other parents in the same situation you are.

  3. As a teacher, what can I do when my school refuses to individualize for our special-needs students, and the director of special ed, legal council for the district, superintendent, and school board members have all ignored the requests of teachers to make this right for our students? I teach in a very low SES school, and our parents don’t know that they can or should advocate for their child. The parents who would like to advocate, cannot take time off of their job to even attend an IEP meeting. Many parents are afraid to speak up because they and their children are undocumented.
    The parents who do file a complaint nearly always get what they want for their own child, but nothing improves for the rest of the students.
    I have been instructed by an attorney not to file a complaint on behalf of the students because I will lose my job.

  4. I was taking notes in a meeting for a parent of a child who has visual impairment. Although her child was making progress in Braille and was using technology in the general ed. classroom, the use of technology was not consistent in all of her classes. The child was also reluctant in using technology among her sighted peers. Her ability in keeping up with these peers was slipping the farther she went through school as a result, the parent maintains. It will be her argument in seeing that her child be put into a school for the blind.
    A parent of a student of mine attempted to have the district put her child through a private school teaching ABA. He had met all goals that she had wanted while I had him, so she could not prove he was not receiving FAPE. ABA is sort of a one-size-fits-all approach to teaching those with autism, I think.

  5. Lisa, You have the option to go to mediation or due process if you have evidence to prove that your child has not received FAPE. An attorney who understands special education law is the only way to go on something like this. Try to avoid due process if you can. We had to do this with our oldest son and even though we prevailed it was a terrible experience and everyone loses.

    • Typically a district will settle when they’re in the wrong. Due process is very unpleasant but it’s minor compared to how long your child could be suffering and a lifetime of damages and missed opportunities. Never be afraid of due process.

  6. So what do you do when they have not provided FAPE and you do not have the means to pull your child out and pay for an education for your child?

  7. Hi ,
    ‘ My son is 15 years old and he is going to special Education school.
    My son’s school district is refusing to give after school any hrs to do work with ABA teacher on daily living skills and community program. Pl suggest me what can i do .

  8. My son has ADHD! He also has a spatial learning disability! He is in 8th grade and has had an IEP since 3rd grade. My son has been pushed through the system. We have gone to at least 100 meetings over the years! First was the idea of med’s. He has been taking them since 3 rd grade. We have tried tutors as well! I have heard from my son that he feels he can not do the work asked of him, and negative comment from teachers directed at him by his teachers. We keep pushing him at home, it is a battle of wills everyday! as well as the teachers do at school. His Self esteem is like —o! He has given up! I know the school is trying hard to help but everything is started to fall apart! Can I keep in a public school setting and have reinforcements after school that will provide him with the help he needs with the crazy amount of homework!

  9. Unfortunately public educators must spend too much time teaching test taking skills therefore the content to be tested is shortchanged.

  10. School ignores the data from the preschool, same district, that shows he responds much better when in a small group than 1:1.1:1 done, little progress or cooperation. 2011 he was bullied in RE, acted up and put in seclusion. His behavior became WORSE and started carrying over to home. Desperate, I went to his Dr. who medicated to combat his impulsiveness (throwing things in the classroom). He stayed home a week to adjust to the medicine and break the cycle of misbehavior. He sleepily finished 2011. He didn’t achieve any of his goals. Absence blamed.
    He did really well during the few weeks of summer school. Major progress! This year is escalating to the same.He’s in seclusion for up to 6 hours for things like not entering the classroom–noncompliance (due toANXIETY). They say they can’t teach him, he won’t cooperate. FAPE or no Education?

  11. We put our son into a private school this year that specializes in educating kids with ADHD and learning disabilities. He is soaring!!! Last year was a battle at public school with tears and bad grades. I see school buses bringing some of the kids from other districts in the area. How do I get our district to pay for his education? What am I missing that other parents know – since the private school is not a free education! We never had an IEP, just a 504 plan.

  12. I’m thinking my prob falls under ‘FAPE’. We have finally started the IEP process. After complaining all year that my child needed placed back in G&T classes instead of remedial classes, the behavior coach got them to do it after looking at his test scores. My 8th grader is scoring a <12.9 grade level in everything except 2 subcategories. He is attending an underachieving school, but we can not afford to move into a better district. Is it possible to force them to move him to a school within the same district that teaches at a higher level? He is bored in his classes and has became a behavioral problem in class. I am trying to get them to put him in a school that is geared to college prep. Would this fall under "FAPE' or how can I get them to accommodate?

  13. MELANIE, if the behavior is impeding the child’s learning, the school should consider the use of positive behavioral interventions, these interventions should be based on a FBA (Functional Behavioral Assessment). Make the request for this in writing. I would look at the “budget” comment as a gift and document back to the school that this was said, in a non threatening manner. Bottom line, the budget is an administrative concern, and cannot be use to deny FAPE. The question here is, what will provide your child with a free and appropriate public education? What will level the playing field? What will provide your child with the same opportunities as students without disabilities?

  14. My daughter has Asthma & ADHD, 15 hrs of sped support by a Teacher/Para. Daily behavior sheets state, not completing work, off task, looking around the room, not participating, not getting started. Both GE & SE teacher very frustrated with her inattentiveness, low frustration tolerance, failure to stay on task, and what appears to be unwillingness to learn. Given 2 days of IS Suspension for, talking, laughing, playing continually after being asked by 3 different teachers to sit in her chair, pay attention.

    At home, I give her consequences and even positive reinforcements. Have appt with dr to modify her meds.

    Requested EIP (Early Intervention Program) services in Reading and Math, was told, 1st grade is not being serviced. Requested LRE, which I feel is pull out Resource, was told, co-teaching is the systems delivery model. Requested 1:1 para to help support her educational needs, was told, that’s not in the budget. What should I do?

  15. Cristi, Play “Columbo” in a letter to this case manager. Document what was said and what has happened to this point. You could say something like, ” I was unaware that teachers have “a right over a student’s disability” and can choose whether or not to allow the use of assistive technology that is written into a student’s IEP. Could you tell me where I can find that law or provide me a copy of it? ” Bottom line, if it is in fact in the IEP, and the IEP is not being followed, document, document! You would be surprised how things turn around when you begin doumenting things that are said and done BACK to the school in very nice letters. If you have not read the Wright’s books, I urge you too.

  16. My 15yr. son a profound dyslexia, uses technology tools for out put. His manual writing is severally impoverished.Has a IEP, diag. by several specialist all agreed on tech tools specifying one’s that use recorder like Life Scribe Pen and Mac Scribe. Doc and written in to His IEP, agreed, Team signed. The district purch. over $1,200 worth of new tools,started to teach him in summer. When school started up, the teachers all refused him recording. It is very disappointing because he is a visual and audio learner and this tool provide actual what he needs, now and in the future for success to demonstrate what he knows.He’s very smart boy and dose well because he can use tech tools for his hands- wants to be a special educ lawyer,strongly directed ,takes intro to law now.Case manager said teachers have a right over his disability right WHY ?

  17. not one size fits all Evelyn D. Yes you can request testing by a reading specialist in your school to do only the reading and writing part of the multifactored testing and then when you get the results reconvene an IEP meeting to discuss. If they still believe they are doing everything they can you have the right to go out and have testing done by an outside professional at the school’s expense. The school must at least review the outside findings. Usually this is all that is needed if the school is clearly not supplying FAPE. If all that fails you may need to consider litigation.

  18. not one size fits all Kris Yes my son had modifications and had is phys ed test read to him and a scribe. It was not many times or difficult but the IEP applied to this class as well.

  19. You mentioned your grandson has reading problems. A few questions you are going to need answers to: What specifically are his deficit areas in reading? Is it decoding, phonemic awareness, etc? You should be able to find this info in his evaluation. Next, you need to know what reading program is being used with him. Does this program address his deficit areas? Is their data that demonstrates the program’s effectiveness? You will have to research this. If it is an effective one & does address his deficits, then is it being implemented with fidelity? Are there are options other that a lawsuit? Due process is an ugly affair. Parents very seldom prevail. You can avoid it by making yourself an expert on his disability and the IDEA. Prepare to go to due process, so you don’t have to.

  20. I am aware of a particular school district that has merge the majority of their children who are receiving a special education including children of the autism into co-taught situations. Is this legal ? This seems like a one size fit all situation. IEP’s were changed to match this one size fits all.

  21. What is a parent to do if a school district continually refuses to provide FAPE? This is the exact problem my grandson has. He has been in special education for 5 years and is making very little progress in reading. He’s reading at a second grade level and he is in fifth grade this year. The school says they are giving him everything he needs, but we as a family disagree. Are there any options short of a lawsuit?

  22. How does FAPE apply when it comes to Physical Education? Shouldn’t that subject be individualized, too?

  23. Hello! I have a special needs child that is in the 1st grade this year. I also work for our Head Start program as the Education and Disabilities Program Manager. I just was introuduced to this site. Like many parents, I too, I nervous of the qualilty of education my son recieves. I live in a remote area where people don’t talk much about special needs.

  24. HELP!!! Our daughter is a 9 year old down syndrome thriving girl!! She has been mainstreamed in our public schools since kindergarten. She started with no aid, they gave her the perfect aid as a temp, high seniority awarded it to someone which sever regression occurred!!! Superintendant at that time reinstated the first aid which was with her until this year. Budget cut then placed a higher seniority aid with her. Every day we get notes in her communication book that is just TERRIBLE!!!! we have had 2 good days in three weeks (some were just partial days) We notice regression. How would FAPE apply here? And how do we convince all the new staff at our school to believe us? They think these behaviors are accectable and they expected them of her!!! We did not expect this of her, we have had 2 FANTASTIC years of growth from her.

  25. Unfortunately, many school districts here in greater Danbury, CT believe vehemently that their programs are the best. Yet, greater Danbury has seen a tremendous rise in franchise and independent tutors and tutoring places for reading, writing, and arithmetic. If FAPE and IEP’s, school districts, and administrators actually believed in providing a different program, the amount of tutors and tutoring businesses would decrease. In the twenty-five years I have lived here, the rate of tutoring businesses and the failure of our school districts in greater Danbury have risen (and fallen) exponetially. As our schools have failed, the tutoring businesses have increased. This situation is probably occurring all over the United States. Our private school enrollment has been increasing as well as the amount of private schools being built.

  26. I filed a complaint that my son was not making progress. At the end of 7th grade (he is eligible under PI and VI) he was reading and doing math at 2-3rd grade level. The state found the complaint invalid because on the IEP goals the staff marked he was making progress. He has not met many goals because the IEP’s are held in mid year before goals can be accomplished and changed with the new IEP

  27. RSP but no progress
    Paid program =progress
    The problem here is the teacher…both the classroom teacher AND the RSP teacher. NOT the program. And they both have several problems. 1. The teachers are not teaching they are delivering a program. You are correct that they are not individualizing the teaching….especially if they are just following the script of a program. Their goal is to teach a concept or skill. If they just deliver the lesson in the “program” they are not paying attention to the feedback of how the student is learning the concept or skill in order to adjust the teaching they are just following a script. There are NO magic bullet programs out there. There are modalities and strategies and techniques, but unfortunately no publisher has created a “program” that teaches.

  28. We hired a Specail Attorney last year at the end of our son’s 9th grade year when or son’s behavior was out of control and the School Staff refused to work with us to resolve the problems he had all year long.Our son’s Dr recommended placement in a facility for kids with developmental delays and mental retardation where he could get the wrap around services he needed to continue his education in school.
    At our son’s ARD Meeting this was discussed and the ARD Members didn’t feel this was necessary. By the end of the school year our son had not completed any academic work and failed his State academic tests so the entire year was wasted. We filed for a Due Process Hearing and won on the grounds the School District in fact failed to provide our son with a FAPE. They are paying for his tuition and he has made a great deal of progress.

  29. My 12 year old son was finally diagnosed with Dyslexia and Dysgraphia even though he has had an I.E.P. Since Pre-K. We have lived in the same state his whole life but did switch school districts one time. We paid out of pocket for the test. Are we entitled to reimbursement for the testing?

  30. This is more of a question than a comment. If the child is regressing and the school has had the opportunity to address the regression or no progress, how do you argue for out placement based on FAPE? Statistically my son has regressed when you compare IQ and compare academic testing from 4 yrs old to now 8 yrs old. The school has made changes in the last year but with no improvement. How do I argue successfully for out placement?


  31. My son has an IEP, ADD OHI. I pulled him from school in March. They dumped his desk when he can’t remember not completing work. No recess. Reduced assignments w/o my knowledge. Has no goals in the IEP. I never get info about progress. He has not been tested in 5 years. Reevaluation from old test scores show add, adjustment disorder w/ depressed mood from school, below average IQ. School stated no motivation or self esteem. I’m trying to find out what I can do. I found a school but I will have to relocate.

  32. The problem with this advice is that you need to prove that the school’s program is not achieving progress. This requires you to let the child flounder.

    With our son, we were nervous. We weren’t game for waiting around to find out whether the school’s program would make progress. We paid for home services while he was/is enrolled in our local public school.

    So when he makes progress, we believe that it is because of the home program, and we have no way to prove otherwise.

  33. I remember back in the 70’s schools had many varieties of reading programs in spec ed classrooms. It is what made spec ed spec. Then money quit flowing and we had the same generic materials the reg ed teachers had, So nothing special about special education and the ability to individualize died when materials could not be purchased. Sad really. All kids can learn with the right methods and materials. KAthy Erie Pa

    After the goals on the IEP have been developed and it comes time to discuss placement, if there is no consensus within the team, the special services director makes a decision of placement. If the parents do not agree with this placement, is there a way to override the Director’s decision without going into Mediation or filing a complaint. Does the IDEA assume the parents act in the best interest of their child and allow placement change without parents having to hire an attorney?

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