I teach a class full of fourth and fifth grade students who are all identified as Highly Capable. They are all above grade level in reading. A handful are on grade level in math. Half are accelerated one grade level in math. A third are accelerated two grade levels in math. One student is accelerated three grade levels in math!
At my fall conferences each year, I interview each child, asking about their strengths, their weaknesses, and their goals for this school year and for the future. I ask what the adults in their life can do to help them.
While the students talk, I type as fast as I can, taking notes on all their answers. I admit, I guide a few students toward choosing certain goals. Then I turn to parents, asking them what they would like to add. Often they say, “Nothing, really.” Their child has said everything they intended to say.
I use a template for those interviews that has the date and the name of the student and all the adults in attendance and all the questions ready before I start. As soon as each conference is over, I print two copies—one for the parents to take home and one for my files. Once the conference week is done, I send the whole file electronically to my Highly Capable coordinator.
Those interviews are my Student Learning Plans for the year.
I just read “Feds: IEPs Should Align With Grade-Level Standards” on disabilityscoop.com with the US Department of Education statement that all IEPs should conform to “the state’s academic content standards for the grade in which the child is enrolled.” There is some leeway, though, for the students with the most significant cognitive disabilities. For those students, states are allowed to establish “alternative academic achievement standards.”
Why should I care about the federal guidelines for Special Education? After all, I don’t teach SPED! The truth is, though, in most states, gifted education is part of Special Education. (Both groups of students fall under the category of “exceptional children,” after all.)
So I look at the guidelines and make one change: There is some leeway for students with the most significant cognitive differences—students whose intellectual abilities are the farthest from the norm. For those students, states are allowed to establish “alternative academic achievement standards.”
Obviously, it doesn’t make sense for me to use grade level standards to write learning plans for students who are working above their grade level. I can write learning plans that target higher grade level standards. Or I can go sideways and write SLPs that address the issues my individual students most need to work on this year—organization, time-management, interpersonal skills, team work.
I am so happy I am allowed to do this.
Now if I could just get individualized report cards that lined up with the levels my students are working on. Or if I could have my students take their SBA tests on their academic level, not their grade level …