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Monday, May 17, 2010

Individualized Education Programs, Grenadian Style

A Grenadian IEP is one page, front and back. After a few years of wading through 9+ page New York IEPs, I find the simplicity of the Grenadian version refreshing. There are certainly important elements missing, however, the document has been thoughtfully designed to make the most of what the Grenadian public education system is able to provide for students with special needs. There are a few special schools for students with more profound disabilities and some elementary schools are lucky enough to have special education needs teachers (who may or may not have training) on staff. Overall, the resources- human and monetary- are grossly inadequate to provide an appropriate education for many of the public school students with special needs.
But, back to IEPs...
Like a New York IEP, a Grenadian IEP contains brief summaries of a student's health and educational history as well as goals and objectives set out as instructional priorities. In my opinion, the beauty of a Grenadian IEP lies in the fact that its most prominent sections are dedicated to descriptions of a student's strengths and weaknesses and the academic and social goals which have been developed for him. Practically speaking, these sections are the most important because they serve as guidelines for instruction. Personally, I don't miss some of the elements I am used to seeing on New York IEPs but which are missing in Grenada. Two of these missing components, standardized assessment results and their by-product, the classification category, are missing by default. There are no school psychologists to administer assessments here, so students go without a 'diagnosis' unless their parents go in search of one in another country. In my opinion, remaining un-labeled can be more of an asset than a hinderance to some students with learning disabilities. In my experience, I often found the psychologist's choice of 'classification category' mystifying after getting to know a child. Without the ability to label kids, special educators in Grenada are forced to take a more personal approach in assessing a student's needs. A system that focuses on specific strengths and weaknesses that have been demonstrated in the past gives richer information. For example, at best, reading that a student is 'speech and language impaired' on his IEP can give a teacher a basic idea about the nature of the student's struggles. At worst, that label can trigger preconceived ideas and judgements that may not apply to the student at all. Truly relevant information about the student's needs must be discovered through personal contact, assessment data and work samples collected by the child's teacher. I don't want to imply that students with special needs should never be officially diagnosed. I am suggesting that for those students whose learning disabilities are less severe, developing an IEP based on close, personal observation can be more effective than relying too heavily on labels for information.