Topic of the Month

February 2015
Executive Functioning Difficulties

Is your child good at planning? Organizing? Prioritizing? Distinguishing main ideas from details? Adjusting to changes? Analyzing what has been accomplished and what still needs to be done?

If not, your child may need explicit instruction on executive functioning skills.  Some children need help establishing goals, applying techniques and strategies, and learning to work independently.  They may need to be taught skills in planning, organizing, prioritizing, memorizing, editing, and managing materials and deadlines.  They may need help finding tools and strategies and then knowing how, when, and where to use them.  Teachers and parents can model techniques, guide practice, and provide feedback until the child can learn to apply the strategies independently. 

Read more at: Smart Kids with Learning Disabilities &

Child Mind Institute

Get ideas on how to teach executive function skills by borrowing this book from our library:
Executive Function in Education-From Theory to Practice
Edited by Lynn Meltzer
Go to
(There is a chapter specific to children with nonverbal learning disabilities and another one specific to children diagnosed on the autism spectrum.) 


January 2015

Extended School Year Services

Some students require the provision of special education services beyond the district’s normal school year in order to receive a free, appropriate public education (FAPE).  The student’s IEP will then describe the amount, frequency, duration, and location of those services.  This is the time of year to begin the discussion. 
Extended School Year services are not the same as summer school services.  Summer school is an optional program a district may choose to offer.  ESY services are different in that they are provided to ensure that a student receiving special education services will maintain and enhance the generalization of learned skills. 
In Educational Rights and Responsibilities:  Understanding Special Education in Illinois, the parent guide produced by the Illinois State Board of Education, extended school year services are described as “special education and related services that 1) are provided to a student with an IEP beyond the normal school day/year, 2) are stated in the student’s IEP, and 3) are provided at no cost to the parents of the student.  The decision about what services will be provided should be individually based on the needs of the student.  Loss of knowledge/skills or an extraordinarily long time in re-learning skills (regression/recoupment) can be part of, but not the only reason for determining ESY.  No single factor can determine ESY, and ESY services may not be limited to particular categories of disability.  ESY services may not be the same as services provided during the regular school year.  The IEP team determines what services are provided during the ESY term.  ESY services can be provided in school, at home, or in the community.”
All students who are eligible for special education must be considered for ESY eligibility annually.  The decision should be based on data collection, parent input, expert opinions, and consideration of the child’s progress and needs.  The decision as to eligibility is documented in the IEP.  Many court cases, including Johnson v. Independent School District No. 4 in 1990 in the 10th Circuit Court, have affirmed a need to look at multiple factors for determining eligibility.  Factors to consider during the eligibility discussion include:

1-nature of child’s disability

2-progress on goals/objectives

3-emerging skills

4-behavior issues

5-regression and recoupment

6-physical/health issues

7-availability of alternative resources

8-vocational issues

9-social skills/peer interaction

The amount of ESY service a child receives must be determined on an individual basis.  ESY services may be, or include, ‘related services’ such as speech therapy, occupational therapy, and physical therapy.  Transportation to ESY services must be provided if necessary for the student to benefit from the special education services. ESY services must be provided by qualified and certified staff or persons who are supervised by such staff. 
Read section 226.230(a) of the Illinois Administrative Code at:

Read section 300.106 of the Code of Federal regulations at:
View a copy of the Educational Rights and Responsibilities:  Understanding Special Education in Illinois at:


December 2014
Enabling Students with Disabilities to Communicate Effectively

Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act requires that public schools provide students with disabilities equal opportunities to participate in all school activities and requires that public schools ensure, through the provision of free auxiliary aids and services, that communication with students with disabilities is as effective as communication with students without disabilities.   

What auxiliary aids and services should be provided to a student with a speech, hearing, or vision disability?  Title II says public schools are to give ‘primary consideration’ to the aid or service requested by the student or the parent.  According to Frequently Asked Questions on Effective Communication for Students with Hearing, Vision, or Speech Disabilities in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools released by the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education on November 12, 12014, the public school must honor the choice of the student with the disability or the parent UNLESS the public school can prove that an alternative auxiliary aid or service provides communication that IS AS EFFECTIVE as that provided to students without disabilities and enables the person with a disability an equal opportunity to participate in and benefit from the service, program, or activity.

The aids and services include a wide range of services, devices, technologies, and methods to improve communication.  Examples include interpreters, information technology, transcription services, taped texts, a portable device that writes or produces speech, Braille materials, and letter boards.  The aid or service must permit the person with the disability to access information, must be provided in a timely manner, and must be provided in such a way as to protect the privacy and independence of the student with the disability. 

Frequently Asked Questions on Effective Communication for Students with Hearing, Vision, or Speech Disabilities in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools


November 2014
Medication at School
The Illinois State Board of Education has guidelines for medication administration in schools.  The guide can be found at  This guide explains that medications should be limited to those required during school hours which are necessary to maintain the student in school and those needed in the event of an emergency.  Each school district is to develop a policy on the administration of medication.  Although teachers and other non-administrative employees cannot be required to administer medication, each district must determine WHO IS RESPONSIBLE for administering medication in the absence of a certificated school nurse or registered nurse.   Teachers and other non-administrative employees MAY VOLUNTEER to administer medications.

In addition to the licensed prescriber’s order, the guide also explains that a written request is to be obtained from the parent/guardian requesting the medication be given during school hours.  If the student requires long-term medication to be administered at school, a health care plan is to be developed for that student.  Each dose of medication must be documented in the student’s individual medication record and include date, time, dosage, route by which the medication was administered, and the signature of the person administering the medication or supervising the student’s self-administration.  Medications must be stored in a separate locked drawer or cabinet (or locked refrigerator).  A student’s parent/guardian may come to the school to administer medication to his/her own child, but this action must be voluntary and may not be forced.  

The federal regulations for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act prohibit schools from requiring parents to obtain medications for a child as a condition of attending school, receiving an evaluation, or receiving services.  (CFR Title 34 Part 300 Section 300.174)


October 2014

School Health Services and School Nurse Services

If a child needs health services to receive FAPE (a free, appropriate, public education) and those services can be performed by non-physicians, then the school district is responsible for providing them as related services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.  This right has been confirmed in two major court cases. 

In 1984 the Supreme Court ruled in Irving Independent School District v. Tatro (555 IDELR 511) that the school needed to provide CEC (clean intermittent catheterization) for a student with spina bifida because CEC needed to be performed during school hours and was not required to be performed by a physician. 

In 1999 the Supreme Court in Cedar Rapids Community School District v. Garret F. (29 IDELR 966) clarified that only those services that must be performed by a physician are excluded as related services under IDEA.  The student in this case had a tracheotomy, used a ventilator, and was catheterized.  Medical services were needed in order for the child to attend school.  Medical costs were not considered a factor in the decision because IDEA ensures access to public schools. 

These court cases have outlined how schools need to respond when students have chronic health conditions including diabetes, asthma, seizures, etc. in order to ensure that the students have the same educational opportunities as do other students. 

Current federal regulations define school health services and school nurse services as:

“…health services that are designed to enable a child with a disability to receive FAPE as described in the child’s IEP.  School nurse services are services provided by a qualified school nurse.  School health services are services that may be provided by either a qualified school nurse or other qualified person.”  


September 2014
New Illinois Law on Dyslexia

In Illinois, when a student is being evaluated for special education eligibility, specific rules govern the evaluation procedures and timelines.  There are additional procedures for students suspected of having a specific learning disability.  These procedures include the process of determining how the child responds to scientific, research-based interventions.

The federal regulations define a child with a specific learning disability as one with “a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding and using language, spoken or written, that may manifest itself in the imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or to do mathematical calculations, including conditions such as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia”.

In October 2013, House Bill 3700 was introduced in the Illinois General Assembly that would change the Illinois School Code related to reading disabilities.  As introduced, HB3700 would have required:

1-ISBE to distribute information on screening instruments available to identify students who exhibited potential indicators of dyslexia and other reading disabilities

2-a school board to select and implement age-appropriate screening instruments for the early diagnosis of dyslexia and other reading disabilities and to ensure that each kindergarten student enrolled in the school district was screened for dyslexia and other reading disabilities

3-ISBE to develop and distribute guidance on appropriate intervention strategies for students diagnosed with dyslexia and other reading disabilities

4-that a school board ensure that students who exhibited potential indicators of dyslexia or another reading disability receive a comprehensive assessment for the learning disorder, and in the event the diagnosis was confirmed, provided appropriate intervention strategies

The proposed Bill also set forth requirements concerning professional development related to reading disabilities, the incorporation of the International Dyslexia Association’s definition of dyslexia into Illinois Administrative Rules, and an addition of a written test for certain educator licensure candidates.  

The proposed Bill was amended dramatically and Public Act 098-0705 was enacted on July 14, 2014 and went into effect immediately.  Public Act 098-0705 states:

A-The State Board of Education shall adopt rules that incorporate an international definition of dyslexia into Part 226 of Title 23 of the Illinois Administrative Code.

B-Subject to specific State appropriation or the availability of private donations, the State Board of Education shall establish an advisory group to develop a training module or training modules to provide education and professional development to teachers, school administrators, and other education professionals regarding multi-sensory, systematic, and sequential instruction in reading. This advisory group shall complete its work before July 31, 2015 and is abolished on July 31, 2015. 

The definition of dyslexia by The International Dyslexia Association is:

Dyslexia is a language-based learning disability.  Dyslexia refers to a cluster of symptoms, which result in people having difficulties with specific language skills, particularly reading.  Students with dyslexia usually experience difficulties with other language skills such as spelling, writing, and pronouncing words.  Dyslexia affects individuals throughout their lives; however, its impact can change at different stages in a person’s life.  It is referred to as a learning disability because dyslexia can make it very difficult for a student to succeed academically in the typical instructional environment, and in its more severe forms, will qualify a student for special education, special accommodations, or extra support services.

For a list of actions taken on HB3700, go to:
At the end of the list of actions taken on the Bill, click on ‘Public Act 98-0705’ to see the final Law as passed by the General Assembly.



August 2014

Bullying Law Changes in Illinois

On June 26, 2014, Public Act 098-0669 was enacted.  This law amends the School Code related to bullying prevention.  The law continues to read that “The General Assembly finds that a safe and civil school environment is necessary for students to learn and achieve and that bullying causes physical, psychological, and emotional harm to students and interferes with students’ ability to learn and participate in school activities”.  However, the Code now expands the components of the bullying policy required in each school district.  Bullying policies now must include the contact information (email address and phone number) of the staff person responsible for receiving reports of bullying incidents.  The policy must include a procedure for anonymous reporting.  Procedures must be listed for notifying parents or guardians of ALL students involved in alleged incidents of bullying and for discussing the availability of social work services, counseling, school psychological services, other interventions, and restorative measures. 
The policy in each district must include procedures for promptly investigating and addressing reports of bullying.  All reasonable efforts must be made to complete the investigations within 10 school days of the report.  Parents and guardians of the students who are parties to the investigation must be provided information about the investigation and have an opportunity to meet with the principal or school administrator or his or her designee.  The parents or guardians must be provided information about the findings of the investigation and the actions taken to address the reported incident of bullying.  The policy must be posted on the district’s website and contained in the student handbook. 

An evaluation process must be in place to assess the effectiveness of the policy.  This evaluation must occur every two years in each school district and include looking at the frequency of victimization, the areas of the school where bullying occurs, the types of bullying occurring, and the participation or intervention of bystanders.  The results of the evaluation must be made available to parents and guardians. 

To read Public Act 098-0669, go to:


July 2014
RDA Results Driven Accountability

The Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) holds States accountable for educating children with disabilities.  The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires each State to submit a six-year State Performance Plan and an Annual Performance Report.  After review of the report, States receive one of the following ratings:
-Meets the requirements and purposes of IDEA;
-Needs assistance in implementing the requirements of IDEA;
-Needs intervention in implementing the requirements of IDEA; or
-Needs substantial intervention in implementing the requirements of IDEA. 

OSEP is revising how it holds States accountable.  This new approach is called Results-Driven Accountability-RDA.  Annual Performance Reports must now include a description of how the State will improve outcomes for children with disabilities.  For the first time in 2014, both compliance AND results data were used in the determination of a rating. 

This map shows how each state was rated: 
Illinois received a ‘Needs Assistance’ rating. 

RDA begins with a premise - that the results we want to achieve need to drive the actions we take, not the other way around.  Each State must now ask itself:
-What improved results for children with disabilities do we want to achieve?
-What actions must we take to achieve those results?

States will develop and implement their individual SSIP (State Systemic Improvement Plan) in three phases. 

Phase 1:  2015
-Describe how the State identified the area or result to be improved.
-Identify root causes contributing to low performance.
-Analyze their infrastructure to determine if improvements are needed.
-Explain how the improvement strategies were selected; whey they are sound, logical, and aligned; and how they will lead to measurable improvement.
-Include a graphic illustration of the State’s ‘theory of actions’ (why doing X will improve Y). 

Phase 2:  2016
-Identify what system improvements are needed.
-Identify how the State will support local education agencies in using the evidence-based practices identified as key to achieving desired results for children with disabilities including activities and timelines. 
-Identify how the State will evaluate the implementation of its SSIP.

Phase 3:  2017
-Evaluate the extent to which strategies were implemented.
-Identify student progress.
-Make revisions to the SSIP based on data from ongoing evaluation.


June 2014
Standards-Based IEPs

Special education law requires that students identified as having a disability receive individualized educational programming.   Annual goals are written for each area of deficit.  Determining which goals to include and how high to ‘set the bar’ is determined on an individual basis.  The goal for all students with specific learning disabilities should be to ‘close the gap’ between their current performance and grade level expectations.

Standards-based IEPs focus on alignment with what all students are expected to do.  Students with specific learning disabilities should be expected to participate in general education curricula and achieve at a proficient level on state assessments when they are provided with specially designed instruction and appropriate accommodations. 

Information on raising the learning expectations for students with disabilities can be found in an Advocacy Brief issued by the National Center for Learning Disabilities entitled Understanding the Standards-based Individualized Education Program.  

Understanding the Standards-based Individualized Education Program

May 2014


Empowerment stems from knowledge.  Parents of children with special education needs can more effectively advocate for individualized, appropriate educational services for their children if they have access to information on special education laws, the development of individualized plans, and evidence-based practices that lead to student achievement.

The Center for Parent Information and Resources (CPIR) serves as a central resource for all Parent Training and Information Centers, including Family Matters.  Resources on their site are also directly available to parents.  We invite you to visit their website at and choose the ‘RESOURCES’ tab across the top of their home page, or click on the ‘RESOURCES’ block at the bottom of the page. 

The ‘RESOURCES” section features information on an amazing array of topics including:

Dispute Resolution
Mental Health
Parental Rights
Section 504

The K-12 Section includes topics such as:

Student Achievement
Teacher Training
Transition from School to Adult Life
Use of Data

If ‘USE OF DATA’ is chosen, parents can learn about using data in discussions related to grade retention, math progress, reading progress, etc.Topics related to Early Intervention (ages 0-3) and Early Childhood services are also available.  


April 2014

Facilitated IEP Meeting

IEP facilitation is a process that helps foster effective communication between parents and districts as they develop a mutually acceptable individualized education program for a child.  The process promotes productive IEP meetings that are conducted in a respectful and collaborative manner.  The Illinois State Board of Education is in the process of implementing facilitated IEPs to build district level capacity to develop child-centered IEPs and to decrease the number of more formal dispute resolution processes.  Pilot projects will be in place next school year (2014-2015). 

Parents of children with disabilities or school personnel will have the right to request state-sponsored IEP facilitation services from the Illinois State Board of Education.  There will be no cost to the parent or the school district.  The state-sponsored facilitator will be a neutral party and not a member of the IEP team or an advocate for any person on the team.  The facilitator will promote dialog and encourage participation for decision making, but will not impose a decision upon the group.  The facilitator’s role will include:

*focusing on the process of the meeting and supporting all parties full participation

*modeling effective communication

*keeping team members on task

*clarifying points of agreement and disagreement, and

*providing team members opportunities to consider alternative solutions. 


Learn more about Facilitated IEP Meetings from CADRE-the Consortium for Appropriate Dispute Resolution in Special Education:

Facilitated IEP Meetings


March 2014

Evidence Based Practices

Is your child making adequate progress?  Would you like to see research about the effectiveness of instructional strategies and interventions used by educators at your child’s school?  Would you like information on the level of effectiveness and the age group for which the intervention was designed? Funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs, the IRIS Center provides educators with information on evidence-based practices.  The Center has summarized research on a variety of interventions and strategies. At their website you will find a list of interventions divided into categories such as Mathematics; Reading, Literacy, Language Arts; Transition; and Behavior and Classroom Management.  Under each category a number of interventions are listed in alphabetical order and it is noted whether the intervention has been ‘proven highly effective’, ‘proven effective’, ‘proven to have mixed effects’, or ‘not yet been proven effective’ for a particular age range of students. For example, under the Mathematics category, Saxon Math has been ‘proven effective’ for students in grades 1 through 5; has been ‘proven to have mixed effects’ for students in grades 6 through 8, and has ‘not yet been proven effective’ for students in grades 8 through 12. 

IRIS Evidence-Based Practices

Evidence-Based Practices for Children, Youth, and Young Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder is a report that provides evidence about which educational and therapeutic practices are effective with students diagnosed on the autism spectrum.  Tables 7 and 8 in Chapter 3 list the evidence-based practices, define them, and show which age groups reported improvement after using the practice.  This report was produced by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, and the Autism Evidence-Based Practice Review Group and was funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs and the Institute of Education Science. 

Evidence-Based Practices for Children, Youth, and Young Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder