Teachers have a thousand tasks to complete every day. Identifying and sharing accommodations is an important one that takes time. This blog post shows a resource that allows teachers to literally shop for accommodations like they shop for items on Amazon or Target.

Overview

Accomods is an online source of accommodations for special education and intervention. It is useful for both special education and general education students.

Finding Accommodations

Here is a FB Reel and a YouTube video showing how this works. You can choose to browse for a specific accommodation by topic such as “attending to instruction” shown below. You can customize a plan by identifying strengths and weaknesses and Accomods will provide you a full plan. Or you can search for a specific accommodation.

The Plan

The resulting plan provides an explanation, examples, and links to implemented examples.

Connecticut has a new IEP template rolling out in 2022. A key feature is that elements of the IEP that are connected are now on the same page (below). I personally think this is outstanding, and at the time of writing this, I am still exploring.

In the video, Charles Barkley has made great progress getting to Annapolis for the NCAA Basketball Tournament. Problem is, the tournament was in Indianapolis.

For obvious reasons, in special education we frequently discuss and recognize progress. As in the commercial, there can be a lot of progress, but in what direction? Is it moving the student towards postsecondary goals the family has established and will the student be prepared for postsecondary life?

When I work with IEP teams or with families, I look to establish the postsecondary goals and evaluate progress accordingly. Often, I am called in to help when a student is in middle or high school and is years behind in math. With only a few years remaining with support through IDEA, it is crucial that progress be evaluated in terms of a long range plan that gets the student ready for postsecondary life and the student is ready BEFORE leaving high school (or a transition program). In other words, the student arrives in Indianapolis and is there before the game starts.

Each year spent with a student with special needs is the first year of a chain of subsequent years, like a line of dominoes. EXCEPT, there are multiple lines of dominoes and a teacher may be tipping over the first domino in a line of several possible lines of dominoes. One line may topple towards community college and another towards a job, with no college.

Each year impacts the future, yet we often only see that one year in isolation. We see only the next domino.

Some educators and parents of students with special needs are unclear about what is meant by the term inclusion. Some think it is having the student with a disability in the same location as “nondisabled peers.” Some think it involves doing the same exact tasks or academic work.

Sesame Street figured this question out years ago. The girl in the red shirt in the video below (video set to start with her) was experiencing inclusion, not because she was next to the other kids. She was not jumping rope but was most certainly included and appeared to love it! (Note: “inclusion” is not defined in IDEA, so formally this issue would be one of least restrictive environment.)

Below is a genius representation of inclusion (not my idea).

It appears that inclusion is sometimes viewed as a dichotomous choice. For example, I observed the student in a school who was the most severely impacted by a disability sitting in a grade level history class during a lesson communism. This was an effort to provide inclusion but was he was experiencing proximity.

Below is an example of inclusion for a student with autism in an algebra 1 class. Below left is a typical math problem. To the right is one I created for the student with autism. It was designed to help him understand the concept of matching inputs and outputs without using a lot of the math terminology. In his case, the focus in math was on concepts.

As a parent of a child with a disability and as a math educator, I am repeatedly struck by the fact that a group of adults (educators and professionals) convene to discuss and plan how to help a child. A great deal of time, resources, and money is concentrated on that child. Awesome! Unfortunately, in math education I frequently encounter situations in which this collective energy is concentrated on math that is more about boxes to check than engaging the student in math that he or she will need in post-secondary life.

IDEA enumerates the purpose of special education, with the transition goals aligned with employment, living skills, and future education that are desired for each individual student. This is explicit and aligns with the goal most teachers likely have, to make a difference in the lives of their students.

Despite this, when I am called in to help with math programming for a student I often find the math being presented to the student is not aligned with the post-secondary goals and often appear to the result of following the general ed curriculum, by default. Here are some examples.

I co-taught an algebra 1 class with a student impacted by autism to the point that he needed a paraprofessional guiding him through the daily work. He worked in isolation with the para and struggled with the basic elements of the course. It was not until his junior year that he was moved to a consumer math class.

A senior was in a consumer math course I taught. The course was for students who could not access the general curriculum, yet her transition goal for education was to attend a community college. This setting likely require a math course (that did not have consumer math topics) and a placement test.

Over 25 years of teaching math I have periodically heard educators minimize the struggles of students with math with the rationalization “they will never need this math.” My response is to ask why “then we are presenting this math to them?!”

So what math do they need? Here is a list of blog posts that address this question. In short, here is what I share with IEP teams, educators, parents, and special ed teacher candidates I teach.

If the goal is a career that involves a 4 year degree, then boxes must be checked. The student will have to have the math courses needed to get into the collegeÂ andÂ to prepare for the math in his or her major. This is the “mathy math” that will be on a college placement test as well.

For a 2 year degree at a school with open admissions, the focus of the high school math can be narrowed to the math course required (if any) and on the placement test. Typically, this would involve a focus on algebra. For the aforementioned 10th grader, we did not cover geometry and prioritized the algebra topics to cover.Â

For another middle school student whose goal was to have a job and to be as independent as possible. He loved sports and his mother said he would love to work in a sports related store. For him I recommended data and statistics (not the mathy type but meaningful and applied stats and data) to help him make sense of and discuss sports stats. This was complemented by a recommendation for consumer math.

The orange circle on the right looks bigger, but in fact both are the same size. The deception is based on the additional sensory input.

Similarly, the prerequisites for taking algebra are often considered to be basic skills. This is largely an illusion. I routinely encounter students who are referred to me for help as they have been caught in an infinite loop of working on basic math such as number operations (adding, subtracting, multiplication, and division) before moving on to algebra, with limited progress. I am not suggesting basic math skills are not important but am focused on the context of prerequisites needed to engage algebra. Many of the students I have helped who were in this situation. We worked to quickly move them into algebra where they were successful.

One student worked on half a year of 4th grade math during her 7th grade year. During the spring of that 7th grade year and the subsequent summer, I worked with her on algebraic thinking and algebra topics. She successfully completed algebra 1 during her 8th grade year.

The Common Core of State Standards (CCSS) for Math maps out the prerequisites as seen in the CCSS math domains (below). Throughout elementary school, Operations and Algebraic Thinking topics are covered. The Algebraic Thinking standards establish for the students a foundation for algebra taught in middle and high school. A focus of algebra is to model or represent patterns or relationships in real life situations using equations, tables, and graphs. These include quantities modeled by variables.

Below is a break down of this foundation in elementary school. If you are supporting a student in middle or high school who is taking algebra and has major gaps in his or her math education, look to these standards for the essential prerequisite skills.

First Grade: represent situations in word problems by adding or subtracting, and introduce equations (and equal sign).

Second Grade: Represent, solve word problems, introduce multiplication as groups of objects.

Third Grade: represent, solve word problems, explain patterns

Fourth Grade: Solve word problems, generate and analyze patterns

Fifth Grade: Write expressions (equations are 2 expressions with an = in between), analyze patterns and relationships

In working with students with special needs on math programming and services, a common and important issue is that the student is behind and there is a tension between math intervention to fill gaps and addressing ongoing grade level content.

Unpacking the situation

There is no single grade level for math, as is the case for reading. Math progression is more like a web, not a line. For example, if a student can do 5th grade geometry but only 3rd grade level fractions, do we average out the grade level math to be 4th grade? (No.) Do we identify the student as working at a 3rd grade level? (No.) 5th grade level? (No.)

Like a suitcase, there is a capacity to the daily time a student has for school services. I often encounter situations in which the services recommended involve the student working on grade level content and catching up on the gaps during support time. If the student has only been learning 75% of the math content each year, he or she needs that support time to help learn the new content to get closer to 100%. There is too much being stuffed into the suitcase. Something has to give.

The focus of the services and programming often shifts away from post-secondary plans, with a focus on the short term. Like the situation facing the man in the image below, there are long term implications.

Recommendations

There are two recommendations I make in regards to addressing the gaps, without overstuffng the suitcase.

The IRIS Center is part of the Peabody College of Vanderbilt University.

Use triage to shift focus to the priority topics. For example, the parents of a student in 7th grade but working on math from lower grade levels wanted to pursue a math track that would allow the student to go to community college. I mapped out a long range plan (image below) that focuses on algebra as that is the type of math most likely encountered in a math requirement. Here is another plan which was to prepare a student to possibly work in a field related to cars.

If you are reading this post, it is likely that you have a student or you teach students who struggle with math. Here are suggestions to help your students prepare for the math they will encounter in the fall.

Review the IEP math objectives. Are they written to cover the entire curriculum or just a couple isolated math topics?

Ask for examples of what mastery looks like for the IEP math objectives. You may not understand the math but you can compare your student’s work with an example of mastery to get some idea if your student is showing some level of mastery.

Ask the teachers for practice on prerequisite skills for the math your student will encounter in the fall. Hire a college student or a tutor to work through these skills or use online resources.

Get a math evaluation to see where you student is in terms of the curriculum.

Many students are behind in their math education. This has long term implications. The sooner you can address the gaps, the better chance your student has for post-secondary success or competence with math.