As we approach the one year mark of this pandemic and schooling remains primarily virtual, children (especially those with special needs) are at profound risk of falling behind in their education. The single most effective tool parents have to guard against regression is to collect data on their child’s progress, and I want to explain here why this is so useful and how parents can best employ this technique.
Attorney Wayne Steedman – an experienced and seasoned special education attorney – defines data as anything that is observable and can be counted. Steedman sets forth that even happiness can be classified as data if parents quantify it by measuring how many hours per day their child experiences joy. There is no national standard of data collection, and thus parents should tailor their data collection to their child’s specific needs rather than trying to adhere to a general format.
The Importance of Data Collection
Data collection is critical during this pandemic for two main reasons. First, if a child is not progressing in his/her education, parents will need data to prove there has been a denial of a free appropriate education (FAPE). With this objective evidence, parents can most effectively advocate for their child, including requesting a change to the IEP goals and objectives or related services, to have comprehensive evaluations in all areas of suspected disability, and in some cases for a change in placement to a private program that can address their child’s unique needs. Second, if matters cannot be resolved and parents need to file a request for a due process hearing with the guidance of an attorney, a paper trail of evidence will prove invaluable to help determine the impact of COVID, as well as a determination as to whether the IEP/504 is is providing FAPE.
One advantage parents have during these unique times is that they are now very involved with their child and learning about their child’s strengths and weaknesses. Data taken on a day to day level, during virtual instruction, as well as before and after virtual instruction is pivotal. Still, in order to preempt protracted disputes, I advise parents to work as collaboratively as possible with the school district throughout this process. Parents should share data that they collect with their child’s teachers and request a IEP or 504 meeting be convened to brainstorm ideas to ensure the IEP or 504 plan is appropriate. The parents should also request data from the district through a FERA request.
A Strategy for Data Collection
Taking command of a child’s education during this pandemic is already challenging enough, so I sympathize with parents who feel overwhelmed with the added responsibility of collecting data. But if done properly, data collection can feel more like an asset than a burden. When searching for guidance on specific areas of data collection, parents should utilize their child’s IEP as a jumping off point. School districts are still required to provide goals and objectives that are measurable, and parents should hold them to this standard.
The best format in my experience is to create a checklist of behaviors and skills that a child needs improvement on, and use this checklist to monitor progress over time. Parents should prioritize keeping these checklists organized, so that trend lines (such as improvement or setbacks) are clearly discernible to a school district or a hearing officer. If parents are adept at creating charts in microsoft excel, I highly recommend employing this strategy as well. A graph depicting a downward trajectory in a child’s IEP goals and objectives can be a very effective tool in incentivizing the school to revise its goals and objectives and/or provide additional related services. To learn more about effective data collection techniques, I highlighly recommend checking out Attorney Peter Wrights’ “9 Simple Strategies to Track Progress, Get Data, and Make Your Child’s Case.”
I am happy to consult with you further about data collection methods that would best serve your child’s unique needs. I can be reached by phone or email, at your convenience. Thank you.