The School's Student Success Committee (SSSC) meets regularly to help students. Today's meeting is to help Johnny. His mother, administrator, general education teacher, special education teacher, reading teacher, nurse, and school psychologist are present.
ADMINISTRATOR: "Good morning everyone and thank you for being here today. Everyone knows each other so there's no need for formal introductions, we'll go ahead and start. As you know, the SSSC meets regularly to help students and that's the purpose of today's meeting. We are here to help Johnny. Let's start with Mrs. Smith, Johnny's teacher. Could you share with us how he's doing and any concerns you may have."
TEACHER: "Well, he doesn't do anything."
ADMINISTRATOR: "Could you explain more."
TEACHER: "He's low. He's very, very low... very, very, very, very low. Out of all the children in my class, he's by far the lowest."
ADMINISTRATOR: "Okay, thank you, that's very helpful. Let's take a minute and review Johnny's educational history. He did not attend preschool or kindergarten. He has missed 80 of 360 days in first and second grades and 46 of those absences were unexcused. His language level is 1, meaning he is still very limited in English skills. Spanish is spoken in the home and Johnny speaks and understands Spanish almost exclusively. Mrs. Smith, do you have any other concerns to share?
TEACHER: "He doesn't complete any homework, that's bringing his grades down and the parent doesn't seem to want to devote three hours per night to help him with his homework - there's no parent support or involvement. And Johnny has received three referrals for not completing homework, it's a huge behavior problem. And he can't pay attention."
ADMINISTRATOR: "What are his assessed levels in reading, writing, and math?"
TEACHER: "Like I say, they're low, really low. Out of all the students I've ever had, he's by far the lowest. I will say that he's a little bit stronger in math because there is less language involved but next year they start word problems and I'm worried he will fail miserably next year in math if we don't give him the help he needs now."
ADMINISTRATOR: "He's an English Language Learner... how does he do in Spanish?"
TEACHER: "Oh, he does perfect when I work with him in Spanish. He's top of the class! But in English, he's very, very low. He needs our help."
PSYCHOLOGIST: "From the research, we know that as he continues to learn English, his academic performance will improve over time. We can be very optimistic for his future. We will want to provide continued ELD support."
"Treating English learners as the people they can become means that we see students not in terms of what they lack - in their case, full control of academic English - but as capable and intelligent learners who, with the right kind of support, are as able to participate in learning and achieve academically as their English-speaking peers" (Pauline Gibbons, 2002).
TEACHER: "Yes, but what about now? He's getting straight F's right now. What can we do to help him now?"
PSYCHOLOGIST: "He's missed approximately 65% of his schooling. I would encourage Johnny to regularly attend school."
ADMINISTRATOR: "He's missed approximately two-and-a-half years of school and he's about two-and-a-half years behind his peers. That would be expected and we want to continue to provide ELD support, but he can't pay attention and what about his behavior? He's had three referrals! He won't do his homework and he can't pay attention. This seems more than just a language problem or an attendance problem... there's something there."
PSYCHOLOGIST: "We know Johnny has missed school because his family moves with the seasons. He was classified as a Migrant student. Would he qualify for any kind of additional support from the Migrant Program?"
ADMINISTRATOR: "He no longer qualifies for the Migrant Program because his family has been in the same location now for over 120 days."
PSYCHOLOGIST: "Mom, I hope you can help us understand... he's had forty-six unexcused absences. Is there anything we can do to help Johnny attend more regularly?"
PARENT: "Gracias pro su ayuda. Se lo agradezco mucho."
PSYCHOLOGIST: "In addition to English Language Learning, I think low attendance, you know, lack of educational opportunity, is playing a role in Johnny's academic difficulties. After three unexcused absences a student is legally termed a truant... maybe we should forward a referral to SARB, the Student Attendance Review Board. Maybe if they became involved they could help increase Johnny's attendance?"
ADMINISTRATOR: "Oh, we don't want to go there. We're not looking to punish Johnny... we're looking for positive ways to help. Mrs. Harris, could you share his health information with the team?"
NURSE: "He passed his hearing and vision screenings last week. Mom reports he has no health problems. He seems to be healthy. And I'm sorry, I need to be excused as I have another meeting. I'm a very busy person."
ADMINISTRATOR: "Thank you. We know he's healthy so that's good. His problem isn't health. Hopefully we can find what's wrong with Johnny. Mrs. Harris, you may be excused, thank you for all of your help."
TEACHER: "Like I said, he doesn't pay attention. I know I'm not allowed to say this but he obviously has attention problems. Can we get him tested for attention problems? I'm tired of all these kids falling through the cracks."
PSYCHOLOGIST: "We know he doesn't really understand very much in English. It's difficult for anyone to pay attention for very long when they don't understand whats being said."
TEACHER: "I know, we all know you don't like to diagnose children..."
PSYCHOLOGIST: "I don't have a problem diagnosing children, but I do have a huge problem misdiagnosing children."
TEACHER: "But maybe he needs meds. I think there may be something, you know, there?
PSYCHOLOGIST: "Well, I don't prescribe meds nor do we use the DSM in the schools. If you really think there's something physically wrong with his brain, you should forward that referral to the school nurse."
ADMINISTRATOR: "Well, she's not here, she's too busy working with students right now. Maybe we should consider testing for attention."
PSYCHOLOGIST: "We already know he doesn't pay attention."
TEACHER: "So you think he probably does have an attention deficit disorder, just like I was saying?"
PSYCHOLOGIST: "No, I think he doesn't pay attention for a variety of reasons, including the fact that he doesn't understand what you're saying."
TEACHER: "Yes, I've noticed that too. Are you saying he has an auditory processing disorder?"
PSYCHOLOGIST: "No, I'm saying he doesn't understand English. I'm interested to know, what interventions have you tried so far in class?"
TEACHER: "I've tried everything and I can tell you right now nothing works. He needs special education. He's really, really low."
PSYCHOLOGIST: "Have you found anything that helps?"
TEACHER: "I've tried glaring, staring, and giving the evil eye. I've yelled at him and threatened him. I've mocked and berated him in front of his peers. I've ignored him and isolated him. I've taken away all of his recesses and I make him stay thirty minutes after school every day to work on homework since his mother won't help him at home. I call him derogatory names. I've tried just about everything I can think of. Like I say, nothing helps."
PSYCHOLOGIST: "Maybe we could identify some strength areas and build upon them. What are some of his strengths?"
TEACHER: "I'm a teacher, I don't have time to look for strengths."
PSYCHOLOGIST: "Well, I'm looking for a starting point. You mentioned homework is a problem. I'm wondering if we could modify his homework load, maybe reduce it from three hours a night to maybe, I don't know, thirty minutes or less?"
TEACHER: "I'm not going to do that. I know all the research states that homework in the third grade doesn't really correlate with learning, but I use homework in my class to teach my students responsibility so they can grow up to get a good job someday... if anything, we should increase his homework from three hours to five hours a night... that would be a good start to helping him learn to become more responsible."
ADMINISTRATOR: "How would you describe his attitude and motivation?"
TEACHER: "Horrible. His attitude is just horrible, I don't know why. And when I ask him to complete his work he just sits there as if he didn't understand a word I said."
PSYCHOLOGIST: "Maybe we could work on prompting him in a positive and polite way and in Spanish if/when possible. And we could praise him when he finishes his work and let him go to recess. Some interventions like that might improve his attitude and motivation."
TEACHER: "You're talking about that new positive PBIS stuff. That doesn't work. What is it with you touchy-feely shrinks and all this talk about respect and being nice? Why don't you come into the classroom and try to teach this group? What Johnny really needs is the paddle."
ADMINISTRATOR: "Mrs. Johnson, you have been working with Johnny in tutoring. How is he doing in reading class?"
READING TEACHER: "He's really low. He actually reads well in Spanish, but in English, very, very low. He really needs special education. He obviously has cognitive processing disorders. He can't pay attention and he often doesn't remember what I taught him. And I know this was already mentioned but he also has auditory comprehension disorders - he just doesn't comprehend what I'm teaching him in English. I was so concerned I referred him to the Speech Therapist."
ADMINISTRATOR: "What did she say?"
READING TEACHER: "She said she would not accept the referral because it is obviously an English language learning issue - not a speech and language learning issue."
ADMINISTRATOR: "So it looks like we suspect a learning disability then."
PSYCHOLOGIST: "Pardon me?"
ADMINISTRATOR: "Well, first we need to hear from our special education teacher, Mrs. Richardson. You've been informally working with Johnny as a Tier II student in our RtI program. What are your observations and do you have any ideas on what might help Johnny?"
SPECIAL EDUCATION TEACHER: "He does struggle with reading, writing, and all tasks in English, but he is improving in my class. He is in a small group and he does better in Spanish."
ADMINISTRATOR: "So it sounds like he requires smaller group settings in a special education classroom in order to succeed."
SPECIAL EDUCATION TEACHER: "Well he is responding to our interventions, so as per our RtI model, we may want to hold off on a special education referral for now."
ADMINISTRATOR: "What does the progress monitoring data show?
SPECIAL EDUCATION TEACHER: "He started out low and he's still low."
TEACHER: "But theres more. He has a hard time making friends. The other kids say he's weird. I'm worried about his safety. The other kids say mean things to him and hit him."
PSYCHOLOGIST: "Have you been able to take steps to prevent him from being bullied? There are school guidelines and, um, laws to protect students from bullying."
TEACHER: "But he's the one with the problem. He brings it on himself by acting weird. He needs you to work with him in therapy and social skills training."
PSYCHOLOGIST: "You want me to work with him to learn to cope with being bullied in your classroom?"
TEACHER: "No, that's not what I said. I hope you can teach him to be, you know, less weird. And punish him when he's weird. I also think he is OCD, depressed, bipolar, and has a conduct disorder."
ADMINISTRATOR: "I'm very concerned about this bullying. Mrs. Smith, do you have any ideas on what interventions Johnny will require in order to stop being a victim of this bullying?"
TEACHER: "I'm just going to give him an office referral every time he is bullied."
ADMINISTRATOR: "Okay, that sounds like a plan. Mom, what do you think of that?"
PARENT: "Gracias pro su ayuda. Se lo agradezco mucho."
ADMINISTRATOR: "We're beginning to run out of time. We'll need to start wrapping this up. Let's decide on our interventions and action plan."
TEACHER: "I just need to add that I'm really concerned and want help for Johnny. I'm tired of all these children falling through the cracks. Even though he's doing pretty good in math this year, next year he will fail when they begin word problems. Those fourth grade teachers are tough... they're not nice and patient like I am. And he has made some friends this year but three years from now when he's in middle school it will be a disaster because he doesn't know how to make friends. This is the kind of kid who will show up someday with a gun if we don't give him help now - you can see it in his eyes. I'm just speaking out honestly because I'm frustrated that all these kids keep falling through the cracks. He needs therapy and probably meds too. I hope we can find something to help Johnny. I wish mental health was as easy to obtain as guns are."
ADMINISTRATOR: "Obviously the teacher is very concerned. Miss D, what are your recommendations?"
PSYCHOLOGIST: "I recommend (a) taking immediate steps to insure he is free from being bullied in the classroom, (b) working on implementing positive and respectful adult requests, in Spanish if/when necessary, (c) implementing a reduced and rational homework load, (d) providing continued English Language Development and Support, remaining patient and optimistic, knowing his academic levels will improve over time as he continues to learn the English language, (e) see if his family is eligible for Migrant Services, (f) encouraging Johnny to regularly attend school and forward a referral to SARB if his unexcused absences do not decrease, (g) give him back his recesses, (h) encourage Johnny to participate in groups, clubs, teams, organizations or other activities with children his age to improve social skills, and (i) because he is responding to interventions, continue to provide informal Tier II RtI academic support in small groups."
TEACHER: "See, that's what I'm talking about."
PSYCHOLOGIST: "I'm sorry, I'm not sure what you mean. Help me understand."
TEACHER: "He needs special education. Why do we have to wait for years as these children fall further and further behind? He needs special education now. I'm not the expert, but there's something there. He needs more than just all this touchy-feely encouragement and optimism and positive expectations and choices you keep talking about."
ADMINISTRATOR: "The teacher is obviously very concerned. Miss D, why don't we test just to make sure? That way we'll know for sure. It sounds like there's something there, there's gotta be."
TEACHER: "I agree with Mrs. Welch. Johnny is very low and he needs special education now. We can't let him fall through the cracks like so many others."
ADMINISTRATOR: "So Miss D, will you type up the correct forms to get this show on the road?"
PSYCHOLOGIST: "Of course, I'm always happy to be the typist. What exactly are your directives?"
ADMINISTRATOR: "Okay, here's the SSSC Action Plan... the official team recommendations. (a) Test Johnny for special education..."
PSYCHOLOGIST: "What is the suspected disability? We know he doesn't have a learning disability."
ADMINISTRATOR: "Well, go ahead and test for a learning disability. We can test for a learning disability can't we? What would it hurt? We want to help Johnny."
PSYCHOLOGIST: "We already know he won't qualify as having a learning disability due to lack of educational opportunity, cultural factors, and, um, other reasons."
TEACHER: "See, thats what I'm talking about."
ADMINISTRATOR: "We'll test in all areas then, just to make sure. The teacher is very concerned and so am I. Let's test for an Intellectual Disability."
PSYCHOLOGIST: "An intellectual disability? We don't really suspect that, do we? He's an excellent reader in his native language... one of the best in his class."
ADMINISTRATOR: "Let's be sure to check for attention, memory, and auditory comprehension too. And be sure to address an emotional disturbance and autism and an other health impairment too. There's something there, we just need to find it."
PSYCHOLOGIST: "Maybe he has AS2. I'll check for that too."
ADMINISTRATOR: "You'll also need to start seeing him in counseling and start a social skills group. He needs to start learning to cope with bullying and he needs to learn to, well, do what his teacher tells him to do. Also, we haven't really discussed this today but you know Johnny's father is not in the home and he needs someone who will forcefully and aggressively make him comply with the rules. You can do that in your group, can't you? You also need to check-in and check out with him every morning and afternoon."
TEACHER: "I agree. I will send him to you for punishment when he refuses to comply with my directives."
PSYCHOLOGIST: "Actually, do send him to me. I agree Johnny would probably do better the less time he spends in your class."
ADMINISTRATOR: "We'll also complete a referral for outside services from the local mental health center. Based on everything I'm hearing, I'm sure Johnny will easily qualify as having ADHD and I'm not a clinical therapist ('wink' wink'), but Johnny seems to be the type of kid who will benefit from medications... maybe even some brain stimulation if insurance will cover it. Mom, do you have insurance for Johnny? Mental health services cost money because we provide a free and appropriate education for our students."
PARENT: "Gracias pro su ayuda. Se lo agradezco mucho."
ADMINISTRATOR: "We are out of time and we will need to adjourn the meeting. I'm feeling very positive that we will be able to help Johnny out with this plan. We'll find what is there and serve it by placing him in a special education class and removing him from his peers so he can learn to get along with his peers. Mom, you need to spend more time with him at home on homework to support what we are doing in the school. Can you do that?"
PARENT: "Gracias pro su ayuda. Se lo agradezco mucho."
ADMINISTRATOR: "Have a great day everyone. Thank you for being here."
ADMINISTRATOR: "Good morning everyone and thank you for being here today. As you know, the SSSC meets regularly to help students and that's the purpose of today's meeting. We are here to help Jane. We know she's been having a lot of problems. She is an English Language Learner, she's missed a lot of school, she doesn't complete her homework, and she's had two referrals. There's something going on. Let's start with Mrs. Adams, Johnny's teacher. Could you share with us how she's doing and any concerns you may have."
Every day across our country, similar well-intentioned teams get together in efforts to help students. But sometimes to help is not to help (who said that?). This intervention process can go horribly wrong in a lot of ways and often does. Once a child is misdiagnosed, his/her educational trajectory is forever altered, almost alway in negative ways.