In this week’s episode of “Parents Prevailed”, I’m going to talk about a student in the Corona-Norco Unified School District in California. This student was found eligible for an IEP under the category of Autism (Primary) and Speech and Language Disorder (Secondary). 

When the parents hired me, the student had just begun attending Middle School and the IEP team wanted to place him in a SH (Severely Handicapped) class. The parents were adamant about keeping their son in as many general education classes as possible and placing him in an RSP sped class only when absolutely necessary. They wholeheartedly believed their son deserved a chance to learn alongside his peers and placing him in a severely handicapped class would unjustly deny him this opportunity and negatively impact his future after high school.

The big hurdle for us to cross was the fact that he did not test well ~ AT ALL. In fact, he tested well below the average range. On top of the fact that he was nonverbal, he also had an auditory processing and sensory processing disorder. These disabilities impacted his ability to be successful in taking standardized tests and would display resistance and high levels of anxiety when any service provider attempted to conduct testing. 

Standardized testing continues to be a huge problem in special education… a problem that has remained since the onset of IDEA and has not been resolved to this date.  Personally, I believe that standardized testing is discriminatory and should not be the method in which IEPs are developed and supports, services, and placement are determined.

Why? Because a student’s disability absolutely impedes their efforts to complete standardized tests and therefore, the results cannot be trusted to be an accurate and definitive means to determine a student’s intellectual, academic, and social/emotional abilities. 

Yes, there are nonverbal tests. Yes, they do use pictures and visuals, however, if a student has an auditory processing deficit, a speech and language disorder, and their sensory system is dysregulated, how on earth can we believe the test results are an accurate reflection of that child’s ability and intelligence? 

Federal law says that the district must FIRST provide all supports and services available under IDEA BEFORE placing a child in an SH class and with those services, the student still cannot make progress. Then and only then is it appropriate to offer an SH placement. 

That’s why it is so important to understand how to use assessment results in our favor to develop the special education program and advocate against the district using low test scores to segregate students in a severely handicapped class where they are not taught a general education curriculum. Using the scores as a baseline to hold the district accountable to provide supports and services before moving them to a more restrictive environment gives the student an opportunity to show their ability to learn. Moreover, there are many other factors that must be considered other than standardized test scores. For example, if a student is achieving much higher than the test scores reflect after ruling out a Specific Learning Disability, it’s pretty obvious that the student struggles with standardized testing or any other testing for that matter. 

So back to the facts of this case. When we had our first IEP meeting, the team pointed out his well below average IQ test scores coupled with the fact he was nonverbal, using that as their position to place him in a functional life-skills SH program. 

Our position was to point out all the areas in which the district failed to meet his needs in his current middle school program. They didn’t conduct an Assistive Technology assessment to provide him the AT tools he needed to communicate. They failed to accommodate the curriculum for him to be successful in accessing the general education curriculum and didn’t provide the appropriate accommodations. The district failed to conduct an FBA to determine how his autistic behaviors impeded his ability to access the gen ed curriculum, (this is required by IDEA). 

Moreover, he didn’t have an aide, much less a behavior aide. It is important to note that a district aide is completely different than a behavior aide who is highly trained in behavior and ABA. A student who presents with the profile of my client requires all of these things in order to learn and receive the education they need and deserve. 

We dissented to the placement change which triggered “stay-put”, so he was not moved to the SH class. After the district fulfilled its right to conduct an FBA, I requested an FBA IEE which gave me the evidence I needed to advocate for a behavior aide supervised by a BCBA. I requested an AT Assessment which gave me the evidence I needed to have the district agree to provide him with a device for communication and academics. We also advocated for the team to develop the appropriate accommodations he required to support him to learn. 

After we were successful in developing the IEP to meet his unique needs, he began to thrive. His grades improved drastically, and he entered high school with a strong foundation. To our surprise, we discovered that he was highly gifted in Math. He completed every AP Math course available in the high school setting and earned the highest grade in every class. During one of our Annual IEP meetings in high school, his AP Calculous Math teacher said, “I’ve only had one other student who was as gifted as Robert in Math.” (Name changed to honor his confidentiality.)  

Now just think about this… the Middle School IEP team insisted upon placing him in a Severely Handicapped Class and we had to battle this issue until he was in high school. How much more of a testament could there be to substantiate the fact that standardized test scores are NOT a good indication of a student’s true ability? 

The happy ending to this story is that my client graduated with HIGH honors summa cum laude!!! 

Albeit I admit that this is a very unusual situation, and it doesn’t happen often, but this is such a great example that teaches us never to predetermine a student’s potential. All students deserve a chance to learn and to be provided with every support and service endowed to them under IDEA. It is egregious for any IEP team to play God, alleging to know what the future holds for any student.  

What a horrible travesty it would have been if this student’s parents had not fought for their son and allowed the IEP team to place him in a severely handicapped class, sacrificing the chance to receive the education entitled to him under IDEA. Let this be a lesson to parents, advocates, and school staff in every district not to judge any student based on their disability. Today, he is attending college and doing fantastic. In terms of job training, he is an apprentice at his uncle’s successful accounting company.

I hope you are enjoying these “Parent Prevails” articles as much as I am! These case stories regarding my past clients are a great way to deliver advocacy parent training, teaching you not only your rights but also providing real-world examples of successful parent advocacy. 

Cheering you on always! 

Valerie Aprahamian

If you haven’t joined our Private Special Education Parent Empowerment Facebook Group yet, you should check it out here.

Here’s what parents are saying about the group:

“Valerie… You are appreciated and valued. Please know that your posts ( & responses) continue to plant seeds of growth and hope for families wanting a quality education for their children who have disabilities.” ~Donesa

“Your post and responses have helped support and educate me. I thank you for that. I have two children with disabilities and admire the wisdom you provide. You have a very special mission and have touched a lot of lives.” ~Jodi

Valerie Aprahamian is a special education advocate, IEP strategist, and speaker. She speaks on behalf of parents to protect the rights of neurodiverse children to receive the supports they need in public school.

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