10 Tips for Making Sure the Secondary Student Is the Focus of the ARD
Imagine being an adolescent who struggles in school, walking into a stuffy room and sitting at a table with 8 adults while they all talk about you as though you weren’t even present.
This group is made up of:
- the assistant principal who assigned you I.S.S. last week,
- the teacher who just graded the test you are certain that you bombed,
- the counselor who asked you all those questions that you really didn’t want to answer,
- your mom who spent 20 minutes yelling at you this morning,
- and a few people who you’ve never seen before.
And all of these people have gathered to discuss what you aren’t doing well.
I challenge you to think of a more intimidating scenario.
By the time a student who has been identified as needing special education services is in high school, she has likely been in anywhere from 3 to 5 Annual Review and Dismissal meetings, if not more. She knows what the discussion will be about and anticipates the things that are going to be said.
If the goal is to train her to be an advocate for herself and prepare her to be successful in the real world, it is time we address her directly and make her the central focus of the meeting.
These meetings are about the student, after all.
The teachers in the room are likely attend several ARDs each year, while the counselor and administrator may attend several a week, and the diagnostician will have some days that are ARD meeting after ARD meeting.
For the student and parent, though, this is the one time a year that they have the opportunity to meet with the people responsible for making educational plans and decisions for the student.
Personalize the Meeting
It can be very easy for the educators in the room to fall into the routine of mindlessly checking the boxes of going down the agenda in an ARD meeting, forgetting that each meeting is centered around a different student and that said student is present and knows himself better than anyone in the room. Some students are actively involved and feel empowered to advocate for themselves while others stay completely zoned out or demure out of embarrassment or insecurity.
Involve the Student
At a bare minimum, we should at least attempt to involve the student. It starts with the introduction and confidentiality statement. Make eye contact with the student when you say, “John, I want to make sure you know everyone present. I am your assistant principal Mr. Somebody.” This is so much more effective and personal than just doing a roll call: Mr. Somebody, assistant principal.” Go on to say, even if you have to read it, “This ARD committee agrees that information discussed in this meeting will not be shared with anyone who has not educational interest with you, John…”
Ask for Opinions
As you work through the agenda, continue to direct information to the student and ask him for his input.
For example, when discussing his current academic achievement, consider starting the conversation with, “John, what class seems to come most naturally or is the easiest for you? OK, now what class is the most challenging or the hardest for you this year? Has that subject always been difficult? What do you think makes it so hard for you?” Leading with a discussion with the student before asking for teacher input, looking at a grade report, or reading from the PLAAFP can prove to be very enlightening.
Ask for Input
Addressing the student throughout the items on the agenda is important, but the most important part in which to seek his input is when you come to discussing accommodations. The student usually knows best what has been helping, what he may need, and what seems to be a waste of time. Now, there is something to be said for the fact that the trained professionals in the room may have a better understanding of what he needs, but it is important to at least invite the student to provide input.
“This is where we most need to hear from you. We are going to go over the accommodations you should be receiving in you classes. Your needs may change from year to year as you mature and your classes change and get more challenging (especially if students have recently transitioned from junior high to high school). Please let us know if you feel like you don’t need any of these, and we will consider removing them. And, if there is anything else we can do to help you be more successful, please let us know, and we can discuss the possibility of adding them.”
Make sure to close the ARD by letting the student know that everyone in the room is available to discuss anything he may need after the meeting. Invite him to voice concerns or questions he may have after he leaves and has time to think.
Only a small percentage of students identified as needing special education services gets to meet with such a focused group of professionals and experts, so it really is a privilege. However, when acronyms like FIE, IEP, PLAAFP, ED, AU, and LPAC get tossed around without any consideration for the people in the room who did not attend graduate courses in education or spend hours in professional development on special education paperwork and protocol, this can be overwhelming.
Even worse, it can even seem intentionally exclusionary.
I am sure that most educators do not do this on purpose (although, I have heard it said that the parents have been in these meetings every year, so surely they know these things by now), but these are acronyms even administrators sometimes have to stop and think about if they haven’t been in an ARD in a couple of weeks. It would be ludicrous to assume that the parent and student know them.
Simply asking, “Do you know what that means?” really isn’t enough for a parent who doesn’t want to appear ignorant in a room full of professionals staring at them, much less for a fourteen-year-old whose parents chose not to attend. It only takes a moment to stop and provide a simple explanation. Here are a couple of examples:
- Your FIE, Full and Individual Evaluation, must be completed every three years,. Yours is due next month. That is when we use a series of tests to evaluate your eligibility for special education services. As a committee, we can also vote to roll over your previous testing.
- Since you qualified as a student with an intellectual disability, and you have been tested three times since you started receiving services in second grade, and the results have always been comparable, I would like to recommend that the committee considers rolling over your previous scores which means no additional testing.
- Since you have expressed interest in attending college after graduation, I would like to recommend conducting a new round of testing in order to update your file with results that we could use in determining the most appropriate accommodations for you as you transition into college as some of these can follow you into higher education.
It is a good rule to not engage in activities in which you would not want your students engaged in the classroom. First impressions go a long way, so start by being on time. There will be situations that are out of your control, but do you best to be there before the scheduled start time.
Everyone in the room has been pulled away from something important, whether it's teaching a difficult lesson to a challenging class, a to-do list with ever-nearing due dates, or pressing personal matters. Appearing put-out or distracted is very disrespectful and communicates to the student and the parent that their needs are not important. Even if you only have a very small part in the meeting and you feel that your presence is just a formality, you attentiveness os important.
Put the Phone Down
Avoid looking at your phone as checking an email could look the same as checking social media or playing a game. If there is something that you will have to check, there is nothing wrong with stating so during your introduction: Mrs. Mother, my daughter's school called and said she wasn't feeling well. If my phone rings, I may have to step out for just a minute. I didn't want to give the impression that I am distracted by my phone.
Avoid have side conversations or even passing notes. Even if what you are saying has to do with what is being discussed, it likely will not appear so to the parent and will come across as unprofessional and inconsiderate.
If something must be addressed or brought to a committee member's attention, make aims to make sure it doesn't appear to be secretive. Along the same lines, leave any personal conflict or tensions at the door. Model for the student the behaviors you want her to emulate.
While it may seem like these things should go without saying, these are pretty common occurrences in ARD meetings.
Remember, the ultimate goal of everything we do in school is to prepare students for life after school. Encouraging the student to be actively involved and a self-advocate in her ARD is great practice for skills she will need in the next chapter of her life.
Additionally, you are communicating to the parent and the student that you value their voices. You are showing the parent that their child can speak up for herself.
Some schools have even started having students lead their ARDs. Either the transition specialist or the student’s case manager meets with the student before the ARD and rehearses the agenda in the form of a script with a little bit of a role play.
Imagine being a parent and observing your fifteen-year-old lead a room full of adults by starting with, "Thank you for coming to my ARD meeting today. We are here to discuss my education plan in the past and make decisions about my education plan moving forward. My name is John Student. Please introduce yourselves with your name and your title.
I challenge you to think of a more empowering scenario.