Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The PPT Poker-face

The meeting on Monday went very much like I expected. The team assembled to, in so many interesting variations of style, tell me my concerns were not valid and that my daughter does not require special education services.

Now I happen to agree that my daughter doesn't require special education services, at least that wasn't what I was seeking. I did think that, now that she had a diagnosis, she was due some school support and testing if I requested it.

So, I had contacted the school social worker to share my concerns, see what she might suggest and to inquire if they were still testing this late into the school year. To my question, the school social worker sent an empathetic reply that acknowledged her struggles to which she attached the following P.S.:
Just wanted to mention that we are surprised that the school was not asked for input on the ADD diagnosis for [DeDe].

OK. So I admit, the PS irked me. To this I replied:
Thank you for checking in with [DeDe]. I definitely think she is struggling. I want to help her however I can.

As you may recall, I initially contacted you to inquire about testing. I'm trying to figure out exactly what is going on with [DeDe] right now and why she is struggling so. So, if the school wishes to have input, well then I welcome it. Let's begin testing. I am eager to know what you find.

And that changed everything. Apparently I can not request testing without requesting services. We entered into formal PPT proceedings — the social worker and I would be facing off again.

At the PPT I knew to expect that I would go first. And although the social worker had acknowledged some concerns and offered to invite DeDe to her office for helpful chats before, I expected she would give little ground now. So I intended to make my first play a good one.

Once I gathered everything together, I was surprised to discover I had a more winning combination than I expected. These were my cards:

1) In her report cards and teacher evaluations, I was able to highlight concerns about DeDe's attention, focus and concentration in teacher comments since preschool with the one exception of her 1st grade year.

2) My suspicions that she had fallen into some sort of cognitive fog seemed proved by recent exams that showed a marked decline in her testing results, especially in areas of reading comprehension. Her reading record dropped from being comfortably above goal 1st through 3rd grades (21 pts above the school average on her 3rd grade CMT) to a precipitous fall below goal (43 points below the school average on her 4th grade CMT — a drop of 64 points overall). To this we added ISEE exams conducted over the past 2 years. Her performance on her recent exam showed a suspiciously sharp decline, she actually answered fewer questions, where I would have expected at least mild improvement.

3) The social concerns at school are always a grey area. Without testing and evaluations, I had little to point to with the exception that DeDe's closest classmate friend had moved away less than two weeks ago. And of course that she had experience bullying as recent as this year but most pronounced in 3rd grade (that had gone unidentified for months by the school and that once recognized was met with egregiously little support).

4) And as requested, I brought in a note from DeDe's therapist describing her symptoms, resulting diagnosis and her professional recommendation that the school offer testing to "better provide educational support."

Now, I recognized that in this game, the house has a distinct advantage. I also went in knowing I would loose. But still, I hoped they would relent to testing, to offering us not full-blown services, but something, some sort of support. Or at the very least, that they would hear and consider my concerns and so initiate an evaluation process. This is how it played out.

1) The classroom teacher, who at the parent teacher conference agreed that DeDe often had to be reminded to focus on her work, particularly reading, instead of drawing, now sang a much different tune. I don't think she had forgotten our discussion of DeDe's messy, disorganized desk or my earlier request to help her use her planner more affectively. Though she quickly acknowledged these concerns then, she had her PPT-face on now and would not offer me anything more than a wide-eyed look of surprise that I could not recognize the achievements of my own child. She was making A+'s after all. And so A's blinded all eyes to any decreases from her potential.

2) To the concerns specific to her reading record, the classroom teacher found that DeDe's reading level had improved from S to U since 4th grade perfectly encouraging. To the ISEE testing: the school psychologist discounted it as being normed against a different group despite my repeated comments that I was comparing the results themselves, comparing her own performance year to year and not to anyone else; and the school social worker reported that DeDe seemed ambivalent about attending private school and suggested she had intentionally sabotaged the results to avoid the situation. They all seemed to just ignore the CMTs.

3) To the social concerns, the school psychologist played a 3-of-a-kind: three recent observations at lunch, recess and during math (not reading), all positively described. Apparently, with these three recent descriptions in their hand, they could discount other, less positive observations over longer periods of time or any other related concerns or reports.

4) In response to Samantha's letter, they noted she is a social worker, not a doctor. And though DeDe most certainly received her prescription from a Dr. Finetime, the med-manager working in association with Samantha, they seemed to discount Samantha's recommendations completely for lack of credentials, she was "just" a social worker.

And that was that. The hands were played. I anted up and lost big time.

This is not just a convenient and cute metaphor, you know. It is a real and terrible gamble. Now that I brought us to the table, I feel certain that the teacher and the principal will absolutely avoid acknowledging my concerns or her struggles at all. My son's too for that matter.

Their needs are real. But their needs are not great. If you want to save money, and who doesn't in this economy, these are the needs you refuse to acknowledge. These are the sort of children that can end up loosing.

Silver Lining: Its coming, but tomorrow. I've typed enough for today, but believe me, I'm still processing this one and will be for some time.

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