School districts duel with learning disabilities


With 15% of students identified with issues, assistance becomes crucial

Brian Wischmeyer, left, the special education director for Lima schools, works on an individualized education plan with Katie Baker, a psychologist with the district.

Brian Wischmeyer, left, the special education director for Lima schools, works on an individualized education plan with Katie Baker, a psychologist with the district.


Craig J. Orosz | The Lima News

The best outcome for students with an Individual Education Plan, or IEP for short, is to help students with learning disabilities not need that plan anymore.

“When we can take a student off of an IEP, it is exciting for the student, teachers and their families,” said Katie Baker, a psychologist with Lima schools.

It’s a challenge for districts. The Ohio Department of Education reported 15.5% of students in Ohio this year were designated as disabled, up from 15% in 2009.

As of Oct. 31, 2017, 270,142 students statewide were identified with disabilities. Of those, 98.72% or 266,671 eligible students received services, according to the 2017-2018 Implementation of Special Education and Related Services for Children with Disabilities report from the Ohio Department of Education.

“We try to provide services that will allow the child they will not need an IEP and that fills the gap between where their skills were and where they need to be for their education level,” Baker said.

Some students learn to cope or overcome some disabilities, said Karie Knoch, Wapakoneta schools’ director of student achievement.

“The reality of most situations is that we aren’t aiming to ‘fix’ a problem with an IEP, but rather we are trying to provide a child with a different way of showing us what they know or teaching them how to cope with social and emotional challenges,” Knoch said.

Identifying learning disabilities

Psychologists, intervention specialists and other professionals in the field are doing their part in area school districts to assess students with learning disabilities and get them the best possible assistance they can to succeed.

Baker said disabilities are documented by a team, including administrators, parents and teachers. The person who conducted the evaluation makes decisions on proper accommodations.

“Here in our district, we use a pattern of strengths and weaknesses to diagnose students that looks for a link between cognitive and academic skills,” Baker said. Students tested for an IEP undergo IQ and academic achievement tests on subjects such as reading, math and writing and sometimes speech testing.

Students with learning disabilities are referred by their teacher. The student is matched with an intervention specialist to come up with a plan to assist the student based on educational needs, Baker said.

Baker said the most common learning disabilities in Lima City School are specific learning disabilities and intellectual disabilities.

Knoch said Wapakoneta uses classroom data from daily work and tests as well as norm-referenced assessments completed by school psychologists to determine if an IEP is necessary.

Students are allowed accommodations if they have a disability. The team that works on the IEP makes decisions regarding which accommodations are necessary. Examples of accommodation could include extended time, frequent breaks, test read to students (which can be especially important in math, science and social studies) or the student reading the test aloud to an adult to help stay focused on the test.

Jen Croy, Ottawa-Glandorf’s director of curriculum and special services, said to become eligible for special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Act, a student must qualify with a disability for intellectual disability, hearing impairment, speech or language impairment, visual impairment, emotional disturbance, orthopedic impairment, autism, traumatic brain injury, other health impairment, specific learning disability, deafness, deaf or blindness, multiple disabilities or a developmental delay.

“If students through data tracking are noted as not progressing, an Intervention Assistance Team meeting is held to discuss interventions and determine a plan of action to provide additional intervention strategies if needed,” Croy said.

If the team determines that a student qualifies, then a school team works to create an IEP for that student.

Learning Disability assessment, IEP changes

Brian Wischmeyer, the Lima schools’ special education director, said the district previously used a regression formula for identifying students with special needs.

“The state gave districts the option to pick the route they wanted to identify those students with specific learning disabilities, and there has been a lot of focus on the intervention specialist process,” Wischmeyer said.

More than 21 percent of students in Lima schools have IEPs, which has been steady over the last three to four years, Wischmeyer said.

“We have a transient population and are constantly receiving students from out of state and other districts, and a lot of those students come in with IEPs,” Wischmeyer said.

Knoch said there have been various changes in IEPs now versus 20 years ago at Wapakoneta schools.

For example, educators are required to complete and send paperwork to officially inform the parents of what was discussed at the IEP meeting.

Students with academic disabilities’ biggest change in Wapakoneta in the last 20 years is the location where services take place, Knoch said.

“Twenty years ago, we were less inclusive than we are now,” Knoch said. “Now, there are intervention specialists and general education teachers teaching side by side in the classroom with students with disabilities and students that don’t have disabilities.”

Croy said students and teachers have more resources at their fingertips. Ottawa-Glandorf saw an increase in students who qualified for services. According to the most recent state report card, 14.8% of students qualified for services.

“The most important thing to note is that each student and their needs are unique, which leads to a plan designed especially for their unique identified needs,” Croy said.

Wapakoneta Schools has 13.1% of its students identified as having a disability, Knoch said.

“That is really about average per year for the last 10 years. We’ve never been above 15%, and we don’t dip below 10% either,” she said.

Training the intervention specialists

Most special education services are provided by special ed teachers or “intervention specialists.” To be an intervention specialist, the person must have training to understand the needs of students with disabilities and at the same time have knowledge of reading, math and other subjects.

They also learn to document students’ needs and how they are growing in their educational journey.

“A critical piece of the IEP is based on the identified disabilities. There are goals that students have and objectives related to the goals. Teachers have the responsibility to collect data throughout the year to see how students progress with those goals,” said Scott DiMauro, Ohio Education Association president.

There is a review required every year, and every three years there’s a new evaluation to see if the student has the same disability and requires the same assistance.

Baker said as a school psychologist, a person who wants to work in the profession to help students must have a degree and complete a three-year time frame of working in schools completing student evaluations and internships.

“Professional development is a huge thing in our educational world. We are always going to conferences to make sure what the current laws and expectations are for intervention,” Baker said.

Wischmeyer said there is a shortage of intervention specialists, and there is a strong need for school psychologists.

“Some of the school districts have had difficulties filling their classrooms with these positions, but we have been fortunate filling these classroom positions,” Wischmeyer said.

Overcoming learning disabilities

Some students meet their learning goals and don’t need the help they needed before. Sometimes students develop learning disabilities later in their education that gets identified in the IEP process, DiMauro said.

“It is working as a team to specifically decide what every child needs. An individualized education plan treats every student as a unique individual and knows no two students learn at the same level,” DiMauro said.

Baker said the goal for students on IEPs is to get to a point where they no longer need the plan.

“We try to provide services that will allow the child they will not need an IEP and that fills the gap between where their skills were and where they need to be for their education level,” Baker said.

She added, “When we can take a student off of an IEP it is exciting for the student, teachers and their families,” Baker said.

Some students learn to cope or overcome some disabilities, Knoch said.

“The reality of most situations is that we aren’t aiming to ‘fix’ a problem with an IEP, but rather we are trying to provide a child with a different way of showing us what they know or teaching them how to cope with social and emotional challenges,” Knoch said.

Brian Wischmeyer, left, the special education director for Lima schools, works on an individualized education plan with Katie Baker, a psychologist with the district.
https://www.limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2019/11/web1_Individualized-Education_01co.jpgBrian Wischmeyer, left, the special education director for Lima schools, works on an individualized education plan with Katie Baker, a psychologist with the district. Craig J. Orosz | The Lima News
With 15% of students identified with issues, assistance becomes crucial

Reach Jennifer Peryam at 567-242-0362.

Reach Jennifer Peryam at 567-242-0362.

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