Accommodation Breakdown: The Assignment Notebook (a.k.a. the Most-Changed and Least-Implemented Accommodation)

This is the accommodation that warrants its own evolution chart. In my experience, it has the dubious honor of being the most-changed, least-followed, and most misunderstood accommodation that I’ve ever seen played out.

Who Needs This Accommodation?

Students with executive functioning struggles are the obvious choice. Then there are the students who have listening comprehension, academic fluency, processing, Dysgraphia, Dyslexia, and/or other struggles. They might be so focused on trying to understand the teacher, that they miss something and don’t record it correctly in their planner—if they record it at all. Or maybe handwriting is such a struggle, that they need help having it written in the planner. Maybe the student struggles to read the directions on the board, so copying them from the board and transferring them to the planner is a nightmare, with wrong words inserted, page numbers transposed, and so on.

The Birth of an Accommodation:

The first time I witnessed this accommodation being born, it took the following format:
Student requires support to ensure assignments/long-term dates are recorded in planner.
It was accompanied by this accommodation:
Student requires clear expectations to ensure understanding of directions and teacher expectations

The Problem with All

I naively thought teachers would ensure ALL assignments and dates were recorded and ensure they were recorded CORRECTLY. Turns out, if you don’t say ALL, then there’s nothing you can do when there’s a failure to ensure ALL of anything. (If you haven’t read it, please check out “The Language of IEPs and 504s: The Importance of “All” and “Before”.)

Not All Assignments Are Created Equally

I thought assignments was defined as homework and unfinished classwork (since time-and-a-half is often connected to classwork and homework). Nope. You have to define assignments. If assignments is a sandwich, what would live between the two slices of bread? Homework? Unfinished classwork? Take-home tests?

How Long is Long-Term and is it Today or in the Future?

Is long-term a week, two weeks, a month, two months, longer? The timing has to be defined. In addition, I assumed long-term dates would appear on different dates in the future leading up to the due date. I didn’t expect the due date to appear on the date the project or test was assigned. Nope. If a project is assigned on December 6th and due February 18th, the due date would be written on the date it was assigned. So . . . After the child passed the December 6th date, not to mention winter break, holidays, and so on, the February 18th date might as well be a snowflake in a hot house, gone within seconds.

Understanding? What Understanding?

And, I thought that the teacher would ensure understanding of the directions and expectations that went along with the assignments put into the planner. Nope. On March 10th, the planner might state: Do 1-10 on page 12, but might leave out the book or packet with which this is associated.

Assignment Notebook, Part Deux:

My IEP meeting walk-up music becomes the eerie arrangement and tag line from a TV classic:
You are now entering the Twilight Zone.
I know things can be misinterpreted, but . . . That’s a one-time thing, right? Let’s try this again. How to make sure this accommodation is interpreted as intended? Let’s ask the teachers to sign off on the planner, to ensure accuracy. Their signature will show that they checked with the student. That’ll do it. Let’s go with:
Teachers will initial Student’s planner to ensure accuracy of the recording of unfinished classwork and homework assignments.
For good measure, let’s add:
Chunking of Assignments
The teachers will definitely know that if the student needs chunking, that the dates of the chunking will need to be inserted in the planner. Wrong again.

We are Interrupting this Class to Provide an Accommodation

Here’s something I never saw coming: A teacher realized late in the day that she didn’t sign the planner, so she tracked down the student in another class, pulled him out in front of his peers and asked for his planner so she could sign it. And, another teacher took the planner and inserted and signed off on weeks of assignments in advance, just to get the accommodation out of the way. This removes the practice the student needs with this accommodation, as it is something he will need later in life, too. In addition, things change, snow days happen, assignments get pushed out, and the teacher never goes back to the planner (which in turn means the student might end up wasting time doing the wrong assignment).

Third Time’s a Charm

By this point, I recognize that IEP Meeting World is kin to Superman’s Bizarro World. They’re in the same solar system, created of the same matter. If I think I understand, I know that I don’t understand. If I think I’m clear, I know there are 800 other interpretations of the accommodation crafted. I know that nothing is what it seems. Yet . . . All I can do is try again. This is what we’ll use:
Teacher will engage and initial assignment notebook to ensure accuracy for all assessments/assignments including chunking of long-term assignments.
Note that I got the word ALL in there this time. And yet . . .

Just When You Thought You Had It All

The horrible all is not all returns, this time in the form of that nasty hybrid, the take-home test. It is both assessment and assignment, and it brings up yet another accommodation problem. In this case, the student has time-and-a-half for classwork and homework, and testing to completion for tests, but the IEP has no definition related to extended timing for take-home tests. To make matters worse, NO ONE thinks to address this. The student assumes he has testing-to-completion. The teacher assumes time-and-a-half. A mess is created. In addition, because the student needs extra time for testing and at times requires retesting, the student needs that scheduling included in his planner. But, again, if it isn’t in the IEP . . . It doesn’t happen.

But Wait, There’s More to All

Assignments made by the school, to all students, are not considered assignments to be included in the planner, especially if the assignment is a repeat from the previous year. Here’s an example: Let’s say the school finalizes its classes the weekend before school starts. For some reason, the school can’t get a finalized class roster printed and in the hands of all teachers, so the students are given their schedule the first day of school, and told they are to bring it every day for the first two weeks, so teachers can check it every day, to make sure the students belong in the teachers’ classes. In the case of this student, no teacher stopped him at the door the rest of the day to check his schedule. The second day presented a different set of teachers, because the school has an A/B schedule, with classes alternating day to day. First period of the second day, the student’s teacher won’t allow him into class and won’t accept the schedule that the student inserted into his phone as a reminder. The student is upset about being pointed out and sent to the office. He doesn’t remember being told to bring the green paper each day for two weeks. If this is your child, at this point, you’re tired of the planner accommodation not being followed, and you note other issues the same week, so you file a complaint to your state education agency. If your state agency is the Virginia Department of Education, this is the response you’ll get:
LEA explained School’s long-standing practice of issuing a “green [paper] schedule during that first period class [to each student on the first day of school]. It is a building-wide expectation that students carry the green schedule to class every day for the first two weeks of school. Teachers verify students’ enrollment via the green schedule.” Student had “experienced this practice during [Student’s] freshman year. It is a building-wide practice . . . We agree that “assignments” as set forth in Student’s planner accommodation, does not encompass administrative practices regarding course scheduling and other operational matters.
There’s a reason this student has a planner accommodation, yet he’s supposed to remember a practice from the previous year.

Just When You Thought You Couldn’t Be More Shocked or Amazed, There’re Even More Accommodation Twists & Turns

Engage needs to be defined in the IEP, too. (Please check out The Language of IEPs and 504s: The Problem with “Engage”.) Beautiful. Who knew? Now at this point, let’s say you’re at your wits end. You’re three years into issues with this accommodation, so back you go to your state education agency. And, just as before, if your SEA is VDOE, you’ll get this response:
As a preliminary matter, we note that the language of the assignment notebook (“planner”) accommodation does not dictate daily initialing by Student’s teachers. Rather, the accommodation directs initialing of the notebook entries “to ensure accuracy for all assessments/assignments including chunking of long-term assignments [emphasis added].” Accordingly, the language of the accommodation in this case does not specify responsibility for making entries. Nowhere does the accommodation direct the teacher to create entries; one might then reasonably then assume the 15 year-old Student bears responsibility for writing down assignments and test schedules and that the teacher then initials the entry “to ensure accuracy. . . .” We note that Student’s planner/assignment notebook accommodation included broad language directing teacher to “engage [emphasis added] and initial assignment notebook. . . .” Nowhere is “engage” described or clarified in the governing IEPs. Accordingly, we note that the term “engage” might prompt a variety of interpretations, based on the context of circumstances (e.g., to “engage” might include a remark, a verbal exchange, or acknowledgement of a silent gesture). In any case, there is no indication in the language of the accommodation itself that teachers were required to enter into conversation, ask questions, or provide particular comment upon initialing Student’s assignment notebook. Parent has included an audio recording of ”and a partial transcript of team discussion at” the August 15, 2018, IEP team meeting (over two hours, 40 minutes). Discussion focused on the need for clarity in setting forth this accommodation. Parent indicated the “notebook has been an issue for two years.” The recording documented discussion that teachers would “engage WITH [Student] [emphasis in audio]. It’s not that they’re waiting for [Student] to come to them. They’re going to engage WITH [Student]. The recording indicates that another LEA representative indicated “normally we would say it is the student’s responsibility to bring out the [inaudible].” Despite this discussion, nowhere did discussion specifically define “engage” or dictate that teachers would initiate contact regarding initialing Student’s planner. Given the vagueness of this aspect of the accommodation, we dismiss Parent’s allegation that “the majority of [Student’s] teachers don’t engage when they sign [Student’s] planner. . . . They sign, but don’t talk with [Student] to ensure understanding.” While we note rephrasing/repetition or non-verbal checking by staff), the assignment notebook accommodation does not define “engage” as “checking for understanding.” This office notes inherent challenges in the implementation of planner/assignment notebook accommodations. A student might leave class at the dismissal bell and fail to coordinate with the teacher to obtain initials; parents may object to teachers locating the student later in the day to comply with requirements to sign or initial the planner, as the student may be embarrassed in front of others or interrupted in another class activity.” Finally, as we have noted in the July 16, 2018, Letter of Findings regarding a previous iteration of Student’s planner accommodation, broad or vague language (e.g., “long-term”} may also lead to misinterpretation and difficulties in implementation. . . . We decline to find a violation in those specific instances in which Student may have failed to approach the teacher(s) to obtain the requisite initialing.

Let’s Not Forget About Chunking

Although the accommodation states, “Teacher will engage and initial assignment notebook to ensure accuracy for all assessments/assignments including chunking of long-term assignments” it doesn’t state that the teacher will ensure that all chunking dates are included in the planner. If the student takes assessments over multiple days, those days need to be included in the planner, too. But, again, if you go to the state, and your SEA is VDOE, they’ll tell you:
Nowhere does the plain language of Student’s assignment notebook accommodation dictate checking Student’s entries for chunking of assessments. Significantly, the accommodation clearly indicates teachers initialing Student’s notebook for all “assessments/assignments” indicating a clear distinction between chunking with regard to test preparation.”

Last but Not Least

Did you know that all bets are off if a student misses a day of school? The next time the student is in class, it would make sense for the teacher to ensure that the assignment, test info., etc from the missed class is added into the planner when the student returns to school. Nope.

The Final Break Down

This accommodation is a long one, due to all the issues mentioned above. It might look something like this:
Student requires planner/assignment notebook. Every day, teachers will initiate contact with student before the end of student’s class with them. Teachers to ensure ALL assignments are correctly recorded in planner. Assignments are defined as classwork, homework, group projects, take-home tests, school-wide assignments (such as an assignment to bring a schedule each day, or a signed form required by the school), and any other type of assignment unmentioned here. Teacher to ensure ALL assessments are correctly recorded in planner. Assessments are defined as both graded and ungraded quizzes, tests, evaluations, exams, state assessments, take-home tests, retests, chunked tests, end-of-quarter test, end-of semester tests, end-of-year tests, state assessments, and any other type of assessment unmentioned here. Teachers to ensure all long-term assignment and assessment dates are recorded in planner. Long-term is defined as over 5 school days. Teachers to ensure long-term dates are recorded multiple times leading up to due date, and on due date. Teachers to ensure chunking of all long-term assignments and assessments. Chunking is defined as breaking the assignment or assessment into quarters. Teachers to ensure all four chunked dates appear in the planner, on their due date, and in days leading up to their due date. Teachers to discuss all assignments and assessments with student to ensure both are recorded accurately and to ensure student has a full understanding of any associated directions and expectations related to the assignments and assessments. Student to write entries in planner. Teachers to ensure entries are inputted correctly in planner, to include days when there is nothing to assign or assess, so, when student sees a blank space, he knows it is because there is nothing due, vs because the accommodation wasn’t implemented. After following all steps of this accommodation, teachers will initial planner.
(Side note: Please read It’s the Law: Why Does VDOE Allow Vague Language in IEPs? Even if you don’t reside in Virginia, this article explains some of the issues with VDOE’s “vague” findings mentioned in the above article, and how this itself is a problem.)

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