The Language of IEPs & 504s: Just When You Thought You Knew the Definition of "Assessment", Wrong Again

What is an Assessment?

The first time I read "assessment" in the accommodations section of an IEP, I assumed it was the umbrella covering all quizzes, tests, evaluations, etc., whether they are graded or not graded, open-book or closed-book, and/or take-home or in-class.

My assumption was proven wrong by a teacher who knew the student's struggles and needs for testing to completion and small-group testing, but for some reason thought that didn't apply to quizzes. Evidently, she didn't understand that struggles don't go away when assessments are shorter.

From her, I learned "assessment" could be interpreted as differently as a person might interpret a piece of poetry. Whereas one person might interpret Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken" to be about being an individual choosing a different path, marching to a different drummer, and so on, there are others who point to this understanding as nonsense, as the incorrect interpretation.

Who knew assessments could be the same way?

Imagine your child has the following accommodation, to help address executive functioning, auditory processing, and/or a number of other struggles:

Teacher will engage and initial assignment notebook to ensure accuracy for all assessments/assignments including chunking of long-term assignments.

Note the word all. After prior issues with the word all, you congratulate yourself for getting that word planted in the accommodation. (If you haven't read The Language of IEPs and 504s: The Importance of “All” and “Before” please read it before you move on with this article—or after if it suits you).

But, you neglected to define assessments in the accommodation. And you neglected to do so because you thought it was clear.

The result?

The Definition You Didn't See Coming:

Your son has a few classes in which the teachers perform "informal" assessments, to gauge students' topic knowledge, thus the teachers don't provide your son's accommodation to him.

Your experience is that the school will err on the side of the teachers, and you're tired of complaining to the school, so you submit a complaint to the state.

In its response to the complaint, the school states:

"Student's teacher did not record this class assignment in student's planner as the teacher did not consider it to be homework, a project, or a test."

You point out to the school that they advised you they don't do "pop quizzes" or anything of the like to surprise students—and you point out to the state that the teacher referred to the assessment as an assessment.

The state finds in favor of the school for the following stated reason:

"We find LEA's response persuasive in this case. The weight of the record indicated that this ungraded classroom exercise was, essentially, an inventory of students' knowledge, conducted to inform student's teacher regarding "what students know and what topics need more reinforcement during the quarter. Accordingly, we find that this classroom exercise was not an "assessment" or "assignment" for the purpose of Student's planner accommodation."

So, even though the teacher called it an assessment in printed materials you provided in a complaint to the state, the state went with the school and described it as a "classroom exercise"—and when you later push back on quizzes that are graded and occur on specific days of the week, you get the same story, because they think your child (the one who needs the accommodation), should remember the schedule.

Lesson Learned:

Consider changing the accommodation to the following:

Teacher will engage and initial assignment notebook to ensure accuracy for all ungraded and graded assessments, quizzes, tests, evaluations, inventories of student's knowledge, classwork assignments, classwork exercises, homework assignments, homework exercises and any other types of assignments or exercises, including chunking of long-term assignments.

But . . .

Before you finalize it, make sure you read "The Language of IEPs and 504s: The Problem with “Engage”. You're going to need to do some wordsmithing with engage, too, but that one hits on the personal and will be different from one child to the next.

And, make sure you define long-term, too. For one teacher, long-term is a project that goes over three months, but for your child, long-term might be a project that spans three weeks. This is, of course, is a topic for another article.

2 comments on “The Language of IEPs & 504s: Just When You Thought You Knew the Definition of “Assessment”, Wrong Again

  1. Excellent article. We learn that school personnel can change the definitions of terms used in IEPs and 504 plans because they know the State Dept of Ed “will err on the side of the teachers” too.

    I’m curious about the background of VDOE staff member who made this call. Many VDOE staff have worked for local school districts. This may account for the pro-school, anti-parent bias often found in SEA employees. Did this individual work for a local school system at some point?

    1. Thank you for your comment, Pam. Since 2017, the complaints I’ve filed have been handled by VDOE’s Sabrina Gross or Kathleen Harris. I don’t know their backgrounds, other than that they’ve been at VDOE for as long as I’ve been filing complaints, and that if they can write their way out of a complaint, they will. Kathleen has “J.D.” listed after her name, so she has some education in the law. However, this background hasn’t made her an unbiased decision maker. She once sent me a Letter of Inquiry for a complaint other than my own. After making her aware of the error, she refused to respond to me. After days of me emailing, VDOE responded and said it stood by its LOI. I begged her to look at the LOI before responding again. She did – and came back with an apology. I knew then that parents weren’t going to have a chance given her immediate response to being advised of an error was to believe herself to be in the right.

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