It’s about half-way through the school year, and your child is struggling academically. As a parent, it’s hard to see your child struggle and to figure out what your options are to promote success. Here are some suggestions to get you started.
Talk to your child’s teacher about your concerns
Sometimes certain grades or certain subjects cause children to have a hard time. For example, third grade is a pivotal year where children are encouraged to be more independent and responsible for their work. In third grade, children also transition from learning to read to reading to learn. So, even if your child is struggling for the first time, it might not be unusual from the teacher's perspective. That's why it's important to ask some questions.
- Is this academic struggle a new issue?
- Are the struggles related to a specific unit?
- Are other children in the class struggling as well?
- Does your child stand out as struggling more than other students?
Keep in mind that teachers are very busy and do not have time during the day for this type of conversation. Email or call your child’s teacher to set up a specific time to talk about your concerns.
Ask what services are available for assistance
As children go through their school career, there are times that school will be difficult for them. For some children, school just doesn’t come easily for them and they need to put forth extra effort. There is a lot of research out right now about interventions that are most successful in the regular education classroom with their peers, perhaps in a small group. Most schools have time set aside in their daily schedule for any child who needs intervention time in either reading or math in a small group setting.
There are also some effective computer programs that students can access on their own to improve their skills. Talk to your school’s building intervention team to find out if our child is getting some intervention time in the classroom or if there is a need to add intervention time to their school day.
Consider a special education referral
A referral for a special education evaluation is a big deal and a decision that should be made with your school team after all other intervention options have been considered. This process is to assist children with a disability (long-standing educational difficulties), and the school must follow specific guidelines and rules when diagnosing a disability. You can read about the categories of educational disabilities and the criteria to qualify as having a disability on the Wisconsin Department of Public Education website: dpi.wi.gov/sped/laws-procedures-bulletins/laws/eligibility
A special education referral and evaluation is not a quick fix and is a time-consuming process. Also, if the data does not support that your child has a disability as defined by the educational laws, then this process has ended.
The intent of a special education referral is to identify students with a disability and to provide services to address that specific disability for their school career. The intent is not to brainstorm interventions for regular education students. I find that this belief and distinction is a common source of misconception and frustration for all involved.
Making a good match between the problem and the intervention is the key to success for all involved.
Tracy Christman is a psychologist with Milwaukee Public Schools and the mom of two boys.