Educational Evaluations and Accommodations

The recent college admissions scandal revealed how some individuals took advantage of the extra time accommodation on the SAT and ACT exams meant for students with certain disabilities. By doing so, they cast doubt on the necessity and importance of such accommodations and, ultimately, hurt the students who truly need them.

Since 1981 Learning Associates has conducted comprehensive educational evaluations. Like the majority of educational consultants, our testing is honest, objective, and unbiased. The families who bring their children to us are not trying to “game the system”, but rather determine why they struggle academically. We do not start with a pre-determined diagnosis and then test to support it.

Our evaluation process begins with an interview with the student and parent. We collect information to understand the child’s academic, social/emotional, and medical history. We review report cards and standardized test results in addition to any previous relevant testing. Each evaluation consists of 8 to 9 hours of testing over several sessions. The test findings and data are explained in a detailed report which includes specific recommendations to be implemented at home and in school. If accommodations are appropriate based on the testing, they will also be outlined in the report. Although the extra time accommodation has been in the recent news cycle, it is only one of many accommodations available to students. Other accommodations can include assistive technology, alternative teaching methods, and study strategies. Our evaluations also identify suitable educational programs and materials.

As a society, we have made significant progress in raising awareness and removing the stigma historically associated with learning disabilities and mental illness. Students are less likely to feel ashamed to say they have dyslexia, ADHD, anxiety, or depression. We encourage our older clients to attend the post-testing conferences, so we can explain their strengths and weaknesses and provide them with the tools they need to advocate for themselves.

School Placement Opportunities for Fall 2019

Many families believe that the window for school placement for Fall 2019 has passed. However, some day and boarding schools will continue to have openings throughout the summer due to attrition and “summer melt.” To keep up with these trends and to stay in touch with Admission Directors and other admission office staff, Holly attends campus tours and conferences such as the recent Admissions Leadership Council seminar sponsored by the Enrollment Management Association.

If your child is not thriving in their current school or you think they may benefit from a different environment, Holly can help you explore the available options for Fall 2019. She can guide you through the application requirements and details, including essays and interviews.

 

IECA Spring Conference

On May 8th and 9th, Larry was the moderator or panelist for three breakout workshops at the semi-annual National Conference of the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) conference in Chicago:

“The Cloudy Future of Standardized Testing” focused on the serious questions around the validity of standardized testing to predict success equally among disparate student populations. While some colleges perceive there to be a need for standardized tests, test optional schools are recognzing the established fact that student success is equal among those who submit test scores and those who don’t. Panelists including Robert Schaeffer (Public Education Director of FairTest), Jon Boeckenstedt (Vice President of Enrollment of DePaul University), Andy Borst (Director of Undergraduate Admissions of University of Illinois – Urbana/Champaign), and Matt Niksch (Chief College Counselor of Noble Network of Charter Schools) shared their perspectives in this timely and important discussion.

In the College Committee Session “College Use of Customer Relationship Manager Tools in Enrollment and Admissions”, Larry and fellow moderator, Marilyn O’Toole, examined the use of technology and data collection in college admissions. Panelists Eric Range (Element 451), Ben Kavanaugh (Bucknell University), Lauren Sefton (Rhodes College), Mike Borovsky (Purdue University), and Darryl Jones (Gettysburg College) discussed how this data is collected and used by college admissions offices as well as how this impacts all stakeholders in the overall admissions process.

The workshop “Is This a Good College? The Power of Rhetoric in College Counseling” explored the power of semantics as well as verbal and non-verbal communication in college admissions. Consultants Jennie Kent and Nicole Oringer joined Larry in this presentation in which they incorporated “both sides of the desk” – the admissions side and the college counseling side

Larry is very grateful to all the workshop panelists as well as the consultants who attended these sessions. He appreciates all of the positive feedback he has received.

Private Day and Boarding School Applications

Parents often ask us, “When should we start the application process for private school?” For a variety of reasons, we believe the earlier, the better. Rather than waiting until applications go live in the fall, we encourage families to begin in the spring and summer to allow for advance planning and identifying the best use of their child’s summer time when schedules tend to be less busy.

Holly has begun meeting with families of 7th graders applying for private day and boarding schools for high school in Fall 2020. She uses this time to get to know the students and their profiles and to develop preliminary school lists. Some families have already started visiting prospective schools. Throughout the coming months, Holly will continue to work with them focusing on interview skills, fine-tuning school lists, and mapping out the paperwork and testing deadlines. By the time the application cycle officially begins, these students will be well positioned to complete and submit their applications.

 

The Importance of Advocacy

“Now that I have the evaluation results, how do I make sure that the teacher and school will work with me to meet my child’s needs?”

Parents often need guidance in navigating the possible special services programs and processes once a child’s learning challenges have been identified. At Learning Associates, we recognize that effective educational advocacy is just as important as the evaluation itself.  As a Learning Disabilities Teacher-Consultant and former teacher, Holly is uniquely qualified to partner with families on behalf of their children. In meetings with child study teams and teachers, Holly explains the results of testing, discusses the implications of those results, and advocates for our educational recommendations. She can attend 504 Committee and Child Study Team meetings along with parents to secure appropriate programs and services. This collaboration increases effectiveness.

Some situations require legal advocacy. When an education attorney is required, Holly can make recommendations and work alongside counsel.

For more information on special education advocacy, see https://u.org/2E4u8I0.

Learning Disabilities and the Impact on Families

When children have learning disabilities, the impact can extend far beyond the classroom. Often these students and their families also experience significant amounts of stress and anxiety due to the academic struggles. As a result, the family dynamic can suffer. However, most of the research and remediation focuses only on the learning challenges.

After seeing at least half of her clients get upset when receiving feedback from their child’s learning evaluation, Dr. Deborah Waber, neuropsychologist and Learning Disabilities program director at Boston Children’s Hospital, realized that the impact on families is not fully appreciated or addressed. She and her colleagues developed a survey to screen for quality of life problems stemming from learning disabilities. Questions address anxiety, frustration, and the effect on family activity. For more information on their findings, see https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/06/180628120039.htm.

At Learning Associates, we look at more than academic records in our evaluations. We ask clients to share information about their child’s self-image, attitude toward school, and relationships with peers. Families are given Conners rating scales to screen for attention, behavioral, social, and emotional issues. This holistic approach allows us to truly understand each child and make appropriate recommendations. We also make referrals to other professionals when necessary. Our advocacy work is designed to reduce the stress on the family by getting the proper support services in school.

Self-advocacy

When students participate in the formulation and modification of their special education programs, they are empowered. Of course, this wouldn’t be appropriate for very young children, but older children can add valuable input to these discussions while also learning important skills.

At Learning Associates, we encourage older children to attend the post-evaluation conference along with their parents. In doing so, we promote self-advocacy by teaching the students about their individual strengths and needs. Hearing this information directly from the professionals who assessed them makes the student a stakeholder in this process and also allows them to ask questions and provide feedback. It also empowers these students once they return to the classroom. They have a better understanding of what they need and are better able to communicate these needs. These valuable skills transcend the classroom and will also benefit them in the workforce and life in general.

In a report on fostering self-advocacy and self-determination, the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) offers specific steps that educators, policy makers, and communities can take to empower students with learning challenges. For more information, please go to: https://www.edutopia.org/article/prioritizing-agency-students-disabilities.

 

What Happens to Autistic Students Once They Graduate?

Much of what we hear about autism relates to younger children and teens. Educators, parents, and advocates have worked to raise awareness and make elementary school, high school, and some colleges accessible to autistic students. Programs and supports within schools have been developed to serve these students who tend to achieve academically, but struggle with social skills.

But, what happens once they graduate? In recent years, this question has become a focus of educators, private companies, non-for-profit groups, and public agencies. Their partnerships and collective funding have created programs to increase employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities. Fortunately, employers have begun to understand both the value and needs of autistic people in the workplace.

Microsoft has been at the forefront of this initiative from its direct Autism Hiring Program to its Autism Empowerment Kit, which provides employers with recommendations and resources for providing support and accommodations in the workplace. Most recently, Microsoft has partnered with University of Illinois to create the Accessibility Lighthouse Program to provide a pathway for autistic students to pursue careers in the STEM (science, technology, math, and engineering) fields. Social skills training will be designed to teach students how to apply for jobs and prepare for interviews. The University will also build a digitally accessible classroom using Microsoft tools. For more information on the Accessibility Lighthouse Program, see https://cs.illinois.edu/news/microsoft-and-university-illinois-launch-accessibility-lighthouse-program.

For more additional information and resources:

www.autismspeaks.org

www.ncld.org

https://workplaceinitiative.org/

Twice Exceptional Students

Most people are not familiar with “twice exceptional students” who have superior abilities in some academic areas and learning difficulties in others. The concepts of “gifted” and “learning disabled” are often viewed as mutually exclusive. Thus, this group of students can be very difficult to identify and serve properly.

This is how the National Education Association has described “The Twice Exceptional Dilemma”:

Students who are gifted and disabled are at risk for not achieving their potential because of the relationship that exists between their enhanced cognitive abilities and their disabilities. They are among the most frequently under-identified population in our schools. Twice-exceptional students present a unique identification and service delivery dilemma for educators. Often educators, parents, and students are asked to choose between services to address one exceptionality or the other, leaving twice-exceptional students both under-identified and underserved in our schools.

These students tend to fall into three categories:

  1. Students identified as Gifted who demonstrate high intellectual ability and potential. When they do struggle, they can be seen as underachieving or lazy; however, an undiagnosed learning disability is often the cause of their poor performance. This can result in behavior problems and frustration.
  2. Students identified as Learning Disabled where the focus is placed primarily on what they can’t do. Learning challenges overshadow strengths, so the gifts are not explored or addressed in academic services. These students may end up bored in special education classes and act out as a result.
  3. Unidentified students who appear average and tend to work at grade level. Their abilities and disabilities mask each other so they are not screened for special services. They tend to stay in general education classes which don’t address their learning strengths or deficits.

Twice exceptional students are difficult to identify because their intelligence can enable them to compensate for their disabilities. However, their disabilities hinder their achievement and performance. Many are not identified until high school, if at all. Gifted students with learning disabilities may perform at average levels which can obscure the need for either specialized service. Without proper identification and services, they cannot reach their full potential.

Once identified, twice-exceptional students need programs and instruction to address both of their exceptions. According to the National Education Association, “The ideal fit for a twice-exceptional student and his or her educational environment is one where both the student’s giftedness and disability are evenly accounted for through appropriate education and services.”

Throughout my career in education, I have worked with twice exceptional students in different capacities. I have evaluated these students to identify their individual strengths and weaknesses. I have advocated for the unique services needed by these students and have provided school placement guidance. My work as an IECA member has also involved workshops and presentations on twice exceptional students. In addition, I have made presentations to the New Jersey Association of Independent Schools (NJAIS), Westfield Parent-Teacher Council, and Delbarton School on this student population. For more information, please contact my office. Resources for parents can also be found at www.understood.org.

College Acceptances 2017-2018

College acceptance season is always a time of celebration at Learning Associates and this year is no exception. After many months of hard work, test-taking, meetings, writing and re-writing essays, our clients are finally able to enjoy the rewards of their labor. It is with enormous pride that we share this list of acceptances with you:

University of Aberdeen, American University, Amherst College, University of Arizona, Auburn University, Bard College, Bennington College, Bentley University, Boston College, Boston University, Bowling Green State University, Bryant University, Bucknell University, Butler University, California Institute of Technology, Carleton College, Carnegie Mellon University, Case Western University, Cazenovia College, Centenary College, University of Chicago, Clark University, Clemson University, Coastal Carolina University, College of Charleston, College of Holy Cross, College of William and Mary, Colgate University, Colorado College, University of Colorado, Columbia College – Chicago, Columbia University, Connecticut College, University of Connecticut, Cornell University, Curry College, Dean College, University of Delaware, Denison University, University of Denver, Dickinson College, Drexel University, Duke University, Duquesne University, University of Dundee, Eckerd College, Endicott College, Fairfield University, Fairleigh Dickinson University, Fordham University, Furman University, George Washington University, Georgetown University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Gettysburg College, Goucher College, Green Mountain College, Grinnell College, Hamilton College, University of Hartford, High Point University, Hobart William Smith Colleges, Iona College, Ithaca College, James Madison University,  Johnson & Wales University, Kalamazoo College, Kenyon College, Lafayette College, Lehigh University, Loyola University Maryland, Lynn University, Marist College, University of Maryland, Marymount Manhattan College, University of Mary Washington, University of Massachusetts, McDaniel College, McGill University, Miami University of Ohio, University of Miami, Michigan State University, University of Michigan, Middlebury College, Mitchell College, University of Minnesota, Mitchell College, Monmouth University, Moravian College, University of New Hampshire, College of New Jersey, New York University, Northeastern University, University of Notre Dame, Oberlin College, Pennsylvania State University, Plymouth State University, University of Pittsburgh, Pratt Institute, Princeton University, Providence College, Quinnipiac University, Ramapo College of New Jersey, Reed College, Rice University, University of Richmond, Roanoke College, University of Rochester, Rutgers University, University of Scranton, Seton Hall University, University of South Carolina, Southern Methodist University, University of St. Andrews, St. John’s University, St. Lawrence University, Stonehill College, SUNY Albany, SUNY Binghamton, Susquehanna University, Swarthmore College, Syracuse University, University of Pennsylvania, University of Vermont, University of Tampa, Temple University, University of Texas, Tufts University, Tulane University, United States Military Academy, Ursinus College, Villanova University, University of Virginia, Wake Forest University, Warren Wilson College, Washington & Jefferson College, Wentworth Institute of Technology, Wesleyan University, University of Washington, Western New England University, University of Wisconsin, Wittenberg University, and Yale University.