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Clearing Up Decertification Uncertainties

Wow, I can’t believe we only have twelve days left in the school year!  It seems like the time has flown so fast and that the time we have left is slipping away before me.  One thing I am definitely taking time to do in my classroom, however, is make sure that the four children who we are decertifying from our CTT class are prepared for their transition to middle school.  The decertification process itself is not complicated, but the decision TO decertify a student from special services and transitioning that student to full-time general education is more complex.  I’m going to share with you the “5 Ws + How” it works in my classroom and some thoughts on meeting your own students’ needs when special services are no longer necessary or appropriate.

WHO is eligible for decertification?

At the beginning of the school year, when my co-teacher and I were reviewing IEPs to determine class support we could provide and specific plans for students to meet their goals, we discussed how our ultimate goal for three of our highest-functioning students was to transition them out of a collaborative team teaching setting in middle school.  In New York City, where middle schools are often application-based rather than zoned, an IEP can impose some restrictions on what schools students attend.  Additionally, to best prepare students for high school and their adult life, it is important to provide them with as much support as they NEED, but still allow them to grow and stretch with LESS if possible. 

Over the course of the year, we monitored how ALL of our IEP students were doing with respect to their individual IEP goals, but also with respect to how they were faring behaviorally, socially, and academically relative to the rest of the class.  When it became clear that the three originally-identified students and one additional student were faring as well as or better than some of our general education students, we made the decision to start transitioning them out of special services.  It is important to keep looking at your assessment data… we were surprised by the performance by one of our students, but were happy to try to push him along as much as possible!

WHAT exactly are the criteria for decertification?

To identify special education students to decertify, just think of the criteria your general education students need to meet to be successful in the classroom.  If you find that your special education students are also meeting these (or could meet them with a little additional support), it may be in their interests to start the process.

WHERE do decertified students receive their support?

Decertification literally means moving a student from an environment in which they receive special education services of some sort to an environment in which these supports are withdrawn (or provided to a lesser degree for a year before being completely withdrawn).  Decertified students are no longer classified as ‘special education’ and thus receive all of their classes in the regular education setting. 

WHEN should you start thinking about decertifying?

The short answer to me is… ALWAYS!  Special education students should be educated in the Least Restrictive Environment possible to ensure their full access to the general education curriculum.  Therefore, I try to continually assess my students and determine if they are in the most appropriate setting to ensure this access without over-placing them. 

It can be tricky to consider the appropriate placement of students whose academic deficit occurs in only one subject area; for example, this year, I had several students who were performing above grade-level in math (with testing accommodations) but far below in reading (not an uncommon pattern for students with speech and language disabilities).  My thoughts are that it might be worth trying to see if a special education student can access the general education curriculum in a regular classroom with AIS support if all CTT and/or SETSS (resource room) goals are being met; if not, this is probably not an appropriate option due to the specialized nature of reading instruction, especially in upper-grades special education settings.  It might also be an option to ‘mainstream’ students for certain subjects but not others if your school’s program has a departmentalized option.  For example, a student might attend a general education science and social studies classroom but receive collaborative team-teaching services for ELA and math.

WHY should you think about decertifying?

Decertifying students from special education, while not to be taken lightly, seems to me to sort of be the ultimate goal of the process.  We provide students with the appropriate supports and accommodations to help them reach their academic potential and then gradually withdraw the support in the hopes that the student can function independently. 

HOW do you decertify your special education students?

Mechanically, decertification is usually a simple process involving an IEP team meeting and a Type III (change of setting) form, which is a one-page document explaining the suggested change and justification for it.  Your School-Based Support Team should have the necessary information for any paperwork required by your district to decertify students. 

Parents play an integral part in planning for and managing the program of students with special needs.  I try to discuss any goals around decertification with parents as soon as possible in the school year so they can help to track and monitor their child’s emotional readiness at home as well as pick up on any signals in one direction or the other that may not manifest so readily in the classroom.

Decertification is a carefully-considered decision, but sometimes even the most planned and anticipated change winds up not working for a student.  Generally, within the one-year ‘grace period’ in which a student is still eligible to receive special supports such as counseling, speech and occupational therapy, physical therapy, or specialized behavior supports, it is fairly simple to re-implement a student’s IEP with a more restrictive setting.  Conversely, if a student requires more support after a year is up, a facilitated re-evaluation may take place in which a student can receive placement (and thus special education support services) more readily than first-time evaluees.  For a great website dedicated to advocating for children with special needs and their description of the continuum of services available to them, please check out Advocates for Children's website

I am always excited at the opportunity to decertify a student because it really represents the attainment of IEP goals and the sum of many years and many committed individuals’ hard work.

How do you approach decertification with your students?  Please post any questions or comments here, and I look forward to chatting with you again next week for one final farewell!

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Strategies for Special Education & Inclusion Classrooms are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.