Dear Teen Parenting Coach

Q: How Can We Hold the School Accountable for Following My Child’s 504 Plan?

Teachers don’t always return emails or calls from parents, and children may not be well-versed on their own accommodations. When grades start to falter, here’s how parents can be sure the IEP or 504 plan is being followed — even when lines of communication are murky.

Q: “My child’s grades are slipping in one subject: math. This has always been a challenging subject for testing; he seems to understand the information on homework, but falls apart on tests. How can I tell if the teacher is following his 504 plan accommodations, especially if she won’t return emails or phone calls? Also, what type of specialist could help my son test better in math? We seem to have limited resources in our area, and tutors have not been a help.”

You bring up a good point and one that plagues many parents: Once a 504 Plan is developed, how do parents ensure that it’s being implemented? As a parent, you are your child’s first and forever advocate, but how can you advocate at all times and at all places?

From afar, it is difficult to pinpoint what is happening with your son, but there are strategies you can employ to get a better and clearer sense. Since his grades are slipping, I would recommend requesting a School Support Team (SST) meeting. This is a chance for you to sit around the table with his teachers, an administrator, and whomever directs the ESE program at your school. Come prepared by requesting data in advance of the meeting. Tell the school that, prior to the meeting, you would like to review all academic ongoing progress monitoring data including — but not limited to — grades, computerized program data, and weekly skills tests. If your son is receiving interventions (Tier 2 or Tier 3) to address his poor performance, ask to review that data as well.

[Quiz: Do You Know the Law on 504s and IEPs?]

Once you are at the meeting, ask poignant and specific questions to your son’s teachers about which accommodations are working best in the classroom. The teachers’ responses will clue you in to how versed they are about his accommodations and the 504 Plan in general. When you ask questions, make sure not to sound on the offensive, because then the teachers will respond on the defensive. You don’t want that, you want them to open up to you and tell you more. This is one of the best ways to see what’s really going on in the classroom.

The 504 Plan is designed to provide students with disabilities equal access to the general education curriculum. If your son’s grades are declining, then clearly the 504 Plan is ineffective. You could remind the school-based team that 504 Plans are not limited to JUST accommodations, but can offer services to meet the unique needs of the student. Perhaps it needs to add mathematics intervention a few times a week until the grade comes up again. Hold the school accountable!

The second part of your question relates to what you can do to better support your child’s math progress after school hours. Tutoring rarely works when a student with a disability has large gaps. Not only does your son need to be retaught foundational skills, but he also needs a professional who understands his disability and his learning style.

Most teachers don’t have training in specific disabilities; they work from a tutoring model versus a remediation model. I would recommend the latter to you. Tutoring is more of a Band-Aid approach to a wound; remediation is deep healing. Look for an individual who has a masters degree In Special Education — or an education remediation center. There is also an excellent program online called Gemm Learning, if math fluency is a struggle.

[Free Resource: Sample 504 Plan]

Before finding the right provider, get to the heart of your son’s math struggles. If his failing grades are caused more by distractibility or anxiety than by difficulty understanding mathematical concepts, then you might want to invest in cognitive behavioral therapy to assist your son in developing coping skills to manage the distractibility/anxiety.

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The opinions and suggestions presented above are intended for your general knowledge only and are not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your own or your child’s condition.