Special Education & Paper Work

Posted: April 1, 2017 12:00:00 AM CDT

I should say right off the bat, I am not a special education teacher, however, like most educators I have worked closely with special education throughout my career and have a great deal of respect for those teachers. In my dealings with special education, it has been my observation that an unwarranted amount of paper work is required by federal regulation. I decided to do a bit of exploring to see if this was true. Here’s what I found out:

While I speculated that paperwork was a problem, I was surprised to find that special educators spend more time on paperwork than grading papers, communicating with parents, working collaboratively with colleagues, overseeing paraprofessionals, and attending IEP meetings combined! Is this appropriate? Perhaps most alarming, they spend as much time doing paperwork as they do preparing their daily lesson plans.

After a while it begins to looks like paper work, undermines teaching. Unfortunately, the research supports that premise: 53 percent of elementary and secondary special education teachers report that routine duties and paperwork interfere with their job of teaching to a great extent. There is a bit of good news on the pre-school front, only 39 percent of preschool special education teachers report that paperwork interferes to a great extent.

It is interesting to note that more than one source, after controlling for many other working conditions, paperwork emerged as significant in the manageability of special education teachers’ jobs and their decision to leave the profession. I decided to go to the experts in the field and ask two questions? Do they feel there is too much paper work? If so, what do they recommend?

Dr. Brian Wojcik, EdD, ATP Special Education

"Ultimately, this issue is about achieving a balance between our primary  responsibility (i.e., providing specialized individual instruction to students with disabilities to meet their unique learning needs) and the responsibility of the educational system to ensure that the learning needs of students with disabilities are met.  The paperwork that Special Education Teachers are obligated to complete provides procedural safeguards that increase the probability that students with disabilities are not marginalized and receive a free and appropriate public education.  However, when the paperwork is at such a quantity that teachers are unable to fulfill their primary responsibility, it becomes problematic for all involved – especially the students.  To solve this issue would take a fundamental shift in educational practices and culture.  The walls between (a) the education that most children receive and (b) Special Education needs to become flexible and easier to cross.  A core value of education needs to be that ALL students receive an appropriate education - regardless of eligibility - with procedures in place to ensure this happens.  Special Education, as an entity, needs to move from a service that is behind an eligibility gateway to a service that responds to both intermittent and ongoing learning needs of any student by providing specific instruction at intensities that are sufficient to address students’ unique learning needs.  Sahlberg (2012) notes that in Finland (a country that has highly ranked educational system), for example, approximately 60 percent of students will have received Special Education services by the time they have graduated from school.  That is because the criteria to receive such services is based upon the individual learning needs of any student at any time within his/her educational journey.  Students flex in and out of Special Education to receive specific and intensive instruction to make progress in their learning.  Some students receive more services than others but it is based on the individual student’s needs.  We have movements in the United States that are moving in this direction such as Universal Design for Learning and Personalized Learning.  However, until we are at a point where we universally value meeting the needs of all students and have designed education practices accordingly, the need for paperwork to ensure procedural safeguards are met for an appropriate education for students with disabilities will be needed.  "

Dr. Brian Wojcik, EdD, ATP Special Education

"The enormous amount of paperwork required by Special Educators takes valuable time away from student contact and accommodation preparation. I believe that IEP days may be a solution to the issue. Essentially, Special Education teachers are given two paid days in the beginning of the school year to prepare all IEPs for students with disabilities. Then IEP meetings are held on one or two days when all teachers are required to do nothing more than attend the meetings of students who will be in their classes that year. We get a better turnout of general education teachers, accommodations for classroom are discussed and agreed upon in the very beginning of the school year, and IEP meetings do not need to be held any more throughout the year. This frees up special education teachers to focus more on student contact and accommodations throughout the school year."

Mrs. Bailey Koch, M.A.Ed. Special Education

Christine Fisher

"As many people in the educational environment know, special education teachers and related services staff have lots of paperwork to complete on each student with exceptional needs.  While as a special education teacher and then department chair at a local Central Nebraska High School, I found that yes there is lots of paperwork, however, each student with special needs must have the correct paperwork completed on them so that they receive the most appropriate services and education to be successful in the classroom.  The paperwork is what also protects not only the student but the school district as well.  There are many things a school district can do to minimize the stress of special education paperwork.  Here are samples of actions that can help special education teachers:

  • Sponsoring monthly special education staff development activities on pertinent topics

  • Providing access to and funding for special education teachers to attend staff development activities that are sponsored by organizations outside of the district

  • Assigning each school with a contact person in the district office with whom to collaborate and consult about difficult or litigious IEP meetings, and having the contact person attend those meetings

  • Providing entry-level teachers with "rookie support" meetings that focus on strategies for managing paperwork, caseloads, and classrooms; IEP do's and don'ts; collaboration skills with general educators; communication with parents; working with paraprofessionals; and so forth

  • Providing adequate classroom staff support and necessary resources

  • Communicating a willingness to provide emotional support by promoting an open-door policy at the district level

  • Facilitating access to a mentor

Since school districts are being more attentive and streamlining SPED paperwork, teachers and staff can focus on students with special needs and assess and then differentiate to allow for success in the classroom.  Currently, United States schools have a world-class system for differentiating instruction for all students, regardless of cognitive, emotional or physical limitations.  This is something that all teachers in the U.S. should be proud of."

Cristine Fisher, M.A.ED. Special Education

Cami West

"I do feel that there is a lot of required paperwork in the field of special education; however, I do feel that it is all necessary to protect the child, the teachers, and the school. As I reflect on my years in special education though, I do feel that the paperwork became much more streamlined when Nebraska implemented the SRS (Student Record System). Prior to this we did everything by hand, we filled out all new IEP paperwork each year and MDT reports were hand written…everything was done with paper and pen. With the implementation of the SRS, it is much more efficient to duplicate forms and then update the data/information that changed."

Camie West, M.A. Special Education

By: Sheryl Feinstein

Category: Education

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