3 signs that team may need to reevaluate student’s assistive technology needs

When parents told their son’s Individualized Education Program team that he was using an iPad at home, that information coupled with the student’s lack of progress using low-tech communication supports should have spurred the district to conduct an assistive technology assessment.

Instead, the district failed to evaluate the student for several months and didn’t offer a device that met the student’s needs until a year later, according to the ALJ in Newport-Mesa Unified School District, 11 ECLPR 55 (SEA CA 2013).

This case eventually landed in front of the Supreme Court this year, which vacated and remanded it to the 9th Circuit to determine whether the district denied the student FAPE in light of the Court’s ruling in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District RE-1, 69 IDELR 174 (2017). E.F. v. Newport Mesa Unified School District, 117 LRP 42131 , No. 16-1533 (U.S. 10/02/17). The 9th Circuit will likely revisit its earlier reasoning that the student made “some progress” toward his speech and language goals using nonelectric AT devices.

Endrew F. reinforces the importance of measuring progress, said Monica Batanero, a school attorney with School and College Legal Services of California. “Progress on goals is one of the most important things an IEP team does because it helps us determine if we keep this child on track or if we need to evaluate other services to support him,” she said.

If a student is receiving AT supports but not making the level of progress required, then the student’s team may need to consider an AT assessment, Batanero said.

Three things — the student, his environment, or the tasks required of the student — may have changed since the team first considered AT, said Fred Tchang, assistive technology director at the Assistive Technology Center in New Jersey. These are part of the SETT framework, which stands for student, environment, tasks, and technology/tools, he added.

Review these signs below:

• The student has changed. As a student ages, her abilities can change affecting her current AT needs, Tchang said. A student might become more technologically savvy or outgrow a device, he said. “For a student with communication issues, perhaps they had a system with a few choices to start out with and now their vocabulary has grown and their ability to understand a larger array of choices has grown and they need a new system that can accommodate that growth,” he said.

The student’s disability can also progress or regress over time, making it necessary to reevaluate whether the student’s current AT is meeting his needs, Tchang said. For example, a student with a progressive illness who was using a computer with a keyboard could lose the ability to type or become tired more quickly as his disability progresses, he said.

• The environment has changed. A new school, new classroom, or different teachers can change the student’s environment enough that his current tools are no longer appropriate, Tchang said. “In one classroom, students might be heavily using one type of technology, but in the next, the teacher isn’t familiar with that,” he said. The first step might be to train the teacher, but the team may also decide to reevaluate the tools the student is currently using to see if technology available in the new environment could meet his needs, Tchang said.

Teams sometimes go through a hierarchy of what’s “simplest,” Tchang said. “What’s simplest is not always what’s low tech,” he added. For instance, if a parent reports that a student is successfully using a device at home, the team might consider that device at school because the student and others in the student’s environment are already familiar with it, he said. On the other hand, if a school is using Chromebooks, the team might consider whether the same device that other students are using could meet this student’s disability-related needs, he said.

• The tasks required of the student have changed. The tasks or demands required of the student change over time and may require new tools to help the student accomplish those tasks, Tchang said. “That usually goes along with the student’s growth as they age,” he said. A student might be able to write a few words or sentences in kindergarten, but then, as the student is required to write longer sentences and paragraphs in second or third grade, the team may need to assess whether the student’s writing tools can help the student accomplish the task.

Jennifer Herseim covers Section 504 and education technology as it relates to special education for LRP Publications.

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