In November 2016 I had the opportunity to meet with Marie on a Sunday afternoon by video chat. Marie works as an early childhood special education teacher for the public school system in Fredericksburg, Virginia. She was not comfortable with the idea of video or audio taping the interview, so her answers were captured in handwritten notes. Marie was concerned that confidentiality and privacy of her students and parents could be compromised if the interview were taped (Marie S., personal communication, November 6, 2016). Her official title is Special Education Teacher, and she works with children who are aged four and five years old (Marie S., personal communication, November 6, 2016). Questions and answers
Q1. Is diagnostic testing an important part of your job duties, and what sort of diagnostic testing do you do with the children?
A1. Marie described two types of diagnostic testing which was conducted. The first was at intake, which involves a full needs assessment and teaching accommodation plan for the student with special needs. The second aspect, which was part of her duties, was the ongoing testing which was identified in the accommodation plan in order to monitor the progress of the student. Diagnostic tests for evaluation to be used were typically defined at intake and included in the plan, and these included the Preschool Development Inventory (PDI). She described this testing as being very important to the specific age group that she worked with, as it played a part in determining whether the student would be in a regular integrated classroom when they began Grade One or whether they would continue in the Special Education program at the school.
Q2. What training and education do you have that prepared you for this role?
A2. Marie’s training includes a Bachelor’s degree in Education and an Education Specialist Credential in Early Childhood Special Education (Marie S., personal communication, November 6, 2016). As part of her undergraduate education Marie took various courses which helped to prepare her for her role and her specialty, including courses in developmental psychology and early education practices.
Q3. What instruments, tools and methods are used for diagnostic and developmental screening?
A4. Many different instruments, tools and methods are used for diagnostic and developmental screening. Some are more informal, such as the Ounce method, while others are specified to be completed at certain times in the education plan for that child.
Q4. With regard to diagnostic and developmental testing of your students, which parts are the most challenging?
A4. Marie describes the most challenging aspect of conducting the diagnostic testing as being knowledgeable about the different tests, how to properly conduct them and score them, and how the testing fits in to the bigger education plan for that student.
Q5. With regard to diagnostic and developmental testing of your students, which parts are the most rewarding?
A5. Marie described the most rewarding aspect of diagnostic testing to be the quantification of progress based on hard work, both hers and the students.
Q6. What communication do you have with parents and caregivers regarding the development of your students, and what important information do such questions provide?
A6. Marie described that children often had very different behaviors at home than they did at school. In some cases they showed capacities in the classroom that their families were not aware of, and in other cases the children were showed capacities at home that they did not display at school. By asking parents questions about a child’s communication, how they respond to stress, and their interests Marie felt that she is in a better position to not only understand the child’s needs and potential, but to have a better rapport with the caregivers or parents. Marie also added that many of the screening and testing instruments are also completed by the parents and caregivers as part of the education plan for their child.
Q7. Are additional supports and accommodations required for children who come from families with diverse cultural and language backgrounds?
Q7. Marie described certain challenges for children from diverse families with regard to testing and diagnostics, particularly if their language at home was not English. These children are still very young, and they have often not had very much exposure to the English language. While children who come from Spanish speaking households are supported by a bilingual special education consultant, it is more difficult for children who come from homes which speak Asian or Eastern European languages for which the school does not have access to supports. In some cases a parent is able to serve as a translator, and in other cases tests which do not focus on the use of language must be chosen based on the circumstances.
Q8. Could you describe the accommodations that you have had to make for a specific case, in order to provide an example?
Q8. Marie says many education plans for accommodation are very unique and based on the specific situation of a child. She described a child who was receiving cancer treatment at the age of four. The cancer had affected the brain and one eye of the child, and that eye had been removed. Apart from the time which was needed for treatment and the loss of sight represented by the one eye, the child was able to keep up with most developmental milestones for their age. There were many accommodations, however, which were needed in order to maintain that progress. One was the fact that the child suffered from considerable anxiety and lacked many social skills that would otherwise have been learned through play or exposure to other children in a preschool or school setting. While the child had few problems with traditional readiness to learn milestones in terms of reading and numbers, the child needed considerable supports to deal with more psychologically based issues. This included techniques to calm the child as well as training for the child to assist with coping skills.
Q9. Would you recommend Early Childhood Special Education as a career?
A9. Marie said that she would recommend Early Childhood Special Education as a career for individuals who loved children and teaching, and were willing to spend the long hours of study and practical skill building needed in order to gain the necessary experience to do the job. Further, she said that persons who worked in this position had to be ready to work as a team, as other professionals were involved in diagnostic testing at intake, or were involved in other ways such as social workers.
Q10. Is there anything that you would like to add to help me understand your role, and the importance of diagnostic and developmental testing of young children?
A10. Marie indicated that working closely with caregivers was important to the diagnostic testing of young children in the special education stream, as well as to ensure the best possible preparation for the student’s formal schooling years. She described that many tests, such as Parents’ Evaluations of Developmental Status (PEDS), were important to the overall shape of the education plan for a child and provided important information for educators. She stated that learning to work with parents to meet shared objectives was a very important aspect of the role.
Marie clearly loves her job and working with children with special needs. She likes to be able to give each child the specific attention that is required in order to ensure that they can make the optimal progress possible given the constraints and obstacles that they face. She reinforced that certain skills were important to the position, in particular being able to communicate effectively with parents, following guidelines and education plans, and working with the child towards optimal outcomes.
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