• Way to go TEAM!

    Posted by Angie Balsley on 5/11/2018 7:00:00 AM

    This, our final publication of the Earlywood Special Edition this year, is a time to reflect on the work and commitment of our team in service to our students. When I say “team,” I am not referring only to those staff employed by Earlywood. The teams that wrap around students in our member districts also include fabulous teachers, dedicated administrators, phenomenal support staff, and incredible parents in addition to the therapists, teachers, and specialists employed by Earlywood. Our TEAM supports 2,245 kids with disabilities across our six member districts.

    Please take a brief pause during this hectic time of school year to step back and soak in the awesomeness of what we’ve accomplished for kids this year. Take a deep breath, put a wide smile on your face, and pat yourself on the back because YOU and the team you work with have done fantastic work for students!!! Thank you! You are appreciated!


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  • Council for Exceptional Children: An Exceptional Source of Evidence!

    Posted by Angie Balsley on 4/20/2018 7:00:00 AM

    With an increased attention on the specifically designed instruction as a component of an IEP, teachers will be looking for sources of evidence. There are many places to look such as the Earlywood website and Intervention Central. However, in this article, I want to share with you another exceptional source of evidence. The Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) has been a leading source of information and advocacy in special education for decades. CEC offers webinars on topics such as Executive Functioning Deficits: Evidence-Based Practices to Help All Learners Access the Core Curriculum and Behavioral Strategies to Promote Success for Students with Exceptionalities. CEC provides many tools to support educators including eBooks, podcasts, and the Special Education Today blog. You can also subscribe to CEC’s Tool of the Week. A recent Tool of the Week was entitled Making the Call which featured a free task analysis for assessing a student’s ability to perform the steps required to make an emergency call while in the community. Many resources on CEC’s website are free and open to the public. However, I highly encourage you to consider becoming a CEC member. A basic membership is just $65 per year.  Additionally, very exciting news for Hoosiers is that the International CEC Convention will be in Indianapolis in January 2019!!!! Now is the perfect time to become a CEC Member!


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  • Universal Design for Learning

    Posted by Angie Balsley on 4/6/2018 7:00:00 AM

    Teachers write effective IEP goals which include the specially designed instruction students will receive in order to achieve their goals. The instruction is then delivered to the students over the course of a year. The Indiana Office of Special Education’s Short Share on Instruction defines instruction as facilitating knowledge in a systematic way. Planning for the delivery of instruction to meet the diverse learning needs of students requires careful thought.  A research-based strategy to plan lessons to meet students’ unique learning needs is a Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework. UDL incorporates multiple and flexible means of engagement, representation, and response based on grade-level content standards. UDL enhances student engagement with the curriculum. Enhanced engagement also typically results in a reduction of negative student behaviors.

    Are you seeing the magic connections? This isn’t some new “fangle-dangle” buzz-word. Research on UDL has been conducted over many years (Bernacchio & Mullen, 2007; Edyburn, 2005;  Rose, 2000). UDL is also defined and endorsed within the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the nation’s general education K-12 law. To assist teachers in purposeful planning with the use of UDL, PATINS has created the UDL Lesson Creator Tool. Educators can learn more about the this tool and other UDL resources on PATINS UDL page.


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  • Writing Effective Goals

    Posted by Angie Balsley on 3/9/2018 7:00:00 AM

    Students’ goals are the heart of their individualized education plan. Writing meaningful, individualized, and measurable goals is an art, a science, and a cyclical process. Despite loads of practice and training, writing effective goals can still be challenging even for the most experienced educators. This article shares the basic recipe for writing effective goals, and concludes with additional resources teachers may find useful.

    Step one: The first step to writing a goal is to determine a student’s starting point or their present level of performance. This data is gathered from a variety of sources including the psychological report, benchmark and standardized assessments, classroom performance, observation, progress monitoring data from previous goals and interventions, and a variety of other available data such as attendance, discipline referrals, and health records. Combined, this information illuminates the student’s needs or lagging skills.

    Step two: The second step in writing a goal is to know where a student is going and what we expect him/her to be able to achieve after working on this goal for the next year. Nearly all students, including those with IEP’s, receive their core instruction in the general education classroom with the general education curriculum. Therefore IEP goals aren’t typically written for what we’d expect of a student in that same grade level without an IEP. Instead, IEP goals should be written to address the needs and lagging skills identified in step one. IEP goals are what’s special about special education. The IEP goal addresses what a student needs to be taught to make progress towards achieving grade-level content standards. This is why the goals are aligned with state standards.

    Step three: The third step in writing a goal is to address what is going to be provided to the student to master this goal and how it will be determined when the student has achieved the goal. This is where the art of goal writing comes into practice. Teachers must reach deep into their knowledge banks of effective practice to define the specially designed instruction that will be provided to the student in order to ensure that the student meets the goal.

    Step four: The fourth and final step in writing a goal is to precisely define how the goal will be measured. This is the science of goal writing and is a critically important part of writing an effective goal. Teachers must define how data will be collected and how the success of the student will be determined. Essentially, the teacher is writing her own goal-attainment rubric which defines the required task of progress monitoring. The data collected through progress monitoring provides new information for present levels of performance which will be utilized when crafting new goals for the student’s annual case conference. This is why the nature of IEP goal writing is considered a cyclical process.

    Simple recipe, right? The recipe is simple, yet the art and science of crafting effective goals remains challenging. To support teachers in this task, the Indiana IEP Resource Center has created a Goal Development Checklist and an accompanying  Goal Development Short Share Video. Additionally, the Earlywood Lending Library has these three books available for educators who want to refine their goal writing skills including  From Gobbledygook to Clearly Written Annual IEP Goals by B. Bateman, 800+ Measurable Goals & Objectives by C. Feyter, and Writing Measurable Goals and Objectives by B. Bateman & C. Herr. Consider borrowing them or purchasing your own copy as a handy desk reference.


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  • Specially Designed Instruction

    Posted by Angie Balsley on 2/23/2018 7:00:00 AM

    Have you ever paused to consider what’s “special” about special education? You may think that the IEP is special; and It is. You may think of components of a student’s IEP as being special; they are. However, the true “meat and potatoes” of special education comes in the form of the teaching and instruction we provide to students so that they are able to achieve their goals.

    Not long ago, IIEP was revised. The “needs box” was renamed as “specially designed instruction” within the program. This change prompted teachers to describe the specially designed instruction (SDI)  they will be providing to the student to meet each goal.


    Being prompted to describe the SDI while crafting a goal surprised many educators who thought that this was a new requirement within the law. Although the requirement to describe the SDI is newer, the provision of the law is not new. Article 7 (7-32-88) states that “specially designed instruction” means adapting, as appropriate to the needs of the student who is eligible for special education and related services, the content, methodology, or delivery of instruction to

    1. Address the unique needs of the student that result from the student’s disability; and
    2. Ensure the student’s access to the general education curriculum so the student can meet the educational standards… that apply to all students.

    Recently, the Indiana Department Office of Special Education released a guidance document entitled Spread The Word on Specifically Designed Instruction. Information included with the document defines what SDI is, and what it is not. It also provides an extensive, though not exhaustive, list of instructional practices and strategies used by teachers as examples of SDI. The communication concludes with a Q&A, resources, and references. I highly encourage you to review the document and consider the specially designed instruction you are providing for your students to enable them to meet their goals.


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  • Lending Libraries: A Source of Curricular Resources

    Posted by Angie Balsley on 2/9/2018 7:00:00 AM

    Curriculum is one of the key components that support outcomes for students. Students with disabilities must have access to core curriculum in order to achieve desired educational outcomes. The challenge faced by special education teachers is how to provide the access to curriculum for students with a wide variety of learning needs and styles. Many times the question of “how” to provide access can be answered with curricular resources such as assistive technology.

    There is such a wide-variety of assistive technology available that teachers can become overwhelmed at the thought of what to try. Once teachers do some research and find a tool they believe may be beneficial, they want to try out the tools with their students. Luckily our member districts have access to TWO free lending libraries! Both the Earlywood Lending Library and PATINS Lending Library are sources of free assistive technology tools to support student access to curriculum.

    The C-Pen Reader Pen featured below is one example of an item available through PATINS.

    I highly encourage teachers to take ten minutes and browse these free libraries to discover tools that will support access to curriculum for students.



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  • Collaboration

    Posted by Angie Balsley on 1/26/2018 7:00:00 AM

    Have you wondered about how we “deliver” on our vision? In this and future editions of the Earlywood Special Edition I will share how Earlywood Educational Services works to live our vision of Equity + Access = Outcomes.

    As you can see from the graphic representation, there are key components that support outcomes for students. One of those components is collaboration.  A way in which Earlywood collaborates with member districts is  through engagement in professional learning.

    Collaboration Our Professional Development Catalog highlights all of our planned opportunities throughout the school year. The trainings within the catalog were purposefully aligned to the IDOE model. The trainings this school year are a vehicle to enhance knowledge and skills in assessment, collaboration, curriculum, and instruction. Additionally, in order to meet the unique and diverse needs within our member districts, we also offer a large variety of trainings by request. Prefer a calendar view of upcoming professional learning opportunities? We have that too!

    We want to hear from you! Soon we’ll begin developing the 2018-19 Professional Development Catalog. Let us know your professional learning needs and how you would prefer to receive support. Email Angie (abalsley@earlywood.org) or Stephanie (slawless@earlywood.org).



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  • Earlywood's Strategic Plan

    Posted by Angie Balsley on 1/12/2018 7:00:00 AM

    Happy 2018 Colleagues! As we venture down fresh paths and commit to new habits in 2018, it is a good time to take a moment to reorient ourselves to the strategic goals of our organization. Earlywood’s Strategic Plan was adopted last fall. The plan includes four strategic goals. Please take a moment to review the goals and reflect on how you can bring this vision to life in your day to day actions.

    To hold high expectations for students & ourselves

    •         Demonstrate actions illuminating that children can and will achieve at high levels.
    •         Engage in professional discourse that challenges conventional thinking.

    To engage in practices driven by evidence & to make decisions based on data

    •         Cite evidence in communications and provide justification for decisions.
    •         Utilize data to make decisions about students, programs, and services.

    To provide leadership through professional development & communications

    •         Involve stakeholders in comprehensive professional development aligned to student needs.
    •         Facilitate Professional Learning Communities to guide practice.
    •         Deliver communications that share research and practical guidance.

    To collaborate with & be responsive to the needs of our member districts

    •         Understand the needs within the local schools.
    •         Create solutions through synergy.
    •         Build relationships with member district colleagues.

    Wishing you a wonderful New Year as you work diligently for equity, access, and outcomes for students!


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  • LRE & Continuum of Services

    Posted by Nikki Rankin on 12/8/2017 7:00:00 AM

    My goal in writing my articles for the Earlywood Special Edition this year is  to inform our readers of our vision as an organization. I’m defining our practice and articulating how it connects with evidence and the law in order to illustrate the big picture our our work.

    Continuum of Services In the past few articles, I’ve written about our evolving endeavors with a multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS) model. Having fluid options of resources and supports available to students and staff are essential to providing students a continuum of services in their least restrictive environment. Article 7 defines the least restrictive environment as educating students with disabilities, to the maximum extent appropriate, with students without disabilities. This is made possible through a continuum of service options. The service options can be viewed as tools in a toolbox and function to meet the individual needs of students with disabilities. It is critical to note that students’ services are to be provided in conjunction with general education (7-42-10a1 &4).

    Earlywood has a shared responsibility with our member districts to provide the services and supports to students and the school teams. One way that we share in the provision of the continuum of services is through our New Connections program. Information about the link between the supports for students in their home school environment and New Connections is detailed in the Continuum of Support & Service document on our website.


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  • Clarity Requested

    Posted by Angie Balsley on 11/17/2017 7:00:00 AM

    Hi Angie,  

    I’ve been reading your articles about the changes from RtI to MTSS. I appreciate the base knowledge and learning more about how psychologists can work with the building-based teams as we grow our local capacity to proactively support students’ social-emotional learning. I have some question though. What happened to the role of the Program Support personnel through the co-op? How about Behavior Coaches? Or I think they are called “Skills Specialists” now? I believe this is all great work. I’m just seeking some additional clarity.  

    Signed, A Dedicated Educator  


    Hello Dedicated Educator!

    Thank you for asking these fantastic questions! When we initiate this type of shift in practice, it evokes many questions for all us. I appreciate you taking the time to inquire further. I encourage your colleagues to reach out to me as well.

    The model of “Program Support” was a part of Johnson County for many years! In fact, Dr. Joe Easterday recently shared with me that he brought the idea to us from northwest Indiana. When I moved here, I had not heard of this model before. Over time, I learned that our Program Support personnel provided valuable service to our schools. They helped school teams problem-solve, provided supports to teachers, assisted with the development of behavior plans, transitioned students back from New Connections, and did pretty much anything needed to help kids be successful in their least restrictive environment. We had the most AMAZING team of professionals over the years!!! Really~ they were legends and true champions for kids.

    As you are likely aware, we’ve been working over the past several years to build local capacity in our districts. Part of this has led to having a local special education director in each district. To add this position in some of our smaller districts, the new local director absorbed the role of the program support personnel. This sparked our shift away from the program support model. In the 2016-17 school year, only three of our districts still had a dedicated program support person. As our organization has evolved and personnel have transitioned to new roles or retirement, we have capitalized on the opportunity to realign our supports to districts. That realignment resulted in moving away from the Program Support model this school year. I will be the first to admit that this change has left some significant holes in our schools who relied most heavily on this resource. I’ve been working closely with the local directors and principals to manage the needs within the buildings in alternate ways.

    While our school psychologists have increased their involvement in supporting students’ behavioral, social, and emotional needs, their role is different from the previous program support model. Psychologists and program support share their passion and ability to think, analyze, and problem solve. They share the vision of student success in the least restrictive environment. The biggest difference is that psychologists have an assessment caseload that program support did not. They are still required to work within the law and the federally monitored timelines. The resulting impact of this is that our school psychologists are not able to be “responders.”  

    You also inquired about our Skills Specialists. You’re correct. They do have a new name this year. We employ fourteen Skills Specialists who work either within the districts or New Connections. The intention of the Behavior Coaches was a train and fade support model. Over the years, local need often times resulted in a more reactive use of Behavior Coaches and a longer-term assignment than what was intended. In order to assist schools in the implementation of the MTSS vision, we have aligned the work of the Skills Specialist under the School Psychologists. Like all changes, this too is a work in progress. We couldn’t just immediately end the old model and leave giant service gaps for our students. As the Skills Specialists evolve into their new role, you can expect to see them spread through the entire school district. They will be working with students to implement evidence-based practices to teach the desired skills. They will also be collecting data and helping students to generalize their skills.

    Again, I appreciate your questions and encourage others to share their thoughts and ideas with me as well.

    Kind Regards,


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