Foreword: This post is about the emotional side of the CPSE and performance evaluation process. I bear no ill-will toward, and actually have great confidence in, my CPSE co-members.
The Committee on Preschool Special Education (CPSE) is the post-EI (Early Intervention), pre- CSE (Committee on Special Education) answer to educating a special needs preschool child in New York State. I’ve said this before but it warrants saying again because it is just another huge point of stress for us parents of children with special needs: While parents of “typical” kids are choosing preschools based on program, proximity and cost, the parents of children with special needs get to meet with a 5+ person committee to decide where their children will go to school, how long their preschool day will be and what services their children will receive. It is not my decision though, admittedly, there are checks and balances in place to help the parent and committee come to an agreement. These include getting up and walking out without signing off and/or legal grievances, the possibility of which, honestly, just adds more stress to an already stressful situation.
To kick-off the process, each of my child’s therapists and educators completes an annual evaluation using a standardized test selected by the evaluator. Based on the boys’ performance, reports are generated scoring every aspect of their lives: Cognitive, Social/emotional, gross motor, fine motor, and behavioral. Re-reading this, that doesn’t sound as bad as it feels no matter how well my children perform. But, of course, it feels much worse if they’ve performed less well than I’d hoped (and I’m a glass is half full kind of Mom). The process reduces my beloved Brian and Michael to a series of numbers and percentiles based on comparison to “typical” children, all neatly bound in a big, thick, multi-page report. It does not speak to how hard they tried, whether they slept well the night before the test or whether they’re suffering from a cold, cough or any other ailment. It does not tell how many times they did pull-ups on the rings hanging from my kitchen ceiling or how many hours they wrote, perfecting their grip, attempting to imitate a square or the letter “B” or “M”. It doesn’t describe Michael’s smile when he finally “gets” it or Brian’s victory dance. For me, this evaluation process is a sometimes devastating, and occasionally surprising, representation of how they perform the specific tasks on the specific tests, on the specific day, at the specific point in time that it took place. It does not come close to introducing anyone, let alone the committee members, to who Brian and Michael are.
Still, based on these scientifically correct measurements of every aspect of my sons performance (but inadequate measures of who they are), all decisions for their education until August of 2010 are decided. Please note that none of these decisions are “final”. All are changeable by reconvening the committee and rehashing the prior criteria by which the decision was made and/or introducing new evidence that warrants a change. But, for the 2 days prior to my boys’ CPSE meetings when their therapists seek me out to discuss details (if I’m lucky), and I receive those reports (which, for reasons mentioned above, are sure to raise any one’s blood pressure), and for the full 2 hours of their meetings, STRESS is my middle name and HOPE is what I hang on to… The hope that all decisions made are with my boys’ best interest in mind and that everyone in the Committee for Preschool Special Education — especially me — agree on a plan for the next phase of their education.
For those of you who do not have a child with special needs and, luckily, have never had to go through the CPSE evaluation process, here’s the most accurate analogy I can think of…
Ever try to lose weight? You’ve eaten mostly well-balanced meals, significantly cut back on snacks and sweets and the day comes to measure your efforts. It doesn’t matter that the kids were home from school this week. That your hubby took you out last night for a birthday dinner or that it was Valentine’s Day. The weigh-in is inevitable… And, it’s always better if it happens first thing in the morning, before breakfast, after your morning potty, stark naked, pre-shower (skin absorbs water and wet hair weighs more), you lean carefully on the bathroom vanity and slowly lower yourself onto the scale just as you exhale every last breath of air in your body and….. HOLD. Wait those 3 seconds for the scale to stop flashing and the number freezes in the digital pane. In that moment, all your efforts and everything you are is reduced to that number on the scale. And, that number determines entirely how you go forward. Will you eat the muffin or a low-fat yogurt? Cancel the lunch date or order a salad? Whether that number is good or bad in your mind, whether it’s what you expected or a total surprise, it can make or break your attitude for the day. Have you been there? Doesn’t feel good being reduced to a number, does it?
That’s how I feel about the CPSE & Performance Evaluation process.