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The New Kid

Jared is a welcome addition to Ms. Dennison’s class at a special school for students who are emotionally disturbed. He is the only student in the class who smiles continually, shows concern for others, follows directions, and is generally a likable character. Ms. Dennison, disagreeing with the psycho-educational reports that placed Jared in her class, is concerned that Jared is mislabeled.


Jared arrived at the new school unceremoniously and was escorted to his 6th-grade class by the principal, Ms. Bart. She introduced him to his teacher, Ms. Dennison, and his new class. He smiled widely, thanked the principal, and took his seat.

The school, a center for severely emotionally disturbed (SED) students in grades K-12, was a "locked" facility that required a key to access any room, including the office. Typical enrollment at the center was 200 students, with an average of eight students per class. The campus was separated by grade levels, with elementary students on one end of the campus and secondary students on the other end. In addition to the administrative, teaching, and support staff, the site also employed two behavior specialists and two social workers. Each classroom contained one teacher and one paraprofessional.

Jared’s new classroom, like the others at the center, was fully self-contained, with its own time-out room and bathroom. Several schoolwide behavior management policies were in place, including a first period stress management curriculum that consisted of playing soothing relaxation tapes and dimming the lights in an attempt to help the students transition from chaotic home lives to the structured school environment.

Jared was a pleasant addition to the classroom. He literally was the only student in his class who smiled continually, showed concern for others, followed directions, and was generally a likable character. Ms. Dennison figured it was too good to be true. She read in his records that Jared had been abused by an uncle from the time he was two until he was approximately seven. She had talked with his mother several times and was told that they had recently moved to get away from an abusive boyfriend. Given Jared’s history of sexual abuse and his difficult home life, Ms. Dennison waited for the other shoe to drop.

Six months later, Ms. Dennison still saw no signs of severe emotional disturbance from Jared. Formerly an English teacher in a different school district, this was Ms. Dennison’s first year teaching students with emotional disorders. Recently, she had earned her masters in special education and taken this job in order to relocate to the area. In spite of her lack of experience with this population, she was pretty certain that Jared did not belong in her SED class. In fact, his behavior did not appear to be consistent with an SED placement at all. The only time he acted aggressively was when he was picked on by the other boys. Even then, he did a pretty good job of negotiating his way out of most conflicts, an impressive feat considering he was so small in stature for his age. Ms. Dennison had suspected for months that this placement was neither appropriate nor the least restrictive environment, but she had her hands full with the other students and was, quite frankly, glad to have a positive role model in her class. However, although he seemed happy in her class, she worried that as he got older his behavior might be negatively influenced by the other kids. She decided she had to do more.

Ms. Dennison pulled Jared’s file and began reviewing it in depth. As she reviewed his IEP goals, she realized he had already met the goals listed. She investigated his file more carefully, pulling the report written by the school psychologist who initially tested Jared when he moved into the school district. She was amazed to read the psychologist’s report. When he was given a projective test and asked to draw himself, Jared drew a aggressive looking character with a menacing facial expression, large flexed muscles, and blood dripping from his face. The psychologist interpreted Jared’s drawing as indicative of anger and aggression. Knowing Jared for six months, Ms. Dennison had no doubt that Jared might have drawn himself in such a way, but certainly would not have interpreted it as the psychologist had. She knew Jared to be an avid wrestling fan who often accompanied his uncle to the local matches. His favorite pastime was drawing wrestling or cartoon action figures.

Ms Dennison was also troubled by the fact that as far as she could tell, Jared was labeled only Emotionally Impaired (EI) in his previous placement (in another state). However, when he moved to this state, he was given a label of Severely Emotionally Disturbed (SED). She began to wonder about the differences between the state’s categorical systems.

Although Ms. Dennison recognized that she was not a trained school psychologist, she disagreed strongly with the conclusions drawn from Jared’s projective test. Having spent a great deal of time working with Jared and observing his behaviors, she felt she understood him and believed there may have been other conclusions to draw from the test. Trying to determine the next appropriate course of action, she met with the school guidance counselor to discuss the problem.

"Ms. Jennings, I have a student who I believe may not have been correctly placed when he moved here. I can find nothing in his files to indicate that he warrants an SED label. How do you go about having a student’s placement changed?"

Ms. Jennings, a counselor for ten years, looked up warily. "Look, Ms. Dennison. Whoever wrote that report when that kid moved here is the ‘expert.’ He is specifically trained for that type of testing. I don’t think it’s your place to question a psychologist’s judgment in this matter. I suggest that you just be thankful to have a good student in your class for a change and leave the placement decisions to the experts."

Ms. Dennison left the office and headed towards the parking lot. She WAS thankful to have Jared in her classroom, but was it fair to him? She knew he wasn’t like the other students in her class. How could she combat Jared’s psychoeducational report with only classroom observations? She’d already waited too long as it was to act on his behalf, she thought with a twinge of guilt, but her next step wasn’t clear.



What happened next:

When she didn’t get any support from the guidance counselor, Ms. Dennison went to the school psychologist, Mrs. Mack, and asked if she would be willing to do some observations of Jared in her classroom and in others. On two random days, Mrs. Mack shadowed Jared. In those two days she saw no inappropriate behaviors. She decided that another psychological evaluation was needed. After completing her evaluation, using the same measures used in the initial psychoeducational evaluation, the principal, assistant principal, psychologist, teacher, and parent met to decide the best placement for Jared. By this time, Jared was already in the school’s transition program and spending half days in his "regular" school. Due to the change in placement, Jared was able to receive services in "regular" school full-time the following year.




Name: Jared Doe DOB: 08/11/83

Examiner: Mark Stollar, Ed.S.
Evaluation Procedures:

Review of Cumulative Records

Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children, III

Woodcock-Johnson Psychoeducational Battery-Revised: Tests of Achievement

Bender Visual Motor Gestalt Test

Revised Behavior Problem Checklist

Student Self-Concept Scale

Kinetic Family Drawing

Human Figures Drawing Test

Background Information:

Jared is a 13-year-old sixth-grade student who lives with his mother and younger brother. His mother reports that Jared achieved all developmental milestones in a delayed fashion. She also stated that Jared was sexually abused by an uncle from the time he was two until he was seven. According to his records, he was receiving services for students with emotional impairments for the last two years, prior to moving. His mother reports that Jared is responsible and enjoys taking care of his younger brother. She also stated that she relocated to escape an abusive boyfriend.

School records indicate that Jared was referred for evaluation for fighting and disruptive behavior. His conduct records from this time consistently rate his behavior as unsatisfactory and needing improvement.

His behavior in the classroom was described as impulsive, distractible, demanding of teacher attention, and easily frustrated. The psycho-educational evaluation conducted 1/17 indicated that Jared had difficulty focusing and attending to task. Diagnostic impressions were Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Borderline Intelligence.

Behavioral Observations:

Jared was polite and agreeable during testing. He had good manners and attempted the tasks presented.

Evaluation Results and Interpretations:

On the Woodcock-Johnson Psycho-Eucational Battery-Revised Tests of Achievement, Jared scored in the low average range in Broad Reading (84+3), Broad Mathematics (81+4), AND Broad Written Language (79+4).

A series of projective measures and behavior ratings indicated that Jared is experiencing feelings associated with a poor self-concept, including a propensity towards aggressive behavior. On the Student Self-Concept Scale, Jared rated himself below his peers on the Self-Image Self-Concept Subscale. This subscale measures general self-concept.

On the Revised Behavior Problem Checklist, completed by his mother, the raw score on the Attention Problems-Immaturity Scale indicates that Jared has severe problems related to short attention span, poor concentration, and distractability. In addition, his score on the Anziety-Withdrawal Scale indicates that he feels inferior, self-conscious, fearful, and anxious.

On the Kinetic Family Drawing and Human Figures Drawing Test, Jared’s drawings indicated that he has poor ego strength and has not formed successful relationships with some family members. His drawings depict himself in violent and aggressive stances (blood dripping, daggers, etc.) and reflect antisocial tendencies. In addition, when asked to draw his family, he placed them haphazardly across the page, with the exception of his mother and younger brother. Given these findings and his past family history, a structured, stable school setting willl continue to be required until he can develop self-control and positive relationships with the people around him.

Summary and Recommendations:

The following recommendations are made:

  1. Educational needs will best be served in a full-time self-contained program for students with Severe Emotional Disturbances.
  2. A home-based reinforcement program for completion of class assignments should be established. This will increase opportunities for communication between the classroom and home.
  3. A curriculum-based assessment should be undertaken to correctly match instruction to Jared’s needs.
  4. Finally, it is recommended that Jared be considered for inclusion in the grief counseling program provided by a school counselor. Along with the group activities, Jared may benefit with the opportunity to talk through his feelings regarding past sexual abuse.

Discussion Questions

1.    List what you learned about each of the characters in the case.

2.    What do you think is motivating the thoughts/actions of each of the characters?

3    What are the issues/problems in the case?

Additional Questions

1.    How might the differences in classification and identification procedures between states have
       contributed to this problem?

2.    Were the appropriate assessment instruments and procedures used to place Jared in Ms. Dennison's class?

3.    Was the interpretation of the assessment instrument valid?

4.    What led Ms. Dennison to believe that Jared had been misplaced?

5.    Should Ms. Dennison have acted earlier on Jared's behalf?  Why do you think she waited as long as
       she did?

6.    What should a teacher do if he/she disagrees with the findings of a psychological report?

7.    What safeguards should be considered in terms of placement decisions when students transition from one
        district or state to another?

CEC Competencies/Knowledge Areas Addressed in the Case

Major Areas:

Issues in definition and identification procedures for individuals with exceptional learning needs.

Appropriate application and interpretation of scores.

The relationship between assessment and placement decisions.


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