PEER Pressure

Here’s a fantastic email I got from another teacher.  Sounds like ESE is a real mess.  Just one more reason for young adults to stay away from teaching.  

Dear P. W. Withering;

I just came across your blog (and love it)!

I feel the need to vent. You have my permission to post all or parts of my ranting. I have been an ESE teacher in Pasco County for many years. Our jobs in ESE are already difficult with mountains of paperwork. This year has been absolute HELL. The District, in it’s not-at-all inverted pyramid method of doing things, unilaterally decided that this year, ESE teachers would use the PEER program for writing Individual Education Plans (IEPs). PEER should stand for Poorly Enacted Educational Rigmarole.

ESE teachers used to write IEPs in a program created by someone in the district (I believe) called Planmaker. It was a very streamlined program that made writing IEPs relatively easy, and it was easy for parents to read and understand their child’s IEP. There are several mandatory sections in an IEP, which the ESE teacher is held legally accountable for writing and monitoring every year. These include, but are not limited to: information about the child (primary disability, secondary disabilities, data such as assessments the child has taken within the last year); a Present Level Statement (PLS); goals (as well as benchmarks to reach the goals) the student will work on throughout the year; needed accommodations (for learning environment and testing); and how much time the student spends with non-disabled peers and why.

In the PLS statement, input is gathered from all participants involved with the student (parent/guardian, ESE teachers, basic education teachers, speech/language pathologist, behavior specialist, occupational and/or physical therapist, and the child once the child is old enough). The ESE teacher gathers information from any of these people involved with the child and writes a present level statement that contains three basic sections:

1.What the child is good at and how the child is presently performing (including hobbies, likes, and dislikes).

2, How the child’s disability effects the student (what he or she struggles with/behaviors)

3. The student’s priority educational needs.

In Planmaker, the PLS statement was all on one or two pages, and covered everything about the child. It was easy to read, and not too time consuming to write. The child’s goals/benchmarks were also in one section. Goals fall under certain domains (instruction, independent functioning, communication, community based instruction, daily living skills, post-school adult living, etc.) In Planmaker, multiple domains could be covered by one goal. (For example, a community based instruction goal could also fall under the post-school adult living, daily living skills, and instruction domains.) In PEER, the PLS statement and goals are divided up into the various domains. This makes writing the IEP more difficult to write and to read for the parents/guardians. It is very redundant, since some of a present level statement can fall into multiple domains. (What’s the difference between post-school adult living and daily living skills?) I have been in IEP meetings where the parents have commented that the new IEP is hard to read.

Every ESE teacher I have spoken to this year have the same complaints about PEER -from elementary to high school teachers. All of them have said that they are spending hours writing IEPs on their own time at home. A newer teacher this year stated that she feels stupid because it seems to take her about 8 hours to write one. Another teacher and I (both of whom have over 5 years teaching ESE) told her that that is about the average time it takes now for us as well.

NOTHING about this new system is easy. In addition to writing these IEPs, we have to report on the student’s progress each quarter in reaching their goals. In Planmaker, one went to a goal reporting page, checked on how the student was doing on each goal, wrote a comment, and that was it. PEER has the dropdown menu to check how the student is doing, but you HAVE TO UPDATE after every single goal!! (Some students have up to 11 goals!!) The system is not fast updating anything.

As if all of this were not bad enough, unless we signed up for training for the new program during the summer last year, we didn’t get trained on this new system until after most of us had to write an IEP. (The trainings filled up fast, so the one  I went to was 3 months after school started – after writing 5 IEPs.) The training was a half day with no 10 minute breaks because of how quickly they were trying to go through everything. We didn’t have an opportunity to practice anything they were showing us (unless we wanted to do that on our own time at home). Needless to say, the ones I completed were not altogether right, so I had to do amendments! (Like I have time for that!) The first IEP I wrote and had to navigate by myself literally took me several days to write. I came home from work, and worked on it until 8:00 P.M. every night for three days. This year I have spent a great deal of time in the evenings or on weekends writing IEPs.

It gets much worse…all of the paperwork needed is not in PEER. When we complete an IEP, we have to submit a Date Entry Revision form so the student’s information is updated correctly. There isn’t such a form in PEER, so now we have to go back to Planmaker to do that. As our students’ IEPs come due, we have to write the new plan in PEER. This also means that we have to go into Planmaker to complete the goal reporting for students who haven’t had their IEP yet this year.

Keep in mind that ESE teachers already have to plan for multiple subject areas, grade assignments, and actually TEACH  students! How does the district think that we can do all of this in the time we have during our regular work hours? As if all of that wasn’t bad enough, the District also decided (again in it’s inverted pyramid way of doing things) that they were going to also change the system that we use to take attendance, submit grades, etc.! Again, there was little to no training – although they had videos we could watch if we could find the time. This new system (My Student) goes down all the time. It is also not as user-friendly as the old system. I truly feel like the District does not care about their employees. PEER and My Student were not rolled-out in an intelligent manner. I feel like I’m drowning this year. I don’t have time to even read all the emails they send about PEER with everything else I have to do. I feel the ones who are truly suffering are the students. All the ESE teachers I have talked to this year – again from elementary all the way up through high school – have said that they are so stressed out this year. Stress limits the amount of patience one has, and we need a lot of patience to do our jobs.

Thanks for letting me vent! Again, I love your blog!

Sincerely,

A very dissatisfied,stressed, and tired ESE teacher

8 comments

  • I was at the last 2 school board meetings and trust me – the public has NO IDEA what our teachers are going through and have to put up with on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. Teacher after teacher got up to speak and practically begged Browning for raises. It was heart wrenching listening to these teachers – one after the other telling Browning and the school board how they are working at least 20 to 29 hours of overtime a week on their own time to prepare lesson plans, write IEP’s, do the massive data entry now required of them along with many other policies and programs our teachers are expected to follow. And they are NOT PAID overtime or paid for using their personal time. Our teachers are EXPECTED to use their own time – EXPECTED. As we all know – times sure have changed with the implementation of the idiotic, nonsensical, no common sense Common Core and the BS our teachers have to put up with. One teacher begged for a raise saying she can barely keep her head above water not having had a raise in over 3 years and with all the expectations put on our teachers having to use their own time – their own personal FREE TIME – she did NOT have time to get a second job even though most of our teachers are forced to have to work 2nd and 3rd jobs. It’s horrendous and my heart breaks for our teachers. The school board sits up there discussing how they went to this school and that school and all the wonderful things they see going on in the schools……..I challenge our school board members to shadow a teacher for one solid week to see what they are expected to do. Not a pre-planned “for show” visit to a school with the camera’s snapping smiling pictures or the TV reporters there. Show up unannounced and shadow a teacher. I would bet my next pay check that they wouldn’t last a week nor would they be able to keep up.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Thank you PW for posting this! This is what you call the infamous “if it ain’t broke – don’t fix it” and clearly this is not the case AT ALL!!! They took a program that worked perfectly and screwed it up like EVERYTHING else they do because of the masdive data mining they are required to do on our kids. They keep implementing these programs because they are being told to. They are implementing new programs and policies all over Pasco and the state because the iron fist of goddamn Jeb Bush along with his foundations are still directing the education policy in this state – district by district. They are purchasing software and implementing it without putting out RFP’s or getting feedback or input from teachers – the ones who have to actually use it and perform their jobs with it. This is infuriating because our teachers are not only underpaid – they work their asses off. For what? To be reprimanded when they don’t attend training and work on their OWN TIME??? It’s a wonder our kids even learn anything with all the bullshit data entry our poor teachers are expected to do! It’s sickening how they treat our teachers who are our heroes! Thank god for the talented teachers we have here in Pasco! Browning and crew better stop fighting the union on our teavhers getting their much deserved raises with all the crap they have to endure on a daily basis. I advocate for our teachers and our kids and won’t stop until its equitable and fair for both. Thank you PW!! I feel for this teacher that wrote this and the thousands more like him or her,

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for your remarks Deb! It really does look like a huge sham of a system, and the teachers can’t help but always be behind with something because they are just overrun with tedium. Yet our politicians continue to assault the profession ruthlessly. It’s no wonder high school grads aren’t choosing education as their major!

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  • I’m an ESE teacher in Pinellas County; we’ve been using PEER for years. I’m surprised that Pasco is so far behind in using the State mandated program. Wasn’t it Pasco’s ESE director who took over the ESE department in Tallahassee? Everything that it said in this letter is true. ESE teachers work harder than any other teacher. We’re under a tremendous amount of stress, and for very little in return. It’s no wonder there’s a critical shortage of ESE teachers.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great comment Mary. Thank you! Pasco had its own program for creating IEPs called Planmaker starting in the late ’90s. It was far more efficient than PEER. Too efficient, apparently. According to my very reliable ESE sources, Pasco officials were afraid that the DOE would determine that Planmaker was too “point & click,” and therefore was not individualized enough, so they voluntarily switched to PEER. As you know, ESE teachers hate PEER because it is unnecessarily tedious. Yes, Monica Verra went to the DOE.
      Perhaps she suggested that Pasco switch. You’re right on about ESE teachers. They get the shaft on a regular basis.

      Liked by 1 person

      • The State wants all districts using PEER. It’s slow and inefficient when so many people are on it. Takes hours to get the work done, especially progress reports. I have to do them from home while on Spring Break, if not, the system won’t work on Monday when everybody else is trying to use it. Sad state of affairs…

        Liked by 1 person

        • That sounds awful. If the public knew what teachers go through that they shouldn’t have to just because of bureaucrats, maybe they wouldn’t allow politicians to publicly trash them constantly. An apathetic public is a big problem.

          Liked by 1 person

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