Regular communication with your child’s case manager is crucial to ensure everyone is working toward the same goals. Good communication allows for adequate problem solving when issues arise. Then, when its time to do an IEP, everyone is on the same page about how things are going and what still needs work. At least most of the time. Regardless of whether you have a great team that collaborates well or its a little bit contentious sometimes, a parent should be doing the same 5 things as they get ready for their child’s annual IEP:
Remind Yourself What An IEP Can and Can’t Do
An IEP is a playbook for a child who has an impairment that significantly impacts them at school and requires specialized instruction and supports. An IEP levels the playing field with supports and outlines goals and specialized services that a student needs in order to benefit from the school environment. The IEP is required to confer an educational benefit to a child.
It’s important to know that legally what “confers educational benefit” is very murky. Court cases have not supported being minimal with services or supports, nor have they supported providing programming that gives an unfair advantage to a student. This leaves IEP teams to their own devices to determine what’s best for a student. Parents sometimes have expectations that the school should provide a Cadillac a when a Chevy will be perfectly fine and schools sometimes get stuck in a “this is how we do it here” mindset. In my opinion, both of these ways of thinking create animosity and take time away from getting creative about how we can meet a need. We need to stay away from that.
When it comes to determinations about how to best serve a student, teams need to consider data and evidence rather than preferences or what’s always been done. I’ll be honest here, I get caught up in wanting to provide as much support as possible to my students. That’s the momma bear in me. For some students, things like ESY, one on one para support, or out of district placements are appropriate and are the best option to support growth toward educational goals. For others, it’s short-sighted.
Without more specific guidance from rules, teachers, administrators, and parents need to work together for the benefit of all students.
Review the Main Parts of an IEP
The more a parent understands what’s in an IEP, the better able they are to think about each piece, ask questions or offer a stamp of approval. Here’s an overview of the basic parts:
The present level essentially tells the team where the student is at the beginning of the IEP cycle. It includes strengths, academic performance, and functional performance. Academic performance includes a student’s skills with math, reading, writing both testing wise as well as day to day performance.
Functional performance focuses on behavior, organization or study habits, social skills, or daily living skills. It may also include information about attendance. Since a present level is used to add evidence for goals, it tends to focus on areas that need work rather than everything there is to know about a child. Usually, the present level outlines progress and performance toward goals that were set forth in the previous IEP.
From the present level, the document identifies needs the student has and why that need matters to their future performance
From the needs outlined, the document sets forth one or more year-long goals that the student will be working on. Goals are written in a format that is measurable. Generally, they include the following–a condition(with this or that support), what the student will be able to do, and to what level. Each quarter, the child’s case manager report on how students are progressing with each goal.
then, based on the goals, the document describes the services and supports a student needs to meet their goals. Sometimes services are done in the classroom(general/regular education) and sometimes when the students level or need is better addressed outside the classroom, that goal will be worked on in a special education environment. That is, they will be away from their peers either alone or in a group of students also working on similar skills. Services are direct minutes your child’s case manager or others will be working with your child toward a specific goal. When a child is receiving pull out support, such as a reading class or speech and language the time is generally larger perhaps a whole class period. This is because the whole period is designed for the student. If your child is in general education, the directed instruction time is shorter. A special education teacher may rotate through several students during that time or there may be times when a small group lesson can occur. The whole of instruction is not specialized.
Supports are generally provided in regular education. They include things that level the learning environment for students and allow them to be successful in their classes. Things such as comprehension checks, differentiated materials/work, access to notes, visual schedules, providing sensory supports or breaks, access to different workspaces, modified grading, daily communication with home.
Supports also include testing accommodations and things that school staff need. This may include consultation of OT or PT or outside support. It may also include time for all staff that work with a student to gather to learn and develop systems of communication.
For students that will turn 14 during the length of their current IEP, there needs to be a transition component. Transition refers to preparing students to transition from the world of school to the world of work. Each year, a goal is crafted that outlines where the student is in the process of becoming independent and the transition plan is fine-tuned so that programming and classes can line up with their future goals.
Write Down Your Comments, Questions, and Concerns
IEP meetings can move quickly. In these instances, a question or concern you have can get forgotten in the mix. This is why it’s important to write things down BEFORE you come. Write down things such as:
- concerns about progress in a given area
- wanting more information about testing or test scores
- questions about a class, teacher or support
- things you want to share about progress with outside providers
- other concerns or issues that matter to your child’s education but may not need to be addressed in the IEP
Schools want to know and support your questions and concerns. So don’t be afraid to share them.
Review Your Rights under IDEA
Another name for rights is procedural safeguards. Their purpose is simple: to inform parents of protections for students under IDEA. Districts must provide parents with a copy of these rights each school year. Many districts use email for this parental rights sharing. There are numerous safeguards, but here are the biggest ones that impact an IEP meeting in my opinion:
Parent Participation in IEPs
Parents have a legal right to participate in an IEP meeting. This means schools can’t hold an IEP meeting without making reasonable attempts to contact, schedule and include them in the process. The reality of carrying this safeguard out has its challenges. Schools need to take into consideration an IEP meeting’s due date, along with all the team member’s schedules. Meetings should be held at a time that works for ALL team members and reasonable efforts should be made to schedule them at times when everyone can attend. Schools are legally obligated to make three attempts to contact a parent before they are allowed to hold a meeting without them.
The IEP is a draft version when it comes to the IEP meeting. Parents are part of that process as well as the rest of the team members. Things can change as a result of discussions.
Parents can take time to think before agreeing with aspects of the IEP. To that end, a parent to request an IEP draft ahead of time or they can have some time after the meeting to think about certain aspects of programming.
A note about requesting an IEP draft ahead of time: Please tell your team as early as possible in the process that you would like a copy of the draft IEP early. This way team members who add programming pieces know to move up their timeline for writing. It’s more polite than asking at the last minute.
Informed Consent/Prior Written Notice
There are a few places where you physically have to sign on the dotted line. Parents must give permission to perform the testing that determines whether your child is eligible for special education services. If the team determines that a child is eligible, parents sign consent to receive services. Every three years, any new testing that’s done also requires consent. If you don’t give consent, the team can’t do any new testing. They still have to hold the re-evaluation and base their determination on the current information they have about the child.
A school needs to send “prior written notice” when a student is dismissed from special education. Additionally, a school has to send prior written notice any time it adds, changes or denies educational services to their child or wants to change the child’s placement. The best example I can think of here would be if a school and parent disagreed about a specialized placement outside the school.
In the meeting, be honest
I’ve talked about this topic in two previous posts 3 Strategies for Successful IEP Team Collaboration and 5 Step Problem Solving Process in an IEP Meeting. and I reiterate here again. It’s so so important to communicate with your team members. There needs to be a level of understanding and trust so that when something is confusing, team members aren’t afraid to speak up. And even more so if you don’t really agree with what’s being said. Because meetings are pretty much done by consensus(meaning everyone generally agrees, without taking an actual vote), when you don’t agree with what is being said or proposed, you must say something. Otherwise, you are saying I agree. Take time to think about programming if you must or ask questions, but don’t NOT say anything. It saves a ton of time later.
Hopefully, these five ideas will help you feel more able to participate in your child’s next IEP meeting. School staff wants to support you and your child and together, many wonderful things can happen.
What are some other things you do to get ready for an IEP meeting? Write it in the comments below.