Special Education

IEP Work-Part 1-5 Things I Do Before the Meeting

This is Part 1 of a 3 part series for case managers getting ready for IEP meetings. There are many things to do so it makes sense to take it step-by-step! For me, there are 3 distinct phases of the IEP; what you do before the meeting, what you do during and what you do after the meeting. All parts are equally important since the IEP will become a legally binding document that you and others in your building will have to follow.

So let’s begin! I focus on 5 things before the IEP meeting actually happens. Here they are:

Schedule the Meeting

This is actually my least favorite part of dealing with IEPs, I’m not going to lie. After scheduling hundreds of IEPs over my career, and having to navigate everyone’s varying schedules and needs, I know how hard it can be, so kind of like giving birth, I don’t spend a lot of time on the unpleasantness of this part of the process. I just do it. And I’m always VERY grateful when and I can get an IEP scheduled with only one or two emails.

When you schedule IEPs here are a few things to consider.

  • Start by looking at your least available participant’s schedule so that when you make your next contact with parents, you have an actual workable date to share with them. This is typically the LEA or specialists on the team.
  • Once you have some potentials, contact parents. Sometimes communication with parents is simple and sometimes it’s an Olympic event. Be a bulldog. Email and call, send notes home with students, use snail mail, try different times of day, provide adequate time to respond and keep trying until you can get a response or until you can no longer wait.
  • It is perfectly fine to have parents participate over the phone or for them to give permission to proceed without them. And when we can’t secure contact and we’ve made our three reasonable attempts, it’s okay to move forward without their participation. But if a parent wants to attend, we must make every effort to support this attendance by finagling schedules, providing rides etc.
  • as soon as you get a date secured, write up the invite and get it sent out before you forget to do it.
  • the day before the meeting, send a reminder to the parent about the meeting date and time. This way if for any reason they don’t show, and you are up against a deadline, you can proceed.

Be clear on your students’ needs

This goes without saying. A case manager needs to really know the student they are writing an IEP for. What works, what doesn’t work. What they struggle with what they do great at. For the most part, you will write IEPs for students you’ve spent good chunks of time with and have worked hard to build relationships with. It is relatively easy then to write a present level and to determine need areas.

Especially at the beginning of the year, it does happen that you will be called upon to write IEPs for students you’ve spent very little time with. Those first IEPs due in September and October are good examples of this. In those instances, read everything you can on the student such as previous IEPs and evaluations and anything else in the file that will help you know their history better. Then find someone who knows them, whether this was in your school or in a different one, so you can ask questions to better inform yourself. This will allow you to write a more thorough present level and select needs.

Write decent goals

Goals come from the needs you identify. They should:

focus on the most important needs of the student

Too many case managers focus on the same types of goals for each kid each year. Writing academic goals is simpler, but they sometimes don’t get to the root of a need. Students with ADHD may struggle with written work, but when they don’t write in any class or produce any work, what it may really be is a struggle with work completion. That an entirely different goal.

Another example of this would be a student who has a classroom behavior goal, but the reason the student isn’t behaving in expected ways is because of social deficits. The goal may need to address social learning rather than behavior to get to the root of the problem.

be backward chained for independence

Too many times we create goals without thinking about where we’re going with the goal. Sure a student should grow another year in reading so they can eventually be at a point where they don’t need reading support anymore. But with other goals, we need to think about the big picture. What do we want the student to be able to do independently a year from now 3 years from now or by the time they graduate? What backward planning are we going to have to go through to get to that end goal?

use existing data as much as possible

Another thing to consider with goal writing is to select measurements that coincide with current data collection in your building. Benchmark assessments, standards-based grades, attendance data, other behavior systems that the school is already using to record, overall test scores, CICO sheets or other behavior recording systems that are created for students can all serve as data to inform progress. Use them whenever possible so you are not inventing another system to track your student’s goals.

Do your homework

Make sure that what you plan to offer in terms of services is the best fit for your student. Don’t do the one size fits all technique. That’s not suggesting that for every student we need to create an entirely new class, but don’t just plop kids in places because that’s all we’ve got. See what else is out there. Stretch outside your comfort zone and do some reading on suggested ways to intervene with this or that need. Find others who know more about a certain strategy to see if they have another idea. Don’t be afraid to try new things with students to see if they work.

Send a draft of the IEP ahead of the meeting

It’s helpful to allow parents to read the plan ahead of time. This way they have time to process the document. They can read and think and then come prepared with questions or concerns. In addition to allowing them to participate more effectively, it also may move the meeting along because its all been read.

Whew, that was a lot! In the next post, we will talk about how to handle the actual IEP meeting. See you then!

Did I forget anything? How do you get ready for an IEP? Let me know in the comments below.

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