The IEP: A Primer for Parents New to the Process
By Eve Kessler, Esq.
As a parent, it is your responsibility to be a partner in planning your child’s education. It is your job to become an educated, effective and empowered advocate. In fact, the law empowers you to be a vital part of your child’s special education process, making you a full partner on his Individualized Education Plan (IEP) team, at its meetings, and in the drafting of the IEP itself.
The IEP is the document that provides a road map for your child’s education. It is a bridge between his disability and the standards and framework of the general education curriculum. The IEP determines what he will learn and be able to do, specifies the programs and services he will receive, sets accomplishment targets, and tells you whether or not he is making progress and mastering skills.
Because the IEP is the basis for your child’s education, the IEP meeting offers you the best opportunity to ensure his academic success.
The IEP meeting should be functional and time-efficient. To prepare, you will need to plan ahead, research, and organize your information and thoughts. Below are guidelines for ensuring that the IEP meeting achieves what it must to further your child’s education.
Take Charge of the Meeting
- Take the time to develop a “vision statement,” in which you share with the team an accurate and comprehensive picture of your child. Have a clear understanding of his present levels of performance, so you can help identify strengths and deficits and compose meaningful annual goals and short-term objectives.
- Establish appropriate goals. Goals should be attainable in one year, and be reasonable, measurable, apply to all classes and linked to your child’s present levels of performance.
- Determine how progress will be evaluated. For example, know what data will be used and who will collect it; have baseline data taken as a source of comparison.
- Be knowledgeable about research-based services appropriate for your child, so you can give input as to what she needs in order to maximize participation and progress in the general education curriculum.
- Request additional assessments. If his behavior impedes his learning or that of others, request a functional behavioral assessment by an expert and a plan with the needed supports. If your child would benefit from assistive technology, ask for an assistive technology assessment by a qualified practitioner.
- Be clear on who will be providing the services, what their qualifications are, where and how often the services will occur, how progress will be monitored, and when you will be informed of how your child is doing.
- Discuss your child and his program at pre-IEP conferences. It is essential that all team and family members and any independent therapists working with him are able to share information and converse with each other.
- Do your homework. Prior to the meeting, write a letter to the team requesting a copy of all evaluations that will be reviewed, and share any reports or test results that you want considered. There should be no surprises at the IEP meeting. Don’t put yourself in a position to be hearing your child’s evaluations or test results for the first time at the table; you must digest the information at home to be able to make informed requests and decisions.
- Ask for specifics. Understand which evaluation procedures and performance criteria will be used to gauge your child’s progress, and make sure the assessments are standardized.
- Trust your instincts. If the evaluations, recommendations and/or test results do not sound like your child, you may request an Independent Educational Evaluation at the district’s expense, or you may pay for one yourself. Make sure you ask a lot of questions, focus on recommendations and, if possible, bring the evaluator or an expert to the table to stand behind the report and advocate for your child.
- Work collaboratively with the team. Try to take any “emotionality” out of your meetings. Presentation is important: begin with a complimentary attitude, and thank the team for their efforts. Remember that without diversity and disagreements, there would be no team. Make sure, however, that nothing you want discussed is left unaddressed.
- Review final recommendations at the close of the meeting. Document all areas of agreement and disagreement, and clarify areas of concern. All agreements must be put in writing. If you do not agree, make sure to speak up. If you are dissatisfied, know your recourse, your procedural safeguards, and your rights to appeal to a higher authority.
This article is based on information presented at a Smart Kids community event by Noreen O’Mahoney, CSW, SDA, Director of Collaborative Advocacy Associates, Wilton, CT. Eve Kessler, Esq. is president and co-founder of SPED*NET Wilton (CT), former Chair of the CT Council on Developmental Disabilities and a contributing editor to Smart Kids.
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