Look Back to Prepare for the IEP

By Ann McCarthy


As your child’s best advocate, it’s important to show up at the IEP meeting well-prepared Review and analyze past IEPs to determine if he’s making meaningful progress Use the information you uncover to inform the discussion with his team about this year’s goals and objectives

2.9.14 Prepare IEPAs a parent of a child with LD, there are a number of actions you can take to improve your child’s school experience, but one of the most important is to come to the annual IEP meeting thoroughly prepared.

If you’re like most of us, you come home from a difficult IEP meeting exhausted, spent, and relieved that it’s behind you. The IEP arrives the following week, and you know you should look at it. But the phone rings. The spaghetti boils over. Your kids are wrestling in the next room. The IEP gets shoved in a drawer, and, despite your good intentions, you don’t give it another thought.

Now is the time to dust that baby off!

Preparing for an annual IEP meeting begins by figuring out whether or not your child is making progress over time.

Step By Step Analysis

Determining your child’s progress involves looking back over past IEPs to see if he has in fact mastered previously established goals and objectives. Using this step-by-step process will enable you to see if there is evidence of meaningful progress.

  1. Organize the three most recent IEPs and put them in a pile, in chronological order, with the oldest on top. (If you are just starting your journey in special education, you have it easy! Follow the below steps with the first IEP and then add to your document each year.)
  2. List all the academic and functional performance areas that are covered by the oldest IEP. Possible categories might be: social skills, following directions, reading, math, writing.
  3. Within each category, list the objectives for the first year, then the second, then the third. Mark each objective with the year of the IEP.
  4. A couple of days later—when you can bring fresh eyes to the task—read your comparative analysis of the goals and objectives you highlighted.
  5. Look for repetition. Look for goals that were never mastered, but were dropped. Look for sameness. Where you see likenesses, you might be looking at lack of meaningful progress. If that’s the case, it may indicate that it’s time to consider a shift in your child’s program.
Information Is Action

Sound complicated? Consider the following real-life example from a child’s IEP file review:

Following Directions

2011/2012: Will follow 2 and 3 step directions with no more than 1 clinician cue

2012/2013: Will use strategies to follow multistep directions with 1 clinician reminder

2013/2014: Will use strategies to follow multistep directions with 1 adult reminder

You don’t need to be a professional advocate or educator to realize that you’re reading the same sentence over and over again. Is it frustrating to see this? Absolutely. But it’s also powerful information that you can turn into positive action.

You can now argue that something about your child’s program has to change: perhaps the type of instruction, the intensity of instruction, or where the instruction takes place. Do we need to reconsider how the goals and objectives are written, and should we be looking at more basic skills, with more specificity?

As a parent, you don’t need to know how to make the change. You’ll get there. But knowing that a change is required—and having the data to prove it—is an important first step.

By investing a few hours analyzing your child’s goals and objectives over time, you can see the “story” that your child’s file is telling about his or her program and progress. And then use that story to advocate for your child at the next IEP meeting.

Ann McCarthy is a former special education advocate.

Related Smart Kids Topics