An IEP Meeting--What Parents Should Know

It is important that parents become informed and involved in their child’s education. There are many sources of information and support in your state. However, the more skills you have and the more information you learn, the better you can advocate for your child. Over the past few years we have found that parents tend to make some common mistakes during the Individual Education Program (IEP) meeting. The following is a list of the common mistakes and some suggestions for avoiding them:

1.  Believing the professionals are the only experts.
It can be very intimidating to sit at a table with several educators and professionals. Professionals and Educators do bring a great deal of knowledge and experience to the table. Although most parents do not have a background or degree in education, they have a great deal of knowledge and experience regarding their child. Parents are experts in their own right; they also provide historical information and the big picture from year to year. They know what works and does not work with their child and can be a great asset to the IEP team.

Parents have an intuitive sense as to what is appropriate for their child. After working with parents for eleven years, I'm still amazed at how parents are usually intuitively correct about what will work for their child. I encourage parents to follow their hunches. If something does not sound right, check it out.

2.  Not making requests in writing.
Any request a parent makes needs to be in writing. This includes requests for assessments, IEP meetings, correspondence, related services, etc. Written requests are important because they initiate timelines that the school district must follow in response to your request. This will also create a paper trail. When you write a letter be sure to send it certified mail. When you have a discussion by phone with a school official, write a letter that briefly outlines what you talked about. Documenting your conversations helps prevent miscommunication.

3.  Not being familiar with Prior Notice of the Procedural Safeguards (34 CFR 300.503)
All sections of the Procedural Safeguards are important to parents. This particular section gives parents some leverage during the IEP meetings. Whenever parents make a request for their child in the IEP meeting, the IEP committee is required under Prior Notice to provide the parents with written notice with a reasonable period of time. The notice must include the following:
A description of the action proposed or refused.
An explanation of why the agency proposes or refuses to take the action;
A description of any other options that the agency considered and the reasons why those options were rejected;
A description of each evaluation procedure, test, record, or report the agency used as a basis for the proposed or refused action;
A description of any other factor that is relevant to the agency’s proposal or refusal.

Prior Written Notice is sent home every time the Service Page is changed. This page holds all the information that changes a child’s time in and out of the class, as well as the types of services. This also includes any changes to a child’s Least Restrictive Environment (LRE).

4.  Allowing the assessment information to be presented for the first time at the IEP meeting.
Parents are entitled to have the assessment information explained to them before the IEP meeting. I encourage parents to have the person who administered the assessment give them a copy of the report and meet with them to explain the report several days before the IEP meeting. I go so far as send the reports home three days before the meeting. This enables the parents to think through the information before making decisions for their child. If all IEP decisions are based on the information from the assessment, it only makes sense for the parents to be knowledgeable and informed about the assessment results in a way they can understand.

5.   Accepting goals and objectives that are not measurable.
Measurable goals and objectives are paramount for your child’s IEP. Without measurable goals and objectives, it is difficult to determine if your child has had a successful school year. In working with parents, we have encountered many IEP goals and objectives that are not measurable.

All goals and objectives should come from assessment data. Assessment has four different components: 1) Formal assessment (i.e., WIAT, Woodcock-Johnson, Brigance), 2) Informal assessment (i.e., classroom work), 3) Teacher/parent observation, and 4) Interviews. After the information has been collected about the student it is compiled into an assessment report. Recommendations on how to work with the student are listed toward the end of the report.

After the assessment has been completed, the IEP committee determines the student’s present level of performance (PLOP) and states what the student is currently able to do. The committee then develops the IEP goals and objectives. The goals state what the student is expected to accomplish by the end of the year. Objectives break the goals down into increments. For example:

PLOP
Based on the Brigance and classroom work, Johnny is currently able to read on a fourth grade level with 90% mastery.

Goals
By the end of the school year Johnny will be able to read on a fifth grade level as measured by the Brigance and classroom work with 80% mastery.

Objectives
By October 1, Johnny will be able to read-on fourth grade, second month level with teacher assistance as measured by the Brigance and classroom work with 80% mastery.

By January 1, without teacher assistance, Johnny will be able to read on a fourth grade, sixth month level as measured by the Brigance and classroom work with 80% mastery.

A method of determining if your goals and objectives are measurable is to ask someone who is not on your IEP team to read them (i.e., a teacher, another parent, advocate, etc.). Then ask “Hypothetically, if you were to go into the classroom, would you be able to see my child working on these goals and objectives?” If someone outside of your IEP team cannot answer “yes”, then the goals and objectives are not measurable.

6. Allowing placement decisions to be made before IEP goals and objectives are written. Many times after assessment is discussed, the IEP committee will determine the child’s placement. Goals and objectives are always written before placement is discussed. To ensure that the child is placed in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE), the IEP committee must determine: Which of these goals and objectives can best be met in the general classroom?

With any remaining goals and objectives that cannot be met in the general class-room, the committee determines: Which of these goals and objectives can be best met in the general classroom with modifications and support?

This line of inquiry continues until all placement options have been decided upon for all the goals and objectives. The committee must always start with the LRE and then work toward a more restrictive environment only as necessary. IDEA is very clear that the IEP committee must always consider the general education classroom as the first option for students with disabilities.

7. Allowing your child’s IEP meeting to be rushed so that the school staff can begin the next child’s IEP meeting.

This practice is particularly common at the end of the school year when we are frantically trying to have IEP meetings for all the students who receive special education services. IEP meetings may be held one right after another. There is no problem with this practice as long as the members of the IEP team feel that all issues have been adequately discussed. Many times, however, parents feel rushed. It is important that all issues are adequately addressed before ending the IEP meeting. When the teachers have not planned adequate time to address all relevant issues, request that the IEP team meet again at a more convenient time to further discuss your child’s education.

8. Not asking a lot of questions.
It is very important to ask questions and lots of them. Educators use many terms and acronyms specific to special education. Parents may become confused when these terms are used during the IEP meeting. This can add to the frustration that a parent may already be feeling when they do not under-stand what is being said. It is important to ask what the terms or acronyms mean. Unless a parent has a background in special education, they are not expected to know the terms and acronyms.  Informed decisions cannot be made when parents do not understand what is being discussed.

At some point in time everyone has made all the mistakes listed above. I have developed the habit of debriefing after every IEP meeting to discuss the team performance during the meeting. As a team, we have gradually accumulated information and developed skills and we continue to trust our intuition. This has helped our team at all our IEP meetings. It’s well worth the extra time. If you have questions talk with your IEP team.


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About Me

Welcome to my all thing special education blog. I'm Ms. Whiteley. I teach in the beautiful Mile High state--Colorado. This is my 13th year teaching in an rural K-6 Elementary school as a Exceptional Needs Teachers. As Exceptional Needs National Board Certified Teacher, I believe that ALL students can learn and be successful. When I'm not in school, I love to take my two Italian Greyhounds hiking 14ers and reaching for the stars. Thanks for Hopping By.
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