When navigating the IEP process, parents have a lot on their plate to make sure their child stays on track. Here are some tips to help prepare you for their next IEP meeting.
1. Prior to the IEP meeting, gather documents, weekly notes and observations from your child’s school and clinics.
Request copies of educational records from your district. Make personal observations at home that are tracked in a daily log, journal or spreadsheet. Video your child and take photos that can be used as evidence during IEP meeting. Collect as much data as possible.
Special needs attorney Matt Cohen suggests first asking yourself, “How is your child doing compared to the things they are supposed to be learning?” Use that answer as a baseline, he says.
Then monitor and track how successful your child is at completing and learning the tasks. Record the number of prompts and types of prompts — verbal, visual or gesture — you are giving. For example, they’ve added 30 new words within the prescribed time.
Track how much time a child spends doing the work, how much time parents spent doing the work with the child, and how a child functions or behaves while doing the work. Note if the task was easy or difficult, and if it caused a meltdown, Cohen says.
“It’s not enough to chart the successful completion rate,” he says. The situation can easily be misrepresented since kids who found the task easy or difficult can end up with the same answers.
2. Before an IEP meeting, request an IEP draft to review.
Read it with two colored highlighters, special education advocate Mo Buti says. In one color, highlight things you don’t understand. In a different color, highlight things that don’t match what you see at home, such as a behavior that is happening more at school than at home.
It’s important to bring up the differences, even if they aren’t wrong, as a discussion point to help figure out why it is happening, Buti says.
Create a list of key points you want to get across before going into the meeting. Also create a large IEP binder, organized chronologically by year with progress notes, report cards, email documentation, notes from private therapies, medical reports or other data you’ve collected, Buti says.
At least once a year, the school system should give parents procedural safeguards, a list of parental rights under IDEA. Like the IEP draft, read it with a highlighter to ask about things you don’t understand says Sabrina Shafter, a lawyer with Breaking Autism, a firm of special education consultants, advocates and lawyers. “Otherwise you’ll never get the services your child needs.”
3. Think of the IEP as a road map.
Many school districts start an IEP meeting by starting with the goals the student should accomplish by the end of the school year. That’s the wrong approach, Buti says. Instead the district should start with where the student is beginning the school year by discussing the present levels of a child’s strengths and deficits. Use that as the baseline to create a road map detailing the path of where the child is now and the services that will be provided to get to where the student should go and accomplish by the end.
4. Collaborate with others.
Talk to other parents who have gone through the IEP process already and build your tribe, says Evelyn Perez-Horita, a mother of an 11-year-old nonverbal daughter, Lia. Perez-Horita says she found other parents by attending a monthly Neighborhood Parents Network developmental differences support group.
“I don’t think I would have known everything I do if I hadn’t been a part of the support group,” Perez-Horita says. “It’s a safe space with a lot of moms saying it like it is.”
Even if you can’t hire an advocate, find someone who will go with you to compare information after the meeting, says Teresa Santiago, a first grade teacher and mother of a son with autism.
5. Request additional meeting time.
An IEP meeting usually takes two hours, Buti says, but she sees most districts scheduling only for an hour. At the end of an hour, even if you aren’t complete, some districts will try to say: “Can we just finalize it?” Instead, Buti suggests parents say, “We didn’t finish, so when can we reconvene?”
6. Create a Strong Parent Impact Statement.
Describe a student’s social and education strengths, document behavioral performance at home or school and share specific behaviors that interfere with academic performance. Describe current and future concerns for your student. Share concerns your student has about school as well as additional comments.
“Parental input is the most powerful tool parents have,” Shafer says. Legal guardians, she notes, have just as many rights as a parent. “Don’t let anyone tell you anything differently.”
7. Create measurable IEP goals.
Experts say effective IEP goals should always pass the “What if everyone moves” test. Pretend your child was moving and another district and a teacher who had never met your child had to pick up the IEP. They should be able to clearly read and interpret it.
“Be literal and specific,” Buti says. “If a teacher writes a goal at the IEP table, I should be able to demonstrate it.”
That means getting very granular. For example, if an IEP goal is reading 20 of 40 Sight Words, Buti says she would want the goal to specify if the reading is done in isolation. “And are the words on a huge list, because I might be able to read flashcards but can I read them in a sentence?”
Be aware many districts use “IEP goal banks,” generic lists of IEP goals that aren’t specific or tailored to your child. Instead IEP goals should fit your child’s unique needs.
“Never let a school say, ‘We’ve written too many goals or we can’t write any more goals,’” says Buti, who has been to IEP meetings with four goals and as many as 28. “The goals need to align with the deficits.”
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