Special Issue: Getting Ready for Your IEP Meeting
Step 1: Get Organized!
Have you collected and organized your child's records in a notebook or folder? Do you have all of your child's important evaluations? IEPs? Progress reports? Your important correspondence with the school? At the IEP meeting, could you quickly retrieve important documents, such as the current IEP and the most recent evaluation?
Getting organized is one of the simplest and most powerful tools you can use to get great results for your child at school. It will help you:
- Find what you need when you need it.
- Learn what you need to know.
- Increase your credibility with school folks.
- Focus on what's important.
- Build your confidence.
- Model good behavior for your child.
- Create a "paper trail" that documents events as they occurred.
And it's easy! Just follow five simple steps:
- Collect Records. First, collect what you have: IEPs; school evaluations; third-party evaluations; progress reports; report cards; important correspondence; PSSA test results, etc.
- Request the School's File. The school's file may contain important information you do not have. Go to http://rs6.net/tn.jsp?t=ocxz8mcab.0.qbkzvmcab.apip5ecab.0&ts=S0338&p=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.paedlaw.com%2FForms%2Fshtml, copy and paste the records request form into your word processor, edit it, and mail or hand-deliver it to the principal. Most schools will produce a copy of your child's file within two weeks, although they have 45 days to respond under federal law ("FERPA"). (For more information on FERPA, see http://rs6.net/tn.jsp?t=ocxz8mcab.0.rbkzvmcab.apip5ecab.0&ts=S0338&p=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ed.gov%2Fpolicygen%2Fguid%2Ffpco%2Fferpa%2Findex.html). If you are missing other records you need, such as an independent psychologist's evaluation from years ago, request them too.
- Make three new "friends." Your "three best friends" in getting and staying organized: a 3-ring binder; a 3-hole paper punch; and file tabs. They are cheap. They will save you time!
- Complete the binder. How you organize your binder is up to you. Pete Wright recommends putting everything in chronological order year by year, numbering every page, and creating a "master document" list. (For more information, see http://rs6.net/tn.jsp?t=ocxz8mcab.0.sbkzvmcab.apip5ecab.0&ts=S0338&p=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.fetaweb.com%2F03%2Forganize.file.htm or our website at http://rs6.net/tn.jsp?t=ocxz8mcab.0.tbkzvmcab.apip5ecab.0&ts=S0338&p=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.paedlaw.com%2FOrganizingFile.shtml). But remember our "80/20 rule," which says that we generally get about 80% of our result from about 20% of our effort. For most people, it's quicker to organize the records by category. So consider this method. Section 1 of your notebook (following your first tab) will be your "Notes and To Do" section. The next section will be tests and evaluations, then IEPs and NOREPs, progress reports and report cards, third-party reports (such as a therapist's report), school correspondence, and so forth, adding further sections as you think necessary. We favor organizing each section in reverse chronological order, with the most recent document on top. If a section becomes long, we recommend numbering each page in pencil in the lower right-hand corner and then showing the location of each document in a table of contents, as follows:
Table of Contents
|Parent's Notes and To Do|| ||1|
|Tests and Evaluations|| ||2|
IEP, 4/30/07, page 1
IEP, 5/02/06, page 19
IEP, 5/15/05, page 38
IEP, 6/01/04, page 57
- Add new documents as you go. As you receive new records, add them to your binder. When you receive the school's records, copy and add to your binder any important additional documents. (Keep the original school records in a separate folder so you will always know which documents the school produced). As the IEP meeting approaches, review and update your binder.
So now you are organized! Take your binder with you to the IEP meeting. Put your child's name on it. Some parents put a photo of their child inside it. You not only will be ready for the meeting. You will look ready too!
Special Issue: Getting Ready for your IEP Meeting
Step 2: Review the Evaluation Report (ER) and Other Important Records.
When you finish organizing your child's records, read through them! The test results, evaluations, IEPs, progress reports, and other records tell the story of your child's life at school: her history, needs, progress and goals. Here are three tips on reading the file:
- Read for the "big picture" first! You can't "learn" it all at once. Keep moving! Tip: Time yourself. Put your watch on the table and allot no more than an hour for your first time through -- and stick to it.
- Separate the wheat from the chaff! Some documents tell you more than others! Standardized tests are important because they show progress (or lack of progress) in key areas like reading, math and writing. School evaluations, progress reports and IEPs are critical!
- Burrow in! Focus on key documents. Jot down unfamiliar terms for follow-up later. Don't assume the "experts" know more about your child than you do. They don't! But a psychologist, teacher, or other "professional" may have something important to say. Read for key information! Is your 8th grade child reading at the 3rd grade level? Write it down! Tip: Record your notes in a table with four columns: Document, Date, Page No. (in the notebook), and Comment.
The Evaluation Report - There's Gold in Them Thar Hills!
The Initial Evaluation Report ("ER") is the comprehensive report that the school psychologist performed before your child was found eligible for special education. Know what it says! It's important! Review re-evaluations as well. It may seem confusing. Don't be intimidated. You can learn what you need to know. These tips will help:
- Make a list!Make a list of questions, such as "What challenges is my child facing?" What "answers" do I need? What is my child's reading ability? Math ability? How well is she doing compared to other kids her age? Why can't he get along in class? Does she learn differently? If so, how? Is he making progress? What changes are needed to get better results?
- Skim first.If you walk into a room for the first time, do you try to memorize everything you see? Or do you look at what first catches your eye? Take the same approach to the ER and IEP. Skim quickly for the big picture first.
- Hunt it down!There are countless ways to get bogged down in the technical language of an ER. Avoid that trap! Go for the "gold." (More below).
- Note follow-up needed!Note unfamiliar words and concepts for later follow-up, such as "percentile" and "average" I.Q. scores. Learning the "basics" is easy. You can start with our December newsletter article on understanding test scores. (Go to www.PaEdLaw.com and click on the "E-Newsletter" link).
Hunting Down What You Need to Know in the Evaluation Report
School evaluation reports generally follow a set format. You probably won't be able to "master" everything in the ER, but you don't have to! Hunt down the most important "nuggets" of iinformation, including the following:
- I.Q. Tests. I.Q. scores shouldn't be overemphasized. But they can provide useful information on your child's strengths and weaknesses. Hunt down these scores in the evaluation report, starting with the "full-scale" I.Q. and then check out the four main "component" scores of the full-scale I.Q, including (1) Verbal comprehension - the ability to listen, understand, think, and express thoughts as words, (2) Perceptual reasoning - the ability to examine and solve problems without words, such as through comparing designs and pictures, (3) Working memory - the ability to digest and retain information in memory, and use it to complete a task, and (4) Processing speed - the ability to "scan" information, think and "process" or understand the information quickly.
- Performance tests. These scores tell how much your child has learned compared to other children in his grade and age level. "Grade equivalency levels" are a rough but useful measure of your child's performance and knowledge. What is your child's current "grade equivalency level in reading? Writing? Math? You should know!
- Other tests. The ER may report on other tesIs, such as the "Connors Rating Scale," which can help diagnose ADHA.
- Needs and Recommendations. The ER ishould assess all of your child's major needs for "special education." Not just "academic" needs, but social, emotional, physical, and other needs, too. It should recommend instruction and services to meet each major need. Make a list of each of your child's needs that is discussed in the ER. Do you agree? Are there others the psychologist missed? Do you agree with the instruction and services the psychologist recommends?
- "Present levels." The ER should discuss your child's "present levels of academic achievement" and "related developmental needs," This may include classroom observations, type of instruction, achievement test results, learning strengths and weaknesses, social, emotional and physical performance, current instructional levels, and progress in the "regular education" program. Read it. Do you agree? If not, why not?
- Classroom observations. The school psychologist must observe your child in at least one class to assess academic, behavioral and related strenths and weaknesses. The ER also may include teachers' comments on your child's skills, deficits, social interaction, grades and performance. Do you agree? Did they miss anything important? Note it.
A good evaluation report is critical to identify and put in place the services your child needs to learn and grow. You must understand what it says. Focus on key information, make notes, ask questions, get answers -- and don't get bogged down in detail. One way to "get answers" is to meet with the school psychologist, if necessary. The law envisions that you will be an active participant in the IEP process. Get the information and answers you need to make a difference for your child at school.
Would you like to know more about ERs? Go to the PaTTAN website at
http://www.pattan.net/files/Forms/English/AnnER_030207.pdf. Or go to http://www.elc-pa.org/pubs/downloads/english/dis-evaluation%20your%20child%208-07.pdf. Want to know more about federal law governing the ER?
Special Issue: Getting Ready for your IEP Meeting
Step 3: Get Real with the IEP!
The IEP is the engine that pulls the train. It should tell you how your child is performing, what instruction and services your child needs, and what services will be provided. It should set measurable goals for the coming year for each major area of need, including "academic," social, emotional, physical and other needs. It "should" do all of these things, with input from you, the parent. Sometimes, that is what happens. But too often, it doesn't.
So let's face it. For the average parent, the IEP ("Individualized Education Program" (or "Plan")) is about as clear as mud! You show up at the meeting, they put a 10-20 page document in front of you, they go through it, and when it is over, you are left wondering what it all means. Over the next 12 months, you never look at it again -- and maybe no-one at the school looks at it, either. Then, in 12 months you do it all over again.
But it doesn't have to be that way! You as the parent are the key to developing an IEP that works. To help ensure that the IEP provides what your child needs, you need to learn the "basics" of the IEP and take a few simple steps before the meeting so that you will be ready.
Anatomy of an IEP: It's Simpler Than You Think!
The IEP follows a set format. It's like a recipe. Add a little of this and a little of that, stir it up, bake at 400 degrees for two hours, and voila! You have a plan for the coming year! Ahhh! If only it were that simple! But it's simpler than you may think. Start by understanding that the IEP is divided into the following parts:
The "Let's Get Acquainted" Section - The "warm-up": date; student's name, parents' contact information, when plan begins; who's present for IEP meeting (must "sign in"). May describe your child's disability.
I. The "Don't Forget About This" Section. ("Special considerations the IEP team must consider before developing the IEP"). A checklist of needs and services to consider. If any question below applies to your child, it must be checked off in here and addressed in the IEP.
- Blind or visually impaired?
- Deaf or hearing impaired?
- Communications problems and needs? Does your child's ability to speak, listen and understand interfere with her learning and development? Would an "assistive technology device" help, such as a text reader?
- Limited ability to speak or understand the English language (non-English speakers)?
- Problem behaviors? (Are your child's behaviors making it harder for him or others to learn? Has the school tried to help? How? Should the school try something else? If so, what?
- Transition services? (What course work and services will your over-16 child need to go on to college, other training or full-time employment? (Team must invite the over 16 student to attend).
- Other Considerations? Stray stuff. Example: Does the student need help registering to vote, if 18?
II. The "So how ya doin'? Section. ("Present Levels of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance"). You can't plan for a child if you don't know how he's doing when you develop the plan! This section should tell you how your child is doing in all areas of need. It can include information from private therapists, tutors or others (including you!), standardized test results, and progress reports. It is divided into three parts:
- Present Levels of "Academic" Achievement - specifies how well your child is doing in key areas, including reading, writing and math. Is she reading at grade level or is she two grades behind? How much progress has she made in the last year? How are they measuring progress? You must know!
- Present Levels of "Functional" Performance - describes how your child is doing "functionally," such as behavior, attention, communication, social skills, and organizational skills. For example, is your child receiving speech therapy. How's it coming? What progress has she made? In what areas is more progress needed?
- How the Student's Disability Affects His Performance in the Regular Education Program. The law favors educating disabled children with non-disabled children to the maximum extent possible (the "least restrictive environment"). So how is your child doing in the general education program? What strengths does she have that can help her in the "regular ed" program? How does her disability affect her ability to participate in the regular ed program?
III. The "How 'bout a little help on this test?" section. ("Participation in State and Local Assessments"). Here the team must state if your child needs accommodations, such as extra time, for "standardized" tests, such as the "Terra Nova" (which measures achievement in reading, math, science and social studies), or if your child should take an alternative test.
IV. The "Getting Ready for Life after High School" Section. ("Student's Transition Services"). Will your child turn 16 while the current IEP is in effect? If so, it's time (and maybe past time) to focus on the future! Is your child going to college or going to work full-time after high school? Will he live independently or need support? Whatever your child's "destination," you will need a "map" showing how to get there. That's the purpose of this section of the IEP. If she's going to enter college, for example, what courses should she take between now and then to get ready? When will he take the SAT entrance exam? Will she need extra time or other "accommodations" for the SAT? Who will help her identify colleges? Many colleges offers special assistance, including a "mentor," for students with a disability. But which ones? How can you identify them and visit them? If your child is planning to enter the work force after high school, what are her interests, what courses should she take, what paid work experience can she get before completing high school, and who will provide it? If independent living is the goal for after high school, then what steps need to be taken to get him ready? Training in taking public transportation, managing a budget, preparing meals, or obtaining a driver's license? What needs to be accomplished and who specifically will provide what's needed?
- Note:If your child has a deficit in a particular skill or academic area needed for his transition that requires specialized instruction, the team must develop a "goal" in the "goals section" of the IEP that corresponds to that need. But if the activity specified here in the "transition" section is something that does not require specialized instruction, such as touring a trade school or attending a college fair, developing a special goal for that activity is not required.
V. The "Setting Goals and Tracking Progress" Section. ("Goals and Objectives"). A goal is simply a statement of what you reasonably expect to accomplish within a given period of time. Ahealthy 10-year-old girl who can do 20 sit-ups in one minute on April 1, 2008 may have the goal of doing 40 sit-ups in one minute by April 1, 2009. What makes this a "good" goal? First, it gives us a "baseline" -- it tells us how many sit-ups she can do in the beginning. If you don't know where you are when you start a journey, how can you know how far you have travelled when you reach your destination? Second, she is reasonably capable of achieving her goal (or so we assume in our example). Third, we can measure her progress by testing her from time to time, such as every week, every month or every three months. In that way, if she's not making as much progress as we expect, we can make adjustments in our approach to get her back on track. Fourth, it is clear. We can all understand what it means. Every goal in your child's IEP should meet these four requirements.
We could devote a whole newsletter (and maybe even a book!) just to the topic of setting clear goals in the IEP and tracking the results. But here we want to review a few of the "basics" on developing good goals for the IEP:
- A goal for every need. Make sure there is at least one measurable goal for every need that is directly affected by your child's disability, as identified in the most recent evaluation of your child and the "Present Levels" section of the IEP (Section II). This includes "academic" goals concerning reading, math and writing needs. It also includes "functional" goals for problem areas like behavior, social skills, speaking and listening. The difference between an "academic" goal and a "functional" goal may not always be clear. In general, a "functional" goal relates more to the "use" of a skill in everyday living. So, for example, a child may have an "academic" goal to learn to add double digit numbers and a "functional" goal to be able to add up up a check book or a restaurant bill. See the difference?
- Linking goals to "academic standards." So who determines what a child should know and when he should know it? Answer: the Pennsylvania Department of Education (Pa DOE), which has developed some standards for key knowledge and skills that a child should have mastered at each grade level. These "standards" are required to be included in the curriculum your child is taught and are tested in the annual "PSSA's" (Pennsylvania System of School Assessment) that are given in grades 3-8 and 11. (Unless your child qualifies for the "alternate" standards, if his learning challenges are more severe). Curious? Here is a link to the "standards" for grades 3, 5, 8 and 11. http://www.pacode.com/secure/data/022/chapter4/s4.83.html. So why should you care? IEP teams should be referring to these academic standards as they develop your child's goals, whenever available. So take a quick look just to get an idea of what they are about and then ask about them at your next IEP meeting. We are told that these "standards" aren't finished yet for all grades, so be aware of that as well.
- Setting clear, measurable goals. A goal is worthless if you can't accurately figure out whether your child is making progress towards achieving it. But developing a measurable goal isn't always easy. Quick tip: Every goal should have three parts: (1) "given what"; (2) "do what"; and (3) "how well." Example of reading goal: "Given five 7th grade-level reading passages ("given what"), Billy will read those passages for three weeks in a row ("do what") at a rate of 120 words per minute with 90% accuracy or higher ("how well"). Example of math goal: "Given sixth grade math computation problems ("given what"), Lisa will complete a ten-minute assessment for four weeks in a row ("do what"), with 90 percent accuracy or above ("how well"). Get it? More information - and opportunities to practice - are available on the Internet. Here's one: http://www.specialed.us/%20issues-%20IEPissues/writingiep.GoalsMeasurable.html. Quick tip: If you have someone like a reading tutor working with your child, for example, ask the tutor to help develop measurable reading goals and to attend the IEP meeting to discuss them.
- Every goal must be monitored and progress must be reported in plain language you can understand. You can't afford to wait a year before you find out whether your child is making progress towards her goals. Ya gotta know what's going on step by step! Imagine you get on the train in Paoli to go to center city. The next stop is Daylesford and the stop after that is Berwyn. Every stop on the way is an additional sign that the train is making progress on its trip to Philadelphia. If the train runs off the track in Berwyn, wouldn't you know that right away? Wouldn't that be important information? If your child "runs off the track" in achieving his reading goal in October 2008, do you really want to wait until an IEP meeting a year later to find that out? Too many parents allow this to happen! Make sure you receive regular reports on your child's progress towards achieving each goal and that each progress report is clear and understandable. Most important, if a progress report shows your child is "off the track," meet with the school folks right away to find out what happened and what needs to be done to help him get back on track and make progress towards his goal. Some schools are using charts to track progress. Try here at PaTTAN's annotated IEP form at pages 18 and 19 for some examples: http://www.pattan.net/files/Forms/English/AnnIEP_030207.pdf.
VI. The "Goodies" Section ("Special Education/Related Services/ Supplementary Aids and Services/Program Modifications"). This section specifies "how much of this" and "how much of that" your child will receive in special education and "related services" through the IEP. It's the "recipe."
- Note: "Special Education" is based on the idea that your child has a disability that requires the school to take a different approach to help your child learn, grow and develop, based on your child's unique needs.
- Section A: "Program Modifications and Specially Designed Instruction." "Special education" includes "specially designed instruction ("SDI") and "related services." Because of her disability, your child needs instruction that is specially designed for her unique needs. Sometimes, this means that what they teach your child must be adapted for her (the "content"). Sometimes, it means that how they teach your child must be adapted for her (the "methodology"). Does the team agree that your child needs 10 periods a week of one-to-one reading instruction? They must spell it out here in the "Goodies" section of the IEP. Must she receive adapted social studies materials? Write it here and spell it out!
- Section B: "Related services" include any aid or service your child needs to help him benefit from the specially designed instruction. If the "related service" is provided to your child in the regular education classroom, it is called a "supplementary service." Will the IEP provide your child with a 1:1 aide in the regular ed classroom? Write it down here, including when and for how many hours the aide will be with him. Is your child going to receive therapy from a speech therapist twice a week for 45 minutes each time? Say it here! Will your child receive a laptop computer or other "assistive technology" to help him do his work, then it must be recorded here. A "related service" also includes the transportation necessary to get your child to where he needs to go.
- Section C: "Supports for School Personnel Provided for the Child." Bet you didn't know about this section of the IEP! The law recognizes that sometimes teachers or others need more training or support to provide your child with what she needs. Did you know that the school "intermediate units" are like a "resource bank" for the school districts, and can help train teachers in subjects like progress monitoring, reading instruction, and other areas? This is a good thing to be aware of.
- Section D: Extended School Year (ESY). In next month's newsletter, we are going to write an article just on the "ESY" program that (usually) takes place during the summer. But, for now, you need to know that the IEP team must consider every year whether your child is entitled to a summer program or services funded by the school district. Although more can (and will) be said next month, you should know for now that the primary factor in determining whether a child is entitled to receive ESY services is whether continuing the services to your child during the summer (or during another break in school) is necessary to prevent him from losing the important knowledge or skills he has developed during the school year to such a degree that he could not easily and quickly "get them back" when school resumes in the fall. The schools sometimes refer to this as "regression and recoupment." If the team agrees that your child is entitled to "ESY," they must describe how, when and what he will receive in this section of the IEP.
VII. The "So What Should We Call This?" Section. Legislators and educators love to classify things! This section requires the team to classify "what your child is getting" by "type of service" and "type of support." So do you know the difference? Clear as mud? You're not alone. But here's what you need to know.
- Section A: "Type of service" refers to whether your child receives "itinerant" or "resource" services, and whether they are provided full-time or part-time. "Itinerant" service means your child mostly attends the regular ed classes with so-called "typical" kids, but receives services from the special ed folks either inside or outside the classroom for part of the school day. "Resource services," means that your child mostly attends regular ed classes during the day, but whatever special ed services he receives are delivered to him in the resource classroom or "resource room." Next, "part-time" special ed instruction means that your child receives special ed services outside of the regular ed classroom, but in a regular ed school, for part of the day, and receives some instruction in a regular ed classroom part of the day. "Full-time" special ed instruction means that you child participates in special ed classes all-day, either inside or outside of a regular ed school, with some limited opportunities to interact with "typical" students, like at lunch.
- Section B: "Type of support" refers to the nine recognized types of special ed "support." Here are the most common ones: Autistic Support; Emotional Support; Learning Support; Life Skills Support; Physical Support; and Speech and Language Support. So, for example, your child might receive part-time emotional support or itinerant speech and language support.
- Section C: Program Location. The team must state whether your child will attend the neighborhood school and participate in regular ed classes and, if not, why not. Keep in mind that the law requires the district to place your child with "non-disabled" children at school to the "maximum extent appropriate" because the research indicates that "mainstreaming," on the whole leads to better outcomes and better preparation for life after school. So the school is under pressure to place your child in the "least restrictive environment."
VIII. The "Numbers" Section. ("Penn Data on Least Restrictive Environment"). School districts must account to the state if too many of their special education students are not receiving services in the "least restrictive environment" ("LRE"). Remember that the "regular education" classroom, where the so-called "typical" (non-disabled) children are taught, is considered to be the least restrictive environment. A "resource room" where special education students go for "learning support," for example, is considered to be more restrictive. A private school for learning disabled children is considered to be more restrictive still. So what information must the team provide in this section? If your child receives special education ("sped") services at her regular education school (usually, her neighborhood school), the team must determine the total number of hours per week that (1) she receives sped services of any kind, (2) that she receives sped services in the regular ed classroom, (3) that she receives sped services outside the regular ed classroom, and (4) that she attends school. The team then determines the ratio of the total hours per week that your child receives services outside the regular ed classroom to the total number of hours she spends in school. So, for example, if your child spent 10 hours per week in the resource room for reading instruction and a total of 30 hours per week in school, that means she spends 33% of each week outside of the regular ed classroom and in a more restrictive environment. Get it? (# hours receiving sped services outside the regular ed classroom (10) divided by # hours in school (30) = 33.33%). So if your child received 10 hours of sped services in the regular ed classroom and none outside of it, her "LRE" score would be 0% because she would be receiving all of her sped services while with the typical kids in the regular education classroom. (0 hours of sped services outside of the regular ed classroom divided by 30 hours in school = 0%). Low scores are "good" for the schools. That means that the special ed student is spending most of his time in the "least restrictive environment" with the regular ed students. High scores are "bad." That means that the child is spending most of his time in a more restrictive environment away from the regular ed students.
A Final Thought on IEPs
Yikes! There's a lot of information here! So don't try to master it all at once. But it's important to learn more about your child's IEP. Remember: It's the engine that pulls the train. Our advice: Break this up into small chunks. Come back to it from time to time. Read about a section here and then compare it to what's in your child's IEP. One step at a time. Before you know it, you'll be up to speed. Read about IEPs at the Wrightslaw website, www.wrightslaw.com. Check out a book in the library on IEPs, if you want. You also can go to the PaTTAN site to check out the "annotated" IEP there:
http://www.pattan.k12.pa.us/files/Forms/English/AnnIEP_030207.pdf. Your child is counting on you to learn what you can to help ensure that your child gets the services he or she needs to learn, grow and prepare for the future.
Special Issue: Getting Ready for Your IEP Meeting
Step 4: Quick Tips on Preparing for the IEP Meeting
As the IEP meeting approaches, there are some additional steps you can take that will help ensure that the meeting is productive and that your child receives the "specialized instruction" and needed services to allow her to make progress in all areas of need over the coming year. Our purpose here is just to highlight a few of those steps you can take and give you some ideas you can use as you get ready for the next IEP meeting or other important school meeting. So here are our top three "quick tips":
- Prepare a Handout. Parents should never go to an IEP meeting without a short handout to distribute at that meeting, in our opinion. Why? First, it forces you to think about what you want to cover and accomplish at the meeting. We all are constantly thinking "thoughts in our head" and talking about lots of things. But when we must type or write down what we think and want, it forces us to think harder and get clearer. Second, it adds another element of "organization" to the meeting. The school folks will want to go through the IEP page by page -- and that's fine. They have their "agenda"; you need yours. Remember: You, the parent, are legally a full member of the IEP team. Third, it shows you are organized and proactive. You want the team to take you seriously! So you can't be a passive participant, who waits for the team to come up with all of the "answers" for your child. If you as the parent don't show a strong interest in your child, is it likely that the busy people on the team will? A handout puts the team on notice that you "came to play," not to "watch." Fourth, it creates a "paper trail." Things you write "live on"; things you "say" disappear. You know it; they know it, too. It's one of the ways you can get the team to pay more attention to what your child needs.
- Ideas for a handout. List your "top five" concerns for your child and pass it around. Very simple. Or list your "top five" (or whatever) questions for the team. Or you can prepare a "problem resolution worksheet" or a "parent agenda." We like the ideas in Chapters 25 and 26 of From Emotions to Advocacy by Pete and Pam Wright - a book for parents we love so much we give it to parents when we first meet with them. (Try their website as well: www.wrightslaw.com). But one idea is simply to prepare a table showing the "problem" in the first column ("Bill is reading three grades below grade level"); your requested response in the second column (1:1 reading instruction two periods per day), whether the team agreed or did not agree in the third column ("Yes" or "No"), and the person who will provide the service in the fourth column. Our advice: Keep whatever you hand out simple, short and clear - and make sure you go through it during the meeting!
- Think creatively! Well before the meeting, try to open your mind to what you want the team to understand and how you can help it understand. So, for instance, we know a mom who recorded her young child painfully attempting to read the day before the meeting. She played the short recording when the meeting started. It helped the team see the problem and commit to doing more to help. Think about what you want the team to understand and do. Who can help you communicate that message to the team? A therapist, psychiatrist or psychologist? A reading tutor? Have them "call in" during the meeting or, where possible, attend the meeting with you. Do you think a non-attorney advocate may be helpful? We have listed some in the area, both "fee" and "no-fee," at our website: www.PaEdLaw.com. Take time to think about the concerns the school folks may have. Try to step "into their shoes" as you think ahead to what will be discussed at the meeting. Seek to understand the situation from their point of view. Think about whether you have an "ally" on the team or at the school. How can that person help you?
- Be organized! Look organized! Nobody is expecting perfection here. Maybe you will not have your child's file completely organized by the time of the meeting. But put a few documents, such as the most recent evaluation, last year's IEP, important emails or other correspondence with the school, your notes, etc., in a binder, label it and take it with you to the meeting. Is there a page from a report that you think is especially important? Copy it and pass it around. (General rule: People learn better when they "see" the message while they "hear" the message). So show them something! You will be better able to prepare for the meeting and participate in it. Equally important, you will communicate to the team that you are serious, prepared, concerned and vigilant. And that's a pretty important message for them to understand.
Could we say lots more about things you can do to get better results at the IEP meeting? You betcha! And we will - in future issues of the newsletter. But remember: Information you can use is as close as your computer. Google! Read! Think about what your child needs and how you are going to get it. If you do, your chances of helping your child get what he needs to learn, grow, develop and get ready for further education, employment and independent living will go up dramatically.
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