Education Law Advocates, P.C.

Organizing the File

Education Law Advocates, P.C.
Education Attorneys

Organize Your Child’s Records and Reap the Results

Pop quiz!

Question 1: What is one of the easiest ways you can become a better advocate for your child?

Answer: Get organized!

Question 2: Where’s the best place to start getting organized?

Answer:  Your child’s educational records.

ADVANTAGES OF ORGANIZING YOUR CHILD’S RECORDS

We can’t count all of the advantages of getting your child’s records organized. But here are just five of the biggest:

  1. Instant credibility. You will be the “go-to” person for your child’s records. You will know those records better than anyone else on the IEP team. And school personnel will respect you for it.
  2. See the forest and the trees. Sometimes, we miss the “big picture” What was our child’s reading level four years ago? What is it now? What evaluations have been done in the last five years? How did she score on the PSSA’s? How have her goals changed in the last two IEP’s? Reviewing and organizing your child’s records will give you the “big” picture and the “little” picture – and you need both!
  3. Knowledge is power. Facts are king! We love facts. Facts about your child’s strengths. Facts about your child’s weaknesses. Facts about your child’s programs. Facts about your child’s IEP. You need facts to make winning arguments. An argument that is not built on facts is a little like the house the little pig built out of straw – and we know what happened to him! Reviewing and organizing your child’s records will put the important facts where they belong – at your fingertips.
  4. Self-Confidence! Dealing with teachers and administrators can be intimidating. After all, they are the education “experts,” right? Well, as adults, we know that, like in every profession, some educators are good; some are not. Some educators want to help; some do not. But know this: You are the expert on your child. No-one knows him as well as you. Organizing and knowing your child’s records will give you the confidence you need to deal effectively with the team.
  5. Getting What Your Child Needs. This is the “bottom line.” Through organizing your child’s records, learning what they say, and being able to produce a record quickly when needed, you will increase your chances of getting the services your child needs. Isn’t that what this is all about?

A WORD OF ADVICE

If you have lots of your child’s records scattered around, getting organized can seem overwhelming, like cleaning up a messy garage or basement.  You think: “Ugghh! It’s too big a job!”

We understand.  But remember: Your child is counting on you to be a good advocate. Getting organized will make you a better advocate. It could mean the difference between getting and not getting the services that your child needs. What is more important than your child’s education and future?

As you follow the steps below, keep in mind the “80/20 rule.” That “rule” says that, in general, we get 80% of our results in any project from about 20% of our effort. So keep that mind. Focus on the main things. Do the best you can. But it doesn’t have to be perfect.

And most important: Get Started Now! Don’t put it off!

GETTING STARTED

We like the method of organizing the file proposed by Pete and Pam Wright, and the following steps in getting organized are based in large part on their method. For more information on their approach, you can consult their book entitled “Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy” (FETA), a book that we highly recommend to parents, or go to their FETA website, www.fetaweb.com.

Of course, if you have a method that works, stay with it.  But most parents either don’t use any method of organizing their child’s records or the one they are using isn’t really working.

So here is how to get – and stay – organized:

Step 1:  Organize What You Have!

Most parents already have lots of their child’s records around the house. They may be in folders or notebooks or inside envelopes or on your night table or behind the TV or just loose: IEP’s, evaluations, third-party reports, letters, report cards, medical records, homework. Get them all and put them in one place. You’re on your way!

Once you have everything in one place:

  • Sort the records by year.  Don’t waste time reading them now! There will be plenty of time for that after you get the records organized. For now, just go through the records and sort them into piles by year. You can put each document in a folder labeled by year or a “mail slot,” or whatever. Put aside documents you don’t need. You may want to save a few samples of your child’s homework from prior years, for example, such as a short essay he prepared. But you’ll be overwhelmed if you try to keep all of it.
  • Date each document.  Date each document in the lower right corner. You know, “11/05/99,” for example. Make the date small but big enough to read. Use a pencil. You might have to erase a date sometime.
  • Sort by date. Now, start with the first year for which you have records. Put those records in order, starting with the oldest record for that year on top. Do the same for the second year, and so forth, until all of the records are sorted by date.
  • Put your records into 3-Ring Notebooks.  Hole-punch each document and put it into a 3-ring notebook. Use tabs to separate each year’s records in the notebook. Label the tabs by year neatly. You need to be able to find what you are looking for quickly and effortlessly. So be neat!

Step 2:  Read for the “Big Picture”

Now you’re ready to read through the records. Begin at the beginning! This is the story of your child. What could be more interesting or of more importance? But don’t get bogged down. A psychological evaluation, for example, may contain lots of terms and numbers with which you are unfamiliar. Don’t get stuck! You are reading to get the “big picture.” So just skim through the reports, where necessary, to get a sense of what they are about. If your attention begins to flag, it’s time to stop. Come back to it when you are ready.

Step 3:  Get the Missing Records

Most parents have accumulated lots of their child’s records. So we recommend getting starting right away with filing and reading what you have. But as you file and read the records on hand, be alert for what you don’t have: the comprehensive evaluation performed three years earlier; the reading specialist’s report; the IEP from two years’ earlier; whatever they may be. Then do the following:

  • Make a list of doctors, evaluators, therapists or others who may have additional information on your child, with their contact information.
  • Send a letter to each of them requesting your child’s records.
  • Send a letter to your child’s school principal and special ed director requesting a copy of her entire file.  Ask for everything, and include examples of the documents you want. If you would like a sample letter to the school requesting records, email us and we will send it to you. Some parents have had success taking the letter to the school office and offering to make the copies there for the school clerk. However you get them, get them.
  • Always keep the original records that you receive from the school in a separate container so you will know exactly what the school provided to you. Make a copy of any important additional records received from the school that was not in your 3-ring binder. Then sort the new documents by date, write the date in pencil on the lower-right corner of each document, read through them, and insert them by date in your 3-ring binder. Follow the same procedure with new documents you receive from other sources.

Step 4:  Create a Master Document List

You’re in the home stretch! Now, it’s time to create your master document list. That’s like a table of contents or index – with some additional detail that you will add. It looks like this:

Date

Source

Type

Notes

1/15/04

Smith

Psychological Evaluation

Independent reading level grade

3; reading comprehension: grade 4; strengths: expressive language, reading fluency, math

5/15/04

Freedom Elementary

IEP

Goal: Wilson Reading Training, 30 min./3xweek; No short-term objectives

A format like this is simple to create in Word – Tables.  That allows you to easily insert other entries later in the proper chronological order by simply creating a new row within the table. But if you are not comfortable with the word processor, you can accomplish the same thing using paper and a ruler. But make it neat!

Start at the beginning of your 3-ring binder.  Note the date, source and type of your first document. Then go to the second document, and so on until you finish. Don’t fill in the “Notes” column yet.

After you have listed all of the documents in your master document list, go back and take another look at each document.  Under “Notes,” insert a brief note of what you think is most important. Don’t get bogged down in details. Just do the best you can. When you are finished, insert your master document list at the front of your 3-ring binder.

As you receive new information, insert it in your binder. Update your master document list regularly. Review it from time to time and before important meetings.

Step 5:   Take a Bow!

When you finish, congratulate yourself! Do something nice for yourself. You’ve accomplished something very important.

So now you’re organized!  You’re more knowledgeable about your child and her records. You’re better able to identify and advocate for the services your child needs.

You’re empowered!

ELA Education Law Advocates PC - Special Education Lawyers

The Culbertson Building
590 Snyder Avenue
West Chester, Pennsylvania 19382
Voice: 610.696.5006
Fax: 610.696.6590
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Education Law Advocates, P.C. skillfully represents parents and their special needs children in southeastern and central Pennsylvania, including West Chester, Lower Merion, Coatesville, Paoli, Downingtown and Upper Darby, and throughout the Philadelphia metro area, including Chester County, Montgomery County, Delaware County, Bucks County, Philadelphia, Lancaster County and Berks County.

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