Empowering children with learning differences through strength-based solutions.

Special Education Information for Parents

When you have a child with a learning difference, Individualized Education Plan Meetings, or IEPs are a critical component of your child’s education, ensuring they receive the maximum education benefit. That being said, many parents find the process to be daunting and overwhelming, leaving them uncertain as to how to navigate the complex process. Here are some simple tips to improve the quality of your child’s IEP.

1. Request the reports ahead of time

Asking to review the IEP reports that are presented at each IEP is a critical strategy, especially when the IEP is a triennial and many reports are presented. Viewing reports ahead of time both equips you with a greater sense of preparedness in addition to making you feel more comfortable with the multitude of information covered.

2. Send your concerns or specific questions prior to the meeting

Sending your concerns to your child’s special education teacher ahead of time gives the administration as well as the teacher the space to discuss possible options and solutions prior to the IEP. This can make the overall meeting morea

3. Ask for work samples to support academic goals and progress

Accountability is a very important part of an IEP, and academic goals and goal progress updates should be based on assessments and data collection as described in the IEP. Viewing grade level assessments, work samples, or data collection charts will help to get a better sense of your child’s level of performance, in addition to the alignment of the proposed goals. Be sure to request these materials prior to the meeting, so participants can come prepared.

4. Remember that the IEP being presented is a DRAFT

You are a critical member of the IEP team, therefore your input is imperative to the outcome of these meetings. If you have changes you would like to see (a goal added, services increased, for instance), propose those changes in the meeting and request that they be implemented into the IEP.

5. Get input regarding accommodations and modifications

Your child may need a specific accommodation or modifications in order to access the curriculum. It is critical to get the input of both the general education teacher as well as the special education teacher when including accommodations and modifications as these changes will often be implemented in both classroom environments. The school psychologist at a triennial meeting may also have meaningful suggestions based on your child’s cognitive profile and processing.

Signs of a Successful Individualized Education Plan

With the overwhelming amount of paperwork of an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), how can a parent determine whether or not their child’s IEP is well done? What are the signs that the goals laid forth are appropriate and will maximize educational benefit?

1. Continuity

When the IEP is presented, there is a clear, present flow. The areas are presented as areas of concern and are aligned with the assessments given in order to further explore any deficits the child may have. When the assessment results are presented, these specific areas are discussed with more detail, looking closer at the specific areas in which the child struggles. This may be gathered using standardized assessments, in an initial and triennial IEP, or from an informal assessment. From there, the goals are written to address each area of concern.

2. Supported Claims

The IEP includes a student’s present levels, identifying their current performance in all academic areas. A critical component when addressing the present levels is the focus on addressing the IEP goals that were written the previous year, and giving specific evidence to support whether or not the child has met each goal. At the annual or triennial meeting, the parents will already have an idea of goal progress, as continued goal updates are received (generally along with the report card calendar), throughout the year. A well-written goal progress update will not only specify whether or not the goal was met, but will also include at what level of proficiency the child is currently performing. You may request to view the IEP goal assessments that were used to establish the present levels in an effort to achieve a stronger understanding of your child’s performance level.

3. Aligned Goals

While goals are aligned with your child’s areas of needs as determined by the assessments, remember that the IEP goals are a mere snapshot of your child’s progress, and do not encompass all they will be working on in the coming year. At times, writing too many IEP goals can actually hinder the process, as it becomes difficult for the special educator to balance the academic needs, as well as track progress appropriately. The ‘SMART’ acronym is often used to describe how a well-written goal is formatted: It should be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time based. The following graphic gives more detail regarding the critical elements of a strong IEP goal.

4. Information from a variety of sources

When presenting an IEP, particularly an initial or triennial review, it’s imperative that the team considers a variety of evidence in order to determine eligibility. While a formal assessment battery (educational testing) and psychological testing (IQ test) are the norm, follow-up testing as well a standardized test in the specific area of weakness may also be given in addition to the academic battery. The assessment summary reports should not only summarize the tests given and the scores/percentile rankings, but should also identify testing observations and classroom observations, specifically those applicable observations aligned with the area of suspected disability.

5. Educational Benefit

Finally, the key to a successful IEP is growth from year to year. Through the process, it should be clear that the child is growing both academically and behaviorally. While this does not necessarily mean that all skills are on grade level, but rather skills are moving in that direction and the goals are written in order to help bridge that gap. If a child struggles in a specific area, the goals year-to- year should focus on encompassing new standards and skills that build upon one another. If the goals seem repetitive year after year and the child is not progressing, this may be a sign that the child is not receiving an educational benefit, and therefore the program and services should be evaluated.

Understanding your rights as a parent can be an overwhelming task, but knowledge is Power!

about Colleen Arnold

Colleen Arnold, Founder of Arnold Advocacy LLC, is a special education advocate, working with families across Marin County to empower students with learning differences through strength-based solutions for both school and home. Colleen specializes in working with students with learning disabilities, autism, attention differences, as well as those with behavioral challenges.