Special education IEP team develops a plan for education and services for your child

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Ten Tips for a Successful IEP Meeting by Lisa Simmons

Tip #1: Always try to maintain relationships. You cannot successfully include your child without the team.

Tip #2: Keep the focus on your child’s needs, not the district’s resources.

Tip #3: Set priorities, every issue isn’t critical so focus your energy and your negotiating on the 2 or 3 items that are most vital to your child.

Tip #4: Build a record. Keep your paperwork in an organized notebook so you can find what you need, when you need it.

Tip #5: Be an active listener. To find the “best” solution you have to understand not just your perspective, but theirs.

Tip #6: Bring someone along. A friend can help listen or take notes and offer great moral support.

Tip #7: Share what works. Each new team will be starting from scratch. Fill them in on what you already know works with your child.

Tip #8: Come prepared. Don’t let lack of preparation hold your child back. If the team doesn’t come to the table with ideas, you should.

Tip #9: Know your rights. No one can take advantage of you if you know the rules.

Tip #10: Be positive & expect the best. We usually get just what we expect

The development of your child's IEP must begin with the consideration of several important factors. These are:

* The strengths of your child
* Your concerns for improving your child's education
* The results of your child's initial evaluation or most recent evaluation
* The academic, developmental and functional needs of your child.

Careful consideration of each of these factors by the IEP team leads to the development of a statement about your child's present levels of academic and functional performance.

Your concerns as a parent should be considered as important as the school's concerns and information.

You should provide a written statement of concerns about your child's academic, developmental and functional needs to help ensure that the IEP reflects your input.

For example, if your child is struggling with homework each night or experiencing difficulties participating in activities such as after school clubs or sports, include these as concerns that should be addressed.

As noted above, IDEA 2004 adds a new requirement that the IEP must take into consideration the "academic, developmental and functional needs" of your child. This allows the IEP team to broaden what it might consider important for your child's IEP beyond academic performance and include needs associated with other important aspects of your child's performance.

Developmental and functional needs can include areas such as social skill development, behavioral problems and attentional issues – all areas of development that can have significant impact on your child's academic performance. Your child's participation in extracurriculum and other nonacademic activities should also be considered.

Special Factors. Next, the IEP team must consider a list of "special factors" that might require additional elements in the IEP. These factors are:

* The use of positive behavioral interventions and strategies to address a child's behavior that gets in the way of his or her learning or that of others

* The language needs of a child with limited English proficiency

* Instruction in Braille for a child who is blind or visually impaired

* The language and communication needs for a child who is deaf or hard of hearing

* The need for assistive technology devices and services for all children with disabilities (e.g special computer software, calculators, audio books).

For example, if the IEP team feels that a student's behavior is interfering with learning, the team should develop a behavior intervention plan. The behavior plan must be based on an assessment of the student’s behavior so that interventions can be developed to address the specific behaviors of concern.

A thorough discussion of behavior plans and the assessment required to develop such plans is beyond the scope of this guide. However, if your child’s behavior is interfering with learning, be sure to become familiar with this process and ask the IEP team to address behavior as part of your child's functional needs. Start by reviewing the information in the IEP Team's Introduction To Functional Behavioral Assessment And Behavior Intervention Plans.

Present Level of Performance (PLOP). Next, the IEP team develops a statement describing your child's present levels of academic and functional performance. This statement should be drawn from a variety of information and data, including information provided by you. The PLOP must include information on how your child's disability affects his or her involvement and progress in the general education curriculum. The PLOP establishes the starting point, or baseline, that will be used to develop the IEP's measurable annual goals, so it's important that objective information such as recent test scores and other evaluation data be included in this statement.

Examples of inappropriate and appropriate present level of performance statements (PLOP):

Inappropriate: Susan is not progressing adequately in the second grade reading curriculum.

Appropriate: Susan is reading 15-20 words per minute (WPM) with three to eight errors in second grade material. She reads slowly with inaccurate decoding skills.

Measurable Annual Goals. Next, the IEP team develops a set of measurable annual goals, including academic and functional goals. The goals must be designed to meet your child's needs that result from his or her disability. Additionally, the goals must enable your child to be involved in and make progress in the general education curriculum. These goals should be written only for areas of need that arise from your child's disability. These are not goals for your child’s total education program (unless all areas are affected). Goals must be measurable and must relate directly to the information in the PLOP.

Examples of inappropriate and appropriate annual goals:

Inappropriate: Susan will improve her decoding skills and reading speed.

Appropriate: Susan will read 80 words per minute (WPM) with zero to two errors in second grade material.

Short-term Objectives. For students with significant cognitive disabilities who participate in district and state-wide testing via alternate assessments based on alternate achievement standards, each annual IEP goal is also broken down into short-term objectives – measurable intermediate steps between the baseline (as described in the PLOP) and the annual goal.

While the requirement for short-term objectives for all other students was eliminated in IDEA 2004, some states may choose to continue to require such interim steps as part of annual goals.

Progress Reporting. Next, the IEP team will describe how your child's progress toward meeting the annual goals will be measured and reported to you. This description must include when you will receive regular progress reports. For example, progress reports can be issued quarterly, at the same time that report cards are sent home to all parents.

Reports of progress toward annual goals should involve objective measures – such as results gathered by curriculum based measurement and standardized tests – and should not rely on any one single measure. A combination of measures will best document your child's progress and show if the special services are meeting your child's needs. Teacher observation and grades alone are not appropriate measures of student progress.

Services/Programs. Next, the IEP team must develop a statement about the special education (specially designed instruction), related services and supplementary aids and services that will be provided to your child, or to someone else in order to address the needs of your child.

The proposed special education services, related services and supplementary aids and services must enable your child to:

* Advance appropriately toward reaching the annual goals
* Be involved in and make progress in the general education curriculum, extracurricular and other nonacademic activities
* Be educated and participate with children who do not have disabilities.

The statement of special education services must include specific information such as:

* Dates (date services will begin and end – generally one year)
* Frequency (how often the services will be provided; for example, the number of times each day or week and the minutes or hours that will be provided each time)
* Location (where the services will be provided; for example, in a resource room)
* Duration (the period of time each service will be provided).

This statement of special education services is the school's commitment of resources to your child that will allow him or her to reach the measurable annual goals developed by the IEP team.

IDEA 2004 adds an important new requirement: the IEP team's choice of special education and related services must be guided by peer-reviewed research whenever possible. In other words, instructional programs and other services should be supported by strong evidence of effectiveness that has been determined through scientifically-based research. This is particularly important when determining instructional programs to address reading difficulties since there is a robust body of research showing the effectiveness of an array of reading programs, also known as "methodologies."

You should ask whether the school has any scientifically-based research to support the instructional program or methodology that is proposed for your child, including evidence of its effectiveness. This applies not only to instructional programs to address academic needs, but also to the programs chosen to address behavioral or other identified areas. Schools should be able to offer a variety of instructional approaches – not simply one approach that is used with all students who have a particular learning problem or disability.

Unfortunately, sometimes there is a "disconnect" between the goals to be achieved and the frequency, location and duration of the services your child is to be provided. You should be certain that the frequency of the proposed services is adequate to meet your child's needs and will result in reaching the annual goals. Addressing your child's academic difficulties in a timely manner is essential if he or she is expected to participate in the grade-level general education curriculum.

Participation in General Education. The IEP team must describe how much time your child will spend outside of the regular education classroom and away from students who do not have disabilities. This requirement is designed to protect your child's right to be educated in the least restrictive environment as required by IDEA.

Your child should have full access to the general education curriculum regardless of where he or she receives special education and related services. If special education services, such as reading instruction, will be provided in a separate location such as a resource room, be sure to ask what will be happening in your child's general education classroom during the time your child will not be present to make sure your child won't be missing valuable classroom instruction.

Accommodations and Assessment Participation. The IEP team will develop a statement about any individual accommodations that your child should use while taking state and district-wide tests, or assessments, including tests required by the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). This statement will also say whether your child will participate in the regular assessment or in an alternate form of assessment.

Take time to understand the particular tests or assessments that your child is expected to take, including the content of the test, how it will be presented, the response format (e.g. multiple choice, essay), and the administration (setting and length). You should also fully understand the decisions that will be made regarding your child based on the assessment scores, such as moving on to the next grade (grade promotion) or graduation.

Make sure that decisions regarding accommodations for state and district-wide assessments are made carefully and are based on your child’s individual needs – and not on his disability category.

Accommodations for classroom instruction and classroom tests may differ from accommodations allowed on state assessments. All accommodations, the settings for which they are intended should be included in the IEP.

You may find that an accommodation your child has been using in the classroom and on classroom tests is not allowed by state guidelines during state testing. Use NCLD's Parent Advocacy Briefs on Assessment Options, Assessment Accommodations and High Stakes Testing to learn more about these important aspects of your child's IEP.

Transition. Beginning when your child is turning age 16, IDEA requires that the first IEP that will be in effect must also include plans for your child’s successful transition from high school to postsecondary education or employment. This important process includes adding new members to the IEP team and developing appropriate measurable postsecondary goals.

The proposed IEP will likely include several annual goals and the services that will allow your child to achieve those goals. You may agree to all or some of the proposed services, programs or placements. If you decide to accept the IEP as proposed, indicate that you accept by signing the IEP.

* If you accept only parts of the proposed IEP, indicate which items you agree to have provided and which items you wish to dispute. You should also provide a written explanation of your disagreement and ask that it be included as an addendum, or addition, to the IEP document. A second IEP meeting may be scheduled to try to work out the items in dispute, or you can use the dispute resolution options discussed in Chapter 11.
* If you refuse to accept the proposed IEP entirely, indicate your disagreement on the IEP form. You might be asked to sign the IEP to indicate your attendance or participation at the IEP meeting, which does not indicate your agreement. Be sure that your signature clearly indicates only your attendance if you do not consent to the proposed IEP. At this point, you are free to use the dispute resolution options discussed in Chapter 11.
* If you refuse to allow your child to begin to receive the proposed special education services, the school cannot begin delivery of initial services and is not required to provide a free appropriate public education, as required by IDEA, to your child.

You should be given a complete copy of the final IEP (at no cost to you).

Changing an IEP

After the initial IEP is finalized or later IEPs are agreed upon (usually annually), IDEA 2004 provides new ways that parents and schools can make changes they agree upon:

* Once the annual IEP team meeting has taken place, schools and parents are allowed to amend or change the IEP without holding another meeting of the full team.
* The entire IEP does not need to be rewritten in order to include such changes; however, parents may request a copy of the revised IEP with the changes included. At a minimum, you should receive a copy of the IEP changes in writing.

If the changes are made in this manner, all members of the IEP team must be made aware of the changes and their responsibility in implementing the changes.

While these new provisions make it more convenient for both parents and schools to make IEP changes, you should be cautious about using this approach to changing your child's IEP. Minor changes involving such things as accommodations can be easily revised this way, but significant revisions such as changes in the services, the frequency of those services, and how behavioral or disciplinary issues are addressed are reasons to have a full IEP team meeting. When making IEP changes without a team meeting, you should make sure that the school representative making the change(s) is authorized to do so by the school district. Parents are free to request an IEP meeting at any time, and requests should always be made in writing.
Access to IEPs

Your child's IEP contains highly confidential information and schools are required to limit access to confidential student educational records, including IEPs. However, IDEA makes it clear that your child’s IEP must be accessible to each person responsible for its implementation – this includes all regular education teachers, special education teachers, related service providers, and other service providers who are involved in the services to be delivered to your child. So, expect that access to your child's IEP will be restricted, but also make sure that every person involved in your child's educational program is made aware of the IEP and their role in its implementation.
The Annual IEP Review

After your child's initial IEP is developed and you have provided informed consent for the school to begin delivering special education services, the school is required to review and revise (as needed) all IEPs at least once each year. This annual IEP review will follow the same process as your child's initial IEP. Specifically, the annual IEP review will focus on:

* Any lack of expected progress toward the annual goals as well as progress in the general education curriculum
* The results of any reevaluations conducted according to the requirements described in Chapter 5: Evaluation
* Information that you provide about your child
* Any additional information such as your child’s performance on state and district assessments.

As required in the development of initial IEPs, your child's general education teacher must participate in the review and revision of the IEP.

Parent Perspective: Tips for School Meetings
Jody from Georgia describes ways to be an equal partner at any meeting about your child. Click the play button at right to listen or read the transcript.

Signing Annual IEPs. IDEA does not require parents to sign annually updated IEPs – informed parental consent is required only for the school to begin the initial delivery of special education services. However, it is common practice for all IEP team members to sign, primarily for the purpose of verifying their participation. The school district is obligated to provide the services in an IEP once initial parental consent is obtained. Parents can withdraw their consent for services at any time, as stated in the Procedural Safeguards notice (see Chapter 4).

While IDEA requires that your child's IEP be reviewed at least once per year, both you and the school district are free to request more frequent IEP meetings to address issues and concerns.
When you move

New provisions in IDEA 2004 are intended to ensure that your child's special education program continues without interruption when he or she moves to a new district either within the same state or to another state.

Moving Within the Same State. If your child is changing school districts within the same state, the new district must provide the same or comparable services as those listed in the previous IEP until it either formally accepts the previous IEP or develops and implements a new one according to the process described in this chapter.

Moving from One State to Another. If your child transfers between states, IDEA 2004 requires that the new district must continue comparable services until it:

* Conducts an evaluation of your child, if necessary. For example, the new school may request permission to conduct an evaluation to obtain more current information about your child's level of performance
* Develops a new IEP, if appropriate, that is consistent with federal and state laws. For example, since states may have laws that govern IEPs in addition to the federal laws, developing a new IEP that meets the state's requirements may be in order.

Transfer of Records. Both the old and new schools are required to take reasonable steps to ensure that your child's IEP is promptly transferred, as well as any documentation related to special education, related services and other records. To best ensure that special education services start promptly at the new school, you should get a copy of your child's records before moving and provide these records to the new school when you enroll your child

When your child reaches the age of 16, transition planning will begin.

The Complete IEP Guide: How to Advocate for Your Special Ed Child by Lawrence M. Siegel. An understandable and practical guide through the complex special education maze of the IEP!

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