Make the Most of Your Child’s IEP
Raising a child is challenging enough, but when your child has special education needs, it can feel overwhelming. Developing the best plan to help your child navigate the school system can be the key to your child’s success.
An Individualized Education Plan, or IEP, is a written, legal document required by federal law and by the state to describe the education plan that parents and the school have designed for a child who has special learning needs. Getting an IEP is not automatic. Eligibility is determined through a process of referral, testing and evaluation completed by school staff with parents.
The IEP is the keystone of the special education process, determining the service level and placement for each student. The plan will include the student’s present level of performance, annual goals that address any deficit areas identified in current evaluations and short-term objectives and benchmarks. The annual goals are used to measure progress in special education services.
IEPs are developed at a meeting of the IEP team consisting of the parent, local education agency (LEA) representative, special education teacher, mainstream education teacher and student, when appropriate.
Mary Watson, director of the Exceptional Children Division with the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, offers some advice on the IEP process and preparing the plan.
“It is important for the parents and school educators to build a strong working relationship that can best serve the child,” says Watson. “Preparing the best IEP is an important part of the process.” Preparation, she says, includes the following:
• Before the IEP meeting, make a list of your child’s strengths and weaknesses to share with the committee. Remember that no one knows your child better than you do. It also can be helpful to talk with your child’s teachers to gain more information to help give the committee a complete picture of your child.
• Take time to review the IEP information on the N.C. Department of Public Instruction’s Web site. The site — www.ncpublicschools.org — offers a wealth of information on all issues, including the services available for students with learning disabilities and the IEP process.
• Copies of the forms that will be completed in the IEP conference are available on the state Web site. It can be helpful to review these forms before the meeting. A copy of the Parents Rights Handbook, which is given to parents at the IEP meeting, can be read online, as well.
• You can also request a pre-IEP meeting with school educators to review the forms that are required. These forms can be confusing and challenging. For example, 26 various modifications on classroom instruction are listed. These vary from reading aloud tests to marking in test booklets to having multiple test sessions. It helps to have a working knowledge of the forms before the actual meeting.
• Once written, IEPs are regularly reviewed and revised to meet the changing needs of the child. At least annually, the IEP team must review the student’s current IEP and determine if the annual goals were attained. A new IEP is developed at this time.
• When it comes to our children, we can be very emotional. However, it’s important to be honest with yourself about your child’s needs and skills. Be honest with teachers and staff about expectations and goals. Do your best to make sure your child’s needs match your expectations and goals.
• IEPs have both short- and long-term goals ranging from strategies used in the classroom to a plan that includes working with specialists such as speech pathologists or school social workers. Benchmarks also are included in the short term objectives. The instructional goals and benchmarks are specific. For example, “Sam will use simple sentences and questions in simulated conversation by 12/01/06.” Methods also are used to measure progress toward the annual goals. These can include teachers’ tests, logs, charts, projects and more.
• Make sure the IEP goals are clearly defined and measurable. If your child is working on identifying the ABCs, don’t just write: “Continuing to work on identification of ABCs.” Be specific; if your child can identify 10 letters of the alphabet, and you and the teacher think it is reasonable for your child to master 20 letters by midyear, write that. Spell out the details for achieving the goal such as “30 minutes a day spent on alphabet letter identification.”
• Find a special education support group in your area. The Learning Disabilities Association of North Carolina can provide information and support for parents. The association’s telephone number in Raleigh is (919) 493-5362. The Web site is www.ldanc.org. The site also has contact information on association members in various counties.
• Look to other parents with special needs children for advice, support and guidance about preparing the IEP. Parents who have been through the process several times can offer helpful tips. But it is important to remember that every child’s situation is different as well as the local educators. Stay focused on your child’s needs but use advice from other parents as a benchmark for the process.
• If there are concerns or problems with the IEP, work within the school system’s chain of command. Talk first to the teacher, then principal, local school system and finally state education officials, if need be.