IEP PREPARATION - FOR A SUCCESSFUL IEP
For parents, advocates, and teachers IEP meetings can be overwhelming and even create fear. But, when provided with the right supports these fears can be alleviated.
Elenore Rosevelt said, "Do one thing every day that scares you."
Well, parents of children with special needs go far beyond the call with that one!
STRUGGLING WITH IEPs?
IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THIS HARD!!
You are right, handling an IEP meeting should not induce high anxiety, demand pharmaceutical support or have professionals and parents meltdown into confusion, frustration, and anger. Unfortunately, both parents and advocates frequently have an error in approach which helps no one involved in the process, least of all the child.
There are a number of strategic key steps and a complex interdisciplinary IEP development process required (and rarely taught) in developing positive, independent, functional, competency-based outcomes for a student, that are commensurate with their circumstances /potential.
You must learn how to:
- promote a professional environment where you can initiate and participate actively,
- speak to the child’s key issues,
- generate realistic options,
- ask for appropriate research-based interventions,
- receive accurate measurable data related to accurately documented educational needs,
- determine the strength of your requests, and
- what additional information is needed PRIOR to the IEP meeting.
With the proper preparation, you can be in a position that allows you to build a collaborative parent, teacher and school district partnership.
Yes, you read right, a partnership where you are respected as an EQUAL member of the IEP team.
It is the quality of the collaboration along with the supporting data that determine perceptions and outcomes to a great extent.
This book was written by a professional educational advocate who has trained over 3000 advocates, clinicians, teachers and lawyers at national CMEs, Act 48 and CLE programs, related to:
- special education advocacy,
- ethics within the industry,
- the profession of advocacy, and
- the complex interdisciplinary education that is needed to develop an IEP that allows a child to access their education.
Special Education - Survival Guide for Advocates
#1 Why is IEP Preparation Important?
Don't Fly By The Seat of Your Pants
90% of an IEP development occurs BEFORE the meeting.
The IEP meeting is supposed to help everyone who is on the IEP team:
- Identify and share information as to areas of educational need
- Share progress and generalization of skills addressed in current goals across environments - school, home, and community.
- Understand the Why behind the What, When, and How the school district is going to support a child to access their education and promote, support, and monitor progress equal to their potential (commensurate with their circumstances).
- Revise baselines and develop goals that predict the amount of progress the child can make in 1 year based on their potential.
- Address barriers to independence, generalization, and progress across environments.
- Identify programming, Specially Designed Instruction, accommodations and modifications, and related services to maintain and progress to independent competency-based skills across environments.
- Once everyone is clear as to steps to move forward, the school district then needs to get the parent's approval.
If no one trains parents or explicitly tells parents about the IEP process and the rest of the team is trained, parents go along with the school district for years before realizing their child has:
- Made no progress, commensurate with their potential, in one or more academic or functional areas,
- Educational areas of need have not been addressed or identified.
IEP IS A PROCESS AND A DOCUMENT
IEP AS A PROCESS
- Used to identify appropriate RTI (Response to Intervention) of research-based programming and interventions.
- Educational testing - to determine if a child has learning disabilities or educational needs
- Gathering, sharing, and exchange of information
- Allow parents to be equal participants
- To enable parents to MAKE INFORMED CHOICES
- Gives timelines and process steps
- Procedural safeguards are offered for both parents and school districts
“Parents are the most
effective and powerful advocates
for their children
ONLY if they are prepared to participate
at the IEP meeting.”
IEP AS A DOCUMENT
It is a document that states:
- Present levels - Results of evaluations and assessments
- Areas of identified educational need and individual strengths (per ER/RR)
- Parent input / concerns
- Services that will be received
- Where services will be received and how often
- Accommodations and modifications to be used
- Levels of inclusion
- Meaningful, measurable annual goals related to identified needs
- Progress monitoring of goals
- Modifications to accommodate the child's unique learning requirements.
- Provide a plan for a FAPE in the LRE
- A legal document, contract, written to define education, behavior, inclusion and transition plans to be implemented
- It is highly individualized
- Delineates individualized special education services developed to produce goal progress commensurate with their potential/circumstances
- It is developed by a collaborative interdisciplinary team of professionals, the child and the child's parents/guardians,
- Designed to provide specially designed instruction and related services in accordance with prerequisites of IDEA and ESSA - (No Child Left Behind)
- Step-by-step, legally binding, plan that is transferable to locations and is not dependent upon individual specifics and their expertise.
“Parents not being adequately informed as to what limits are contained in IDEA and school district personnel not being adequately informed about the extent and complexity of… the IEP process" Feinberg
A LACK OF INFORMATION ABOUT THE COMPLEX IEP DEVELOPMENT PROCESS CAN LEAD TO PARENT SCHOOL DISTRICT CONFLICTS.
#2 Not ALL Advocacy is the Same
Advocacy Super Powers - When Only The Best Will Do
THE IMPORTANCE OF AN IEP
Cannot Be Underestimated
IEPs are working documents that are holistic education support, remediation, and treatment plans developed specifically for a child with a disability. IEPs are developed by a team of educators, clinicians, student, and family members. IEP development is supposed to be a collaborative process and focus on the student's educational needs first, then strengths. Goals are to address educational needs, as well as individualized likes and dislikes in:
- Functional Performance Skills (OT, PT, Aud., O/M)
- Language-Based Skills (SL) (expressive, receptive and pragmatic)
- Emotional Regulation and Coping Skills
- Social Skills and Social Cognition/ Judgment Skills
- Pre-Vocational and Vocational Skills
- Peer Relationship Skills
- Extra-Curricular Activities
- Independent Living Skills (including leisure activities)
- Community and Home–Based Skills
- Inclusion Oriented Skills
- Competency-Based Skills
- Academic Skills
- AND they need to be able to be done Independently and Generalized across environments
Then goals to gaining this education are supported by individualized specially designed instruction that includes modifications and accommodations necessary for a child to learn in the least restrictive environment and ensure progress, commensurate with their potential (circumstances) in the areas of identified educational need. IEP meetings bring many different parties to the table with a variety of backgrounds and agendas. The IEP must be understandable for everyone involved, including parents.
IEPs should provide an individualized roadmap for the most effective learning environment and interventions for a child.
The IEP must be revised regularly based on RTI implementation - response to intervention data.
We can only predict what might occur based on best practices and research-based interventions -
Oh yes, the best-laid plans of mice and men.
A child's IEP RTI data will bring us back to the IEP table to accommodate for:
- Lack of IEP implementation with fidelity
- Rate of progress, (lack of progress, too slow progress)
- Adverse responses to intervention
- Newly identified areas of educational need, and
- Learning priorities
IEP prep is just one of the many skill sets that parents and advocates must learn outside of the statutory/regulatory information about IDEA. IDEA is based on Educational Research, educational and clinical best practices, Related Services (which are clinical), not just law. Parents and advocates need to be cross-trained in all disciplines involved in IEP development. This allows parents and advocates to have an increase in credibility so that they can be listened to as an equal member of the IEP development team.
ADVOCATES ARE NOT ALL THE SAME
Advocates should not consider what is most convenient for the school or the teachers when analyzing a child’s IEP.
They need to be child experience focused so they can address the child’s educational needs:
- Functional, independent, competency-based outcomes
- Level of related services and SDIs for accessing their education
- Accessing their education across all environments
- Maintenance and progress
- Closing the educational gap
- Supports to school personnel and
- Parent training
- Child’s interests and self-determination related to:
- Post-secondary access to Education
- Vocational training and employment
- Development of their functional independent living skills
- (Including leisure), as per IDEA.
PARENTS ARE THE BEST ADVOCATES FOR THEIR CHILDREN
Parents are the best advocates for their children. They are the only constant in their lives, while many educators and other professionals will come in and out of their lives throughout their educational journey.
- They have direct, first-hand knowledge as to their child's functional skills and their generalization across environments.
- They experience special education services as a client and can provide valuable and accurate feedback about the system
- Parents' are child-focused and have less conflict of interest than the professionals. They are not afraid of losing their job and are not paid by the school.
- Parents may openly state opinions and brainstorm while school staff may not.
- Parents are not constrained as licensed professionals are to the scope and sequence of a practice act.
PARENTS ARE MOTIVATED
- A social responsibility for their child's wellbeing.
- A legal responsibility for their child's wellbeing
- They have legislative mandates that insist that they participate as active equal members of the IEP team and in the IEP process.
- They have an emotional investment
- They can be highly persuasive advocates.
- A vision of what functional competency-based outcomes look like
- Accurate information about the independent generalization of skills outside of school
- Information on how the student is processing socially and emotionally
PARENTS ARE AT A DISADVANTAGE
Unfortunately, parents are put at a great disadvantage because they receive no training on the complex interdisciplinary special education system and find it hard to gain accurate information, so they may advocate more effectively for their children.
- Parents need to be taught how to be highly effective advocates for their child so that life-altering negative outcomes do not occur.
- They are expected to play nice in the sandbox despite often being ignored. This requires advanced collaboration and communication skills.
- Professionals have information about existing services and relationships with service providers that they do not share.
- Parents lack access to data that is important to justify a change in the supports offered for their child to access their education.
- Advocates understand how the system works and can assist parents in short cuts and effective ways of making sure that their child receives a Free and Appropriate Public Education.
- Parents are afraid of being proactive with schools due to fear of being labeled a problem parent.
PARENT BARRIERS TO PARTICIPATING
IN THE SPECIAL EDUCATION PROCESS
Parents deal with the stigma and discrimination that is attached to disabilities. They watch their children being bullied and excluded not only at school but also in the community. They are told they are responsible for or blamed for their children's lack of progress despite it not being accurate. Therefore, it is no wonder that parents feel uncomfortable being proactive in demanding appropriate services and accommodations. They often wait until they finally get angry enough or things have failed terribly.
- Professionals do not see parents as a resource, or partners in the IEP process.
- It is not uncommon for parents to not attend support group meetings, where they can begin to be educated. They are often unable to get childcare for their children with behaviors and become isolated.
- Parents are often dealing with ongoing or intermittent crisis situations which prevent active engagement and participation
- Parents do not have access to information about opportunities to be educated in the special education process
- Often parents lack the confidence they need to talk to a whole IEP team.
- Parents deal with transportation and work issues since school meetings are often scheduled during working hours, which cause financial strain on parents.
- It is not uncommon that information given to parents by school personnel is inaccurate
- Information is not given in a timely manner to parents so that they can review and be informed, so they can participate actively in an IEP meeting.
- Children with even the same disabilities all have different educational needs. They can be very complex and the expertise to address these disabilities is not always readily available.
- Parents are told that the staff is expert in certain disabilities. We always tell parents that when someone says they are an expert in a disability - run! There are very few people who are crossed trained in all aspects of a disability, and they are certainly not experts in your child's presentation.
- Multiple agencies can be involved and services from several agencies may not be well-coordinated
- Unqualified or untrained personnel are used to provide services to children with disabilities.
- Retaliation does occur. Schools inappropriately call in child welfare, sent parents to truancy court, or involve children in the juvenile justice system instead of addressing the issues through the IEP
- Technical Assistance Center staff are trained based on regulatory issues vs. the vast Special Education Need identification and research-based interventions. They do NOT give consistent or accurate information.
- Schools make deliberate attempts to nullify advocacy efforts by parents
- Schools lack understanding of the issues faced by families with children with disabilities.
- Power plays occur and parents are afraid to disagree with a school
- Schools appear to be friendly and cooperative but nothing changes and no improvements occur
- School documentation from meetings can be inaccurate or misrepresents a parent's discussion - many sins of omission as well as commission occur.
- School documentation lacks a process for parent review without implementing an extensive FERPA effort on the parent's part.
- Agendas keep changing despite previous priorities and problems not being addressed.
- Parents may not have enough information and thus misinterpret what the school is doing.
- Parents often do not have information in a form they can understand.
- Parents realize that professionals do not share their knowledge of the system, including alternative opinions.
- Parents are not provided enough information, despite requests, in a form that they can understand or use, and it was never readily available for review before or during IEP meetings.
- Parents are always responding to crises vs. preventative measures
- School communication only documents information that is favorable to them or the teacher vs. the child's whole story.
- Parents may not have appropriate communication skills and consequently, express anger and impatience when they realize how their child should be helped.
- Professionals are put off as parents learn leadership skills and express their concerns about their rights and what services should look like.
- Professionals face legal and organizational conflicts and they are restricted from speaking openly at IEP meetings
- School documentation is often not complete or accurate and misrepresents parent interactions and agendas.
- Professional lack of forthrightness with parents creates an environment of distrust.
- There may be conflicting agendas among parent groups - "all kids with down syndrome should be in full inclusion.”
#3 The Ultimate IEP Prep Check List
PREPARE - PREDICT - PREVENT
LET’S GET OUR ACTS TOGETHER
LET’S GET PREPARED!
PLAN AND PRIORITIZE INFORMATION
There are "6 STAGES OF THE IEP PROCESS" and we will be outlining only the first one in this e-book.
NSEAI's online courses go into depth around this process and offer many checklists for this process to make sure everybody is on the same page. Click here for more information on the courses.
Parents and advocates must have time to PREPARE, as any professional would, prior to the meeting by preparing for the following areas. These areas are reviewed in detail in NSEAI courses in the IEP PREP ebook.
1 - CONTINUE TO TALK WITH YOUR CHILD
2 - SHARE RELEVANT INFORMATION
3 - COMMUNICATE WITH SCHOOL
4 - SCHOOL AND HOME OBSERVATIONS
5 - DOCUMENTATION MONITORING
6 - STRENGTH BASED SUPPORTS - DO YOU KNOW HOW THEY LEARN?
7 - REVIEW GOALS
8 - AGENDA AND REQUESTS
9 - RESPOND TO IEP INVITATION
11 - PREPARING PARENT INPUT TO IEP
12 - ELIGIBILITY
13 - REVIEW YOUR RIGHTS
14 - DEVELOP STUDENT SELF-ADVOCACY
15 - IDENTIFY BARRIERS TO GETTING AN APPROPRIATE IEP
16- WRITE ON THE IEP DRAFT
17 - BRING A PRINTED AGENDA.
18 - WHAT TO BRING TO THE MEETING
Advocacy is a passion,
Meeting a children’s needs is a science,
The collaboration of the WHOLE IEP TEAM is a minimum requirement, and
Playing nice in the sandbox is a must!
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