Last month we discussed the IEP evaluation process as well as common Special Needs lingo that you would need to understand your initial IEP meeting. An initial IEP (the first one) must be in place within 30 days of the evaluation meeting determining eligibility. Special education teachers often use the term “IEP” interchangeably to mean the formal document and the meeting in which it is discussed.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) allows educators to tailor an educational plan for the child so that he or she can reach his or her full potential. That being said, the decisions for how to tailor the education of a special needs child is discussed as a team at the IEP meetings. The first – or initial – meeting can be the most stressful as parents and teachers navigate what is best for the child. Here are somethings to expect at the first IEP meeting.
- Attendance – Who will be at the meeting for your child? Every IEP meeting must have in attendance the special education teacher, district representative (often an administrator, but not required to be), someone to interpret test data, and a general education teacher. Additional members of the school community such as occupational therapists, speech therapists, physical therapists and psychologists could also be in attendance. Each person will sign in to document the meeting.
- Testing Results – During the initial meeting there will be lengthy discussion of what the testing and evaluation process discovered about your child. Try not to get overwhelmed about what each number means but rather what is says about how your child learns best.
- Input from Classroom Teachers and Parents – After the test results are discussed many times a teacher will discuss what they see in the classroom. This can bring the test results to life in how learning disabilities or behaviors are showing themselves in the actual setting. This is a good time for parents to chime in as to what they see as struggles at home or where their child does best.
- Drafting the IEP – Most times the special needs teachers will come to the meeting with suggestions of goals as well as accommodations that will help the child meet those goals annually. While the actual IEP document is not written at the table, the goals, modifications and issues are discussed at length to decide what the IEP will look like. It is only after the input of the team members that the IEP is drafted and mailed to all the appropriate parties. Parents should be an integral part of this process and have the right to agree or disagree with the findings.
If you suspect that your child has a special need when it comes to his/her schooling, getting special education placement is the best course of action. In order to gain special education services for the first time, he/she will need to undergo a comprehensive evaluation. This process is guided by legal rules in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
Starting the process of evaluation is fairly easy in that asking for it in writing from the school system within your community is the first step. A letter to the child’s teacher, principal and special education director should state your concerns and formally request evaluation by the school district. The school district then has a certain number of days to respond, gain permission and conduct the testing.
Once an evaluation date has been agreed upon the child will undergo the testing. These tests may include:
- A psychological evaluation. This gathers information about how your child learns best. It may also look at social skills and emotional health.
- Interviews. The evaluator will speak with you and your child’s teacher about your child’s social and academic history. You may also be asked to fill out questionnaires. Teachers who currently have your child in class as well as past teachers may be asked to fill out a questionnaire so the evaluator knows what the issues are.
- Physical exam. If needed, tests are done to measure vision, hearing and general health. Usually this is done to rule out a medical issue and can be done at your child’s pediatrician’s office or done during a routine yearly exam.
- Observations. Your child will be observed in the classroom. Special education teacher will watch your child interacting with others, reading, writing, and behaving in the classroom setting.
- Educational testing. This may include new tests to measure your child’s skills and needs. It may also include information collected from schoolwide testing. Each school system has certain tests that they will administer. Do your homework and ask what tests and why.
- Functional behavioral assessment. This information, gathered from teachers and others, aims to get a better understanding of how your child behaves in a variety of settings and situations. A functional assessment includes rating scales, checklists, questionnaires and observations.
From here the team of teachers and special educator will meet with parents and make their assessments known. Check back with us next month when we discuss the initial IEP meeting.
Individualized Education Plans are meant to bring teachers, specialists, therapists, and parents together to develop an educational program for the student. This plan – IEP – will support progress in the general curriculum and meet other educational and functional needs resulting from the disability. In general IEPs are meant to help the student, parents and school personnel all get on the proverbial “same page” when it comes to the needs of the student. Unfortunately, some educational terms and acronyms are confusing and get lost in the wording of the plan. Here is a quick cheat sheet to help you decipher an IEP.
- IEP – Individualized Education Plan
- Accommodations – Resources given to the child. For example, taking a test in a small group, having a longer time to take the test, taking the test in a different environment. While the test had not changed the needs of the student have been taken into account.
- Early Intervention – These are services provided to children 0-36 months who are at risk of having a disability or have been diagnosed with a disability. Early intervention has been shown to help children progress.
- Inclusion – This is a term used to describe services given to a special education student in the general education classroom with appropriate supports and modifications.
- Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) – Special Education and related services are provided at the public’s expense, without charge to the parents.
- Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004) – In 1975, legislation was written guaranteeing students with disabilities a free and appropriate public education and the right to be educated with their non-disabled peers. IDEA was revised in 2004.
- Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) – The placement of a child with special needs in the general school population in a manner that promotes the maximum possible interaction with general education students.
- OT – Occupational Therapy/Therapist – An Occupational Therapist supports school staff in the areas of fine motor and sensory integration. Fine motor being skills such as writing, picking up objects, and pointing.
- PT – Physical Therapy/Therapist – A Physical Therapist supports school staff in the area of gross motor. Gross motor focuses on larger muscle sets and include walking, throwing, climbing.
When a child is struggling in school there is a formal process that can find out what the problem is and how to best make accommodations, both in the classroom and out, to deal with the issue. This help and process is known as special education. If the team of special educators determines that extra help is needed then an Individual Education Plan is created. There are five important steps to the IEP process that every parent should understand. These include:
- Referral for a Special Education Evaluation
- The Evaluation
- Determining Eligibility
- Writing the Individual Education Program
- The IEP Meeting
- The Annual Review
Once a family has gone through this rather lengthy process, initially the review process is the step that you will revisit each year along with retesting every three years. The IEP team must review the child’s IEP at least once a year, or more often if the parents or school request it. One purpose of this review is to see whether the child is achieving his or her annual goals. Parents can make suggestions for changes, can agree or disagree with the IEP, and agree or disagree with the placement. The team must revise the child’s individualized education program, if necessary, to address:
- the child’s progress or lack of expected progress toward the annual goals and in the general curriculum;
- information gathered through any reevaluation of the child;
- information about the child that the parents share;
- information about the child that the school shares (for example, insights from the teacher based on his or her observation of the child or the child’s classwork);
the child’s anticipated needs; or
- other matters
If parents do not agree with the IEP and placement, they may discuss their concerns with other members of the IEP team and try to work out an agreement. There are several options including additional testing, an independent evaluation, or asking for mediation, or a due process hearing. They may also file a complaint with the state education agency.
For more information read Understanding the IEP Process