Improving Your Child’s IEP Month by Month
A monthly article series by Jacqueline Lembeck, Esq. of McAndrews Law Offices, P.C.
In talking to parents of children with disabilities, I’ve realized that answering the question, “where do I begin?” is sometimes the hardest part. Navigating special education can feel like drowning in a sea of acronyms (IEP, RR, PTRE, NOREP, LEA . . .) or climbing an endless mountain of paperwork, or both! For those of you who have a resolution to make 2017 a more organized, successful, and peaceful year, this article series is for you! Month by month, I’ll discuss a way to improve your child’s IEP and give action items to focus your journey. It will still be a mountain, but I hope these tips will provide some trail markers along the way.
How to Read Special Education Documents
Now that you have located, requested, and gathered the most important special education documents, you are ready to review the program in general and the data in particular. Students with disabilities in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware must be offered an IEP that is reasonably calculated to afford the child the opportunity to receive “meaningful educational benefit.” Shore Regional High Sch. Bd. of Educ. v. P.S., 381 F.3d 194, 198 (3d Cir. 2004). (For more on the definition of meaningful educational benefit check out http://mcandrewslaw.com/publications-and-presentations/articles/meaningful-progress/.)
Determining whether a program is set up to afford “meaningful educational benefit” is no easy task. To figure out whether your child’s IEP is appropriate, you will have to decipher often highly technical information across many different documents. If that makes you nervous, step back and remember that you are an expert, too: an expert in your child. Through your years of parenting you have gained TONS of important information about how your child functions at home and in the community.
Below, there is a list of questions to ask yourself when you are reviewing each document. This is meant to help you locate and pick out the relevant information and to guide your reading of the documents. However, it is important to keep one big picture question in mind the whole way through: does this sound like my child? When in doubt, you should come back to that question. If something you are reading does not sound like your child, it should signal to you an area for further discussion with the team.
Other than the big question of whether the document sounds like your child, when reviewing the documents, you should ask the following:
- An Evaluation Report (“ER”) or Reevaluation Report (“RR”)
- Was it timely, meaning received within 60 calendar days of the date you returned your permission to (re)evaluate form? (But note that summer does not count in this calculation.)
- Did it comprehensively evaluate in all areas of suspected need? Are there areas of struggle that it does not cover? For example, if your child is struggling with bullying or maintaining friendships, does the ER/RR discuss social and emotional functioning?
- Does it consider the results of outside evaluations which were shared with the District?
- Do the latest test scores differ from previous test scores and, if so, does it explain why?
- Are there recommendations for supports and services in the ER/RR that are not in your child’s program?
- An Individualized Education Program (“IEP”) or Section 504 Plan
- Are there goals for each area of need? For every area of need there should be a goal so you can see progress over the IEP term.
- Are the goals measurable? Can you tell how progress is going to be measured?
- Are the goals vague (e.g. student will improve his speech)? Goals should be very specific.
- Are the goals repeated from previous years? If so, does that mean that your child did not achieve the goal last year?
- Progress Monitoring
- Are you missing data for some quarters? Progress monitoring should be sent home at least once per quarter. If you do not have progress results for a quarter, you should request a new copy.
- Do the data match, meaning is the progress monitoring actually measuring what the goal says it will measure?
- Over time, do you see progress being made? Are there certain areas in which progress is not being made?
- Report Cards
- Are there areas of struggle that are not addressed in the ER/RR or IEP?
- Other Documents
- Does the teacher feedback from communication logs match what you’re seeing in the other documents?
February Action Items:
Read all documents with the guided reading questions above.
Take notes on separate paper.
Look for areas that do not sound like your child.
Make a “punch list” of the most important aspects of your child’s program you want to address.
Click here for the “Parents’ Special Education Sheets: Reviewing Your Child’s Goals”
by Jacqueline Lembeck, Esq., McAndrews Law Offices, P.C.