Improving Your Child’s IEP Month by Month
A monthly article series by Jacqueline Lembeck, Esq.
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 Long Do I Have to Wait?
Throughout this article series, there is a theme of tweaking an IEP, trying the new program, and then looking to revise as necessary. But how long do you need to try a new program before you determine if it’s working? Put another way, how long should you wait before requesting revisions?
The answer is a complicated one for several reasons. The first reason is that it may take time for a student to settle in to a new program, get used to a new modification, or just transition back to the school year after summer. You can think of it as a natural learning curve or adjustment period; during that learning curve period, it is hard to tell if something is a good change or an ineffective change. Similarly, the second reason is that you will also not have ample data to show whether a program is effective right away and must be cautious if interpreting too few data points. Very often a student’s progress is slow in the beginning of the year or when starting a new program and then there is an upward trend in the data points after that settling-in time. If you interpret only a few data points from the beginning, it would appear that the change was ineffective because you would not have the benefit of the later data points showing progress. The third reason that assessing when to request revisions is complicated is that switching programs too often can be confusing for the student and for the school team who is implementing the program. If an IEP team is making changes so often that no one is able to keep up with what is or is not in the current program, it is highly unlikely that the student and team can develop a good system for implementing the IEP.
So how do you balance these concerns with your foremost concern, that your child makes progress? This question should be answered on a case-by-case basis, but there are a few tips that may help.
- 1. Is the problem that the program is not being implemented? If that is the case, there is no sense in waiting before addressing the issue. How will you know? Start by asking for updates, progress monitoring data, or service logs to see whether you think the team is following the IEP. Also, don’t forget to ask your son or daughter if he/she is able to fill you in! Implementation issues may not require a change to the IEP, but a meeting may still be necessary to ensure that those who are responsible for implementation are aware of this fact and have all the supports they need. A change may be needed to the responsible person listed in the IEP, supports for school personnel, or something else outside of the actual program itself.
- 2. When was the change first implemented? If it was first implemented during the last school year and is being carried over into the new school year, and you have concerns that it is not effective, you likely should not wait any longer to address it.
- 3. If you have enough data, does it show a downward trend? If the data is showing a downward trend without evidence of coming back up, you may want to address the issue sooner rather than later.
- 4. Is the new program/modification causing other, new problems? If the new program or modification you are trying out is causing new problems, you may want to address it right away. For example, is your child displaying new behavioral issues or having new issues with peers which were not present before?
As you analyze the above considerations, recall that parents can request an IEP meeting when they have concerns. Parents do not have to wait until the annual IEP meeting to revisit the program. Parents also do not need to wait for a student to fail to address concerns. Finally, just because a student’s grades are good does not mean that he/she has the right program in place. The bottom line is that if you feel that your child’s program needs to be revised, you should alert the IEP team and request a meeting so your concerns can be heard and addressed.
October Action Items:
- Review your child’s progress to see whether there are changes you think need to be made.
- Consider whether more time to “settle-in” to a program change is beneficial or whether a change or revision should be made now using the considerations listed above.
- Request a meeting if you feel that changes are necessary.