Well, it's that time of year again. Time for the kids to go back to school. As a parent, this usually means some last minute shopping for school supplies, lining up after school care or activities, maybe getting sports physicals or tuning up band instruments. If you have a child receiving Special Education services, it's time to break out the current IEP and review it!
What? That's not part of your back to school routine? Well, it should be! Why? Because things change. Circumstances change. Teachers and schools change. Your child's needs change. IEPs are not written in stone and, despite what schools may have you believe, there is no one specific time for making revisions. The IDEA requires the IEP Team (in Texas, the ARD Committee) to review the IEP AT LEAST once each school year (20 U.S.C. Section 1414(d)(4)(A)(i)). If you feel there are issues to be addressed, as a parent or guardian, you have the right to request an IEP meeting at any time.
The language, and never-ending list of acronyms, used in preparing IEPs can be difficult to decipher. Don't hesitate to consult a special education advocate, like myself, if you have any questions or need assistance making sense of it all. In the meantime, here are some basic guidelines to help with your review:
The first part of an IEP should set out your child's Present Levels of Academic and Functional Performance. This is the information upon which the rest of your child's IEP is based. If a need is not indicated here, it is not likely to be addressed so it's imperative this information be comprehensive, accurate and up to date. The levels should be based on the most recent information available including evaluations, assessments, class work, parent/teacher observations and many of the same sources used to determine eligibility.
The Academic Levels of Performance refer, of course, to skills in language arts, math, science and social studies. For example, say Calvin is in third grade but his Present Levels indicate his reading is on a first grade level. This would show an academic need for reading intervention.
Present Levels of Performance also include the child's functional performance levels. These include things like communication and social skills, behavioral and mobility skills and basic life skills. In reviewing these levels in the IEP, make note of any changes, assessments, evaluations that have occurred since the last meeting that would have an impact on your child's current levels. If there are inaccuracies or if they haven't been updated in a while, make note of that as well.
The next section of the IEP should address the goals set for your child. There should be goals to address each need identified by the Present Levels of Performance. If you find a need that appears unaddressed, make a note of it. As Pete Wright of Wrightslaw.com would say, a well written goal should be SMART:
Using our example of Calvin, we would want a goal to increase his reading level. A SMART goal might be:
"By the next annual ARD meeting, given targeted reading instruction by a certified reading specialist, when provided second grade level material, Calvin will read 90 wpm (words per minute) with 5 or fewer errors."
This goal is specific. Simply stating, "Calvin will increase his reading level" is too general. The reading of 90 wpm with 5 or fewer errors is objectively measurable. Calvin "will read" is a positive action statement. Expecting him to jump from a first to a third grade level in the space of a year may not be realistic. The statement also sets a time frame of the next annual ARD meeting by which the goal should be attained. It is important to note that the Present Levels should indicate where the child is performing currently using the same terms such as: "Currently, when given second grade level material, Calvin is able to read 45 wpm with 5 or fewer errors." Do your child's goals meet these criteria? If not, make a note. There should next be a statement as to how progress will be objectively measured during the time frame (teacher observation alone is not sufficient) and the format and frequency (i.e. progress report every six weeks) with which parents will be updated on their child's progress. Have you been receiving reports on your child's progress? Has your child attained, or made measurable progress toward attaining, the goals set? If not, why not?
Finally, review the Special Education and related services, accommodations, modifications and support services listed in the IEP. These are the instruction, tools, services and supports provided that, if appropriate, address your child's identified needs and enable him/her to achieve the goals set. Got it?? Again, there should be at least one to meet each of the child's identified needs. They should include:
a description of the service/accommodation etc. to be provided (say, individualized reading instruction for our Calvin);
who will provide it (certified reading specialist or special education teacher);
when it will be provided (beginning Sept. 1, 2017);
where it will be provided (resource room);
how often (3xs/week); and
for how long (for 30 minutes).
If you have any questions or concerns about any part of the services your child receives, make a note of them.
Once you've completed your review, look at the notes you've made. If the IEP looks good and your child is making good progress, great! If you just need a little clarification on something or a few clerical errors corrected, send an email. For anything more than that, you should consider requesting an IEP (ARD) meeting in writing as soon as possible.
Making sure your child has the services and supports (s)he needs in place will help ensure a happy and successful transition to the new school year.