Creating An Individualized Education Plan

EV's Education Corner

Navigating the special education process can be a daunting experience. Parents are entitled to play a major role in the educational planning process, a fact that is good for your family, but also a challenge. The more educated you are, the more you will be able to be a useful participant on the team. This is the first of a series of articles that will help walk you through the various elements of special needs and public schools.

One of the first steps after educational testing is done is the development of the Individualized Education Plan (IEP). There will be a meeting that includes both or either parents and, depending on needs, the school psychologist, speech-language therapist, occupational therapist, physical therapist, social worker, general education teacher, special education teacher, and principal.

You may bring along anyone who will be useful to the meeting and it is a good idea to bring an advocate with you. Prior to the meeting s/he will help you interpret testing, identify any additional testing needed, and further map out the IEP process. Then the advocate will take notes and help you understand what is happening/happened at the meeting. The advocate will help ensure that the final IEP is a good one and will help you monitor the progress.

Other support people you could bring are other people such as therapists who have worked directly with your child. You may also bring an educational attorney. As a courtesy, you should notify the school about anyone you are bringing. The school may not bring an attorney to the meeting if you do not have an attorney on your side. You may leave and reschedule if they have a lawyer and you do not. You should at least bring a friend who can take notes so you can concentrate on the meeting.

Dress comfortably but professionally, in layers in case it’s very hot or cold, and bring water and a snack. IEP meetings often last at least a couple of hours or more, are filled with very technical language, and are emotionally charged

First, the team will go through the testing and determine if your child qualifies for an IEP. A draft IEP will be produced. The team works from this document. The IEP lists the team members and the primary diagnosis on the first page. On subsequent pages will be the goals and baseline information, broken up into sections based on areas of need. Here is a sample baseline and goal for a child with dyslexia as his primary diagnosis.

Baseline: XX’s score for the Reading Comprehension subtest on the Gray Oral Reading Test-4 (GORT-4) is the low average (25%). XX had difficulty answering inferential questions about the character’s motivations, personality traits, and feelings.

Sample: XX will correctly answer inferential questions such as: character's motivations, personality traits, feelings in four out of five trials.

The more measurable the objectives are, with clear data collection methods, the easier it will be to track success.

Other items include personnel support (prompting from the teacher, for example), accommodations (preferential seating), and assistive technology (use of a laptop). Needed services take precedence over any other factor, especially budgets.

Contact hours are listed on the IEP. For example: Inside Generalized Education: 20 hours/month; Outside Generalized Education: 20 hours/month. In other words, a special education teacher works with your child for five hours per week inside her regular classroom, in tandem with the general education teacher and an additional five hours per week outside the classroom. Identifying the problems and setting goals are important, of course, but without an adequate number of contact hours, the IEP will not work.

Extended School Year (ESY) should be discussed. ESY is a free summer school for special needs students. It can be used to prevent regression over the summer and/or to provide compensatory services.

Transportation can be accepted or rejected. The student may have the right to be bussed to/from school, but depending on the situation you may not want this.

An IEP is a contract, legally binding on the school system. You have the right to review your child’s file, including test results, data collection, service logs, and reports at any time. You should do this at least twice per year. You will receive quarterly IEP progress reports along with report cards. Request a 30-day review of the IEP, a meeting during which you can discuss progress and needed amendments.

Above all, remember you do NOT have to sign your IEP at the meeting. You may first review the draft IEP with others. If changes have been made to the draft during the meeting, do not sign the IEP until you are presented with a corrected copy including all of the changes.

Treat the team as professionals who want to help your child. Be cautious and argue for what your child needs, but try to avoid an adversarial relationship. You will have a good idea of when this approach is no longer useful and it is time to call in an advocate or lawyer. Good luck!

E.V. Downey is the principal educational consultant at Downey School Consulting, where she consults on public, charter, private, and special needs school choices and issues. She started consulting after years of teaching kids of all ages and working in private school administration. A graduate of DC Public Schools, E.V. lives on Capitol Hill with her husband and 2 children.

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