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RED FLAGS: What to look for at your next IEP meeting!

Look out for these red flags at your next IEP meeting!


Pre-written IEP’s:

Technically, IEP’s are NOT supposed to be pre-drafted. However, I have yet to see a district where it is common practice for an IEP team to start the whole document from scratch at the beginning of the meeting (so time consuming!). So do not be alarmed if you are sent home a DRAFT copy of the IEP.

IEP software allows teachers to enter items into the forms without officially submitting the document. When I print out an un-submitted document, it has DRAFT written all over it in big letters.

Another thing teachers do is fill out a template in a word document. This will by no means look official, and is an indication that the teacher hasn’t even begun to enter in the information to the official form. However, be wary when you receive a complete, official looking IEP document without the word DRAFT stamped all over it. It may be an indication that it was already entered, and can not be changed.

The areas in a draft IEP that definitely not be entered until after the meeting are the Least Restrictive Environment, Special Education Services, Special Education minutes. These areas of the IEP determine how many minutes of Special Education instruction your child will receive, but in which settings they will receive those minutes of instructions. These decisions should be made in the meeting as a team, and as such they should ALWAYS be blank until after the IEP meeting.

Inconsistent Performance Summary:

Keep an eye open to inconsistencies, especially where behavior is concerned. Most teachers write performance summaries in a thoughtful manner. However, you may have a teacher whose summary was hastily written after a particularly difficult episode with your child.

This will be apparent if there is only one negative report of your child’s demeanor in the classroom. However, keep in mind that different teachers have different ways of communicating the same thing. Some may be more direct: “Bobby is a good student, but disrupts the class with off-topic comments.” Others may be more tactful: “Bobby does well when focused, but struggles when distracted by peers.” They are saying the same thing.

Do not mistake different communication styles for inconsistent information. Inconsistencies stand out as black and white. Teachers who blame the child’s behavior for their poor grades may struggle with providing appropriate accommodations in their classroom.

Teachers who give genuine praise in the performance summary are potential advocates. They could help the struggling teachers. You should reach out to these positive teachers after the meeting and communicate with them periodically. This relationship may prove useful should you need a voice inside the school system.

Insufficient / Inconsistent Accommodations and Modifications:

During the performance summary, keep track of the areas of weakness as pointed out by the teachers. Later, when talking about supports and accommodations, insist on sufficient supports to address these weaknesses.

  • Push for commitment from all parties involved to support the student by providing appropriate accommodations and modifications within all classrooms.

  • Ask how each accommodation/modification would look in each setting.

  • Ask specific teachers if they would feel comfortable providing those accommodations/modifications.

If they hem and haw, ask the principal how they could support that teacher with those accommodations/modifications. Chances are this tactic won’t make you many friends, but the goal is to provide your child with an appropriate education in all settings. And, like many things in life, if you can do it with a smile and a friendly voice, people will be much more receptive.

Goals That Are Not Consistent With Performance Summary:

This should go without saying, but the goals need to address deficits described in the performance summary. If writing is an issue, goals should be written to address the missing writing skills. It happens sometimes that a few teachers will identify an area as needing improvement, but no goals are written for that area.

In this scenario, ask simply, “I know that two of Mary’s teachers said that writing in complete sentences is still a challenge for her. How can we write a goal to address this skill? What would that goal look like?”

Help teachers come up with specific language for the goal, jot in down and look for the final version when they send home the Prior Written Notice. If that goal is not in the final draft, send it back unsigned and point out that in the meeting the team agreed to include the writing goal.

Vague Goals:

Goals must be specific, measureable, and have explicit deadlines. An example of a good goal: “When given a writing prompt, Mark will produce a paragraph consisting of a thesis statement, three sentences citing evidence to support the thesis, and a concluding statement that restates the thesis on 4 out of 5 opportunities by the end of the IEP year.” Anybody could read that goal and objectively state whether or not Mark’s writing hit that goal on any given opportunity. Also, it is clear that Mark has one calendar year from the IEP start date to meet that goal. Finally, it gives Mark the opportunity to have a bad day and still meet his IEP criterion.

However, even if Mark did not reach his goal, it would be possible to show improvement from previous attempts. Objective underneath this goal will address the specific parts of the goal: writing a “good” thesis, supporting sentences and conclusion statements.

An example of a bad goal: “Mark will improve his paragraph writing skills.” This is an extreme example of a poorly written goal. It does nothing to help teachers and parents measure progress. Teachers need to be clear with their expectations. They should be able to tell you exactly what makes a paragraph “good.” These criteria should be explicit, so that they can communicate them to students.

If you have a teacher who consistently provides vague goals, ask them specific questions. “How can his paragraph writing improve? What specifically needs to get better? Can we write that information down into his IEP so his teacher next year knows what to work on?” If they are struggling, a fellow teacher might jump in to save the day. Or, the principal may be fed up with the lack of professional knowledge and send the teacher to a professional development. If you know the questions to ask, you can help a special education teacher do their job better.

Let me know what you think in the comments! Which red flags did I miss? What are your experiences and solutions to red flags at IEP meetings! Please Comment, Retweet, and Share!

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