Find Your Voice in Your Next IEP Meeting
IEPs are difficult. There's so much information being thrown around in a typical meeting. How do you keep track of it all? When do you speak up? What should you say?
I've broken down the IEP into 3 main sections: 1) PLOP, 2) Goals and Objectives, and 3) Services / Supports. In each section, we'll talk about what it is, what you need to know, why your voice is important, and of course: when and how to use your voice.
Let's get right to it!
Present Levels of Performance (PLOP): What it is: The PLOP is all about summarizing your child’s current educational status. It identifies your child’s strengths, weaknesses, and relative performance on standardized tests compared to “typical” kids the same age. What you need to know: This section of the IEP is the foundation for any decisions made at the meeting. The goals and services are written to meet the needs of your child. If the school doesn’t have a complete picture of your child’s strengths and weaknesses, your child won’t get the goals and services that he needs. Why your voice is important here: You know your child better than the teachers, principals, and other experts at that meeting. You need to really listen to the information that the teachers present about your child and make sure they didn’t leave anything out, or get anything wrong. What gets written in this section will dictate what your child will learn, where they will learn, and who they will be learning with. Use the following tips to make sure the school is getting the PLOP right. When (and how) to use your voice:
1) Does the evidence presented confirm your experiences? Or does it sound like they’re talking about a different kid?
a. If the evidence is not accurate, your child will get goals and services that do not give them the support they need.
b. Ask, “How was this information collected? It says here that my child is reading at grade level. In my experience, my child actually really struggles with understanding what she reads. Are there multiple sources that support your statement that she is reading on grade level?” 2) Does the evidence only focus on my child’s weaknesses? Is there evidence of strengths?
a. A PLOP that never mentions strengths often results in goals and services that focus almost exclusively on weaknesses. When an IEP is built on a deficit approach, your child could spend most of the day doing things that are difficult for them, without interesting or rewarding tasks.
b. Ask, “What are some things that my child does well in school? I want to make sure the IEP reflects some of the areas of strength so that his other teachers will be able to incorporate strengths and interests into the lessons.” 3) Is the evidence consistent?
a. Your child's teachers may collect different kinds of evidence in different settings. Keep an eye out for discrepancies. Chances are if your child acts up in all of his classes except for Mrs. Smith’s class, Mrs. Smith is doing something that works. She can share her strategy with everyone else.
b. Ask, “It seems like my child is doing better in some settings than in others. What is going on in Mrs. Smith’s class that is working so well? How can we use what she does in all of my child’s classes?”
Goals and Objectives: What they are: Goals and objectives are the first educational decision that the IEP team has to make. Based on the information presented in the PLOP, teachers and parents work together to develop appropriate goals for the student. Goals should be SMART: Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. What you need to know: Teachers often draft a set of goals before the meeting. These goals are NOT set in stone. They ARE open to discussion. You can suggest goals, ask to tweak goals, or even ask to eliminate goals. Decisions are made by consensus of the whole team, so work to get others to see your point of view. Why your voice is important: These goals will be the main focus of your child’s education for the next calendar year. They will also determine what services your child will need. If your child needs support with reading, writing, math, or even social skills or behavior, it is important that the team write goals to support those areas. Otherwise, another year will go by without making much progress. When (and how) to use your voice: This is a good time to use your voice to foster collaboration with teachers. Find ways to make your case that the teachers will support. Try some of these conversation starters: • Suggesting a new goal: o “I noticed that there were no goals to support my child’s writing ability. But in the PLOP, there were 3 different teachers that mentioned he has difficulty organizing ideas into a coherent paragraph. Could we include a goal for writing paragraphs? Maybe we could add graphic organizers as an accommodation for writing activities.“ o “In the PLOP, most of my child’s teachers mentioned that getting along with peers was a challenge. It sounds like it’s really disrupting his ability to learn in class. Could we set up some goals to give him some strategies to help him cope better when problems with peers arise?” • Modifying a goal (too easy) o “Do you think it would take a full year to master this goal? I agree that it’s important to work on sounding out words, but I would like to see a more ambitious goal for reading. Could we make this goal a learning objective for a more ambitious reading goal? Maybe the goal could focus on bringing up her reading level by 1.5 grade levels this year.” • Modifying a goal (too hard) o “Does this goal seem attainable to you? I’m thinking that my child will really struggle meeting this goal. And I don’t want it to be something that would just frustrate my child on a regular basis. Could we set some more realistic targets for this skill? If he meets those targets, we could always have another IEP meeting and set the bar higher.” • Eliminating a goal o “Do you think this goal will really further my child’s academic progress? Is this something that my child will need to master in order to be able to access general education curriculum? Is this something kids his age are working on in class? I worry that it will take time and energy away from more age-appropriate goals.” Services / Supports: You need to be aware of the services that are being offered to your child, know what kinds of services are available, and how to ask for them. What they are: This is the part of the IEP that determines what kinds of supports your child will get. Most often, there will be some level of special education support. This could be delivered in the general education classroom, a resource setting, or in a fully self-contained classroom (all-day setting). It is also the part of the IEP that addresses how many minutes of speech therapy, counseling, occupational therapy and other related services your child will receive. What you need to know: The services are determined based on what level of support your child will need to meet his goals. If your child’s goals are close to grade level, your child may receive special education services in an inclusion setting for only one or two classes. If your child has a lot of catching up to do, they may receive special education services in the resource setting for most of the core classes. Most importantly, if your child NEEDS a service (as demonstrated by evidence), the school is required to provide that service, or provide an appropriate alternative solution. Why your voice is important: You need to make sure that your child is getting the services they need to address the obstacles to learning that they face in school. If you feel like the current education plan does not address all of your child’s needs, you need to speak up. If you feel like the special education resource placement is holding your child back from reaching her true potential, you need to say something. Otherwise, your child will have a full year of services that don’t quite meet all of their needs. When (and how) to use your voice: You really want to make sure the school understands that you are aware of your rights. You also want to foster a collaborative environment, whenever possible. If you experience any of these reasons to let your voice be heard, try these responses to let the school know you mean business.
• Anything that gets in the way of your child’s ability to learn or socialize with peers needs to be addressed. Services exist to remove barriers to a Free, Appropriate Public Education. o “I’ve noticed that in the PLEP, many teachers have mentioned that they have difficulty understanding my child’s verbal responses. Don’t you think that my child needs speech therapy to participate in verbal discussions?” • Cost is not a legitimate legal excuse for denying necessary related services. o “I understand that paying for a 1-on-1 aide is expensive. However, earlier, my child’s teachers noted that my child needs frequent redirection to participate in class. There are also periods where my child was not showing up to class. I believe a 1-on-1 aide is necessary to make sure my child goes to class and participates appropriately. • The school is not allowed to change or drop services without calling an IEP. o “I am not comfortable with making any placement decisions over the phone or email. I would like to request an IEP team meeting to discuss my child’s progress and the educational implications of any schedule changes.” • You have the right to be a part of every IEP decision that affects your child’s education. If a service was dropped, not provided, or falls short of the agreed upon minutes in the IEP, you should call foul. o “I was not notified or involved in the decision to move from the inclusion setting to a resource setting for math. It is my understanding that any such decisions need to be made with all members of the IEP team present. I do not feel comfortable continuing to work together without ensuring that my child’s rights are being protected. I would like to request an IEP team meeting to discuss the matter. I shall be bringing an advocate with me.”
I hope you enjoyed this brief overview of how to use your voice at your next IEP meeting. What else would you add to this list? What are some things that you find yourself repeating at meeting after meeting? Let me know in the comments below!