Stories and Grievances: Special Education
An Introduction to Developing the IEP: FAQs on the Process of Obtaining the Best Individualized Education Program For Your Child
Wrightslaw gives parents an overview, and the Special Education and Due Process Procedures Manual offers specific issues you should bring up at the IEP meeting
If you are like many parents, when you receive a telephone call or letter inviting you to an IEP meeting, you respond with anxiety. Few parents look forward to attending IEP meetings. You may feel anxious, confused and inadequate at school meetings. What is your role? What do you have to offer? What should you do? Say? Not do?
Because they are not educators, most parents don't understand that they have a unique role to play in the IEP process.
Parents are the experts on their child.
Think about it. You spend hours every week in the company of your child. You make casual observations about your child in hundreds of different situations. You are emotionally connected to and attuned to your child. You notice small but important changes in your child's behavior and emotions that may be overlooked by others. You have very specialized knowledge about your child. This also helps to explain why your perspective about your child may be quite different from that of the educators who only observe your child in the school setting.
Why do parents feel so anxious, inadequate and intimidated in school meetings? Most parents seem to believe that because they are not "trained educators"-and don't speak "education jargon"-they have little of value to contribute to discussions about their child's education.
The "Parental Role"
Perhaps we can explain "parental role" more clearly if we change the facts to illustrate our point.
Think back to the last time your child was sick and you saw a doctor for medical treatment. You provided the doctor or nurse with information about the child's symptoms and general health. They asked you for your observations-because you are more familiar with your child.
Good health care providers elicit this kind of information from parents. They do not assume that unless parents have medical training, they have little of value to offer! When health care professionals diagnose and treat children, they gather information from different sources. Observations of the child are an important source of information. The doctor's own medical observations and lab tests are added to the information you provide from your own personal observations.
Do you need to be medically trained before you have any valid or important information to offer the doctor about your child's health? Of course not.
Decision-Making: Medical v. Educational
To diagnose a child's problem and develop a good treatment plan, doctors need more than subjective observations. Regardless of their skill and experience, in most cases doctors need objective information about the child. Information from diagnostic tests provides them with objective information. When medical specialists confront a problem, they gather information-information from observations by themselves and others and from objective testing.
Special education decision-making is similar to medical decision-making. The principles are the same. Sound educational decision-making includes observations by people who know the child well and objective information from various tests and assessments.
In both medical and educational situations, a child is having problems that must be correctly identified. The Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is similar to a medical treatment plan. The IEP includes information about the child's present levels of performance on various tests and measures. The IEP also includes information about goals and objectives for the child, specifically how educational problems will be addressed. The IEP should also include ways for parents and educators to measure the child's progress toward the goals and objectives.
How to Evaluate Progress
Now, think back to that last time your child was sick and needed medical attention. You left the doctor's office with some sort of plan-and an appointment to return for a follow-up visit. When you returned for the follow-up visit, you were asked more questions about how your child was doing-again, you were asked about your observations. This information helped the doctor decide whether or not your child was responding appropriately to treatment. If you advised that your child was not responding to the treatment and continued to have problems, then the doctor knew that more diagnostic work was needed and that the treatment plan may need to be changed.
Special education situations are similar to medical situations - except that these decisions are made by a group of people called the IEP Team or IEP Committee. As the parent, you are a member of the IEP team. Before the IEP Team can develop an appropriate plan (IEP) for your child, the child's problems must be accurately identified and described.
To make an accurate diagnosis, the IEP team will need to gather information from many sources. This information will include subjective observations of the child in various environments - including the home environment and the classroom. The information should also include objective testing. Objective testing needs to be done to measure the extent of the child's problems and provide benchmarks to measure progress or lack of progress over time.
If your child receives special education services, you know that a new educational plan or IEP must be developed for your child at least once a year. Why is this?
Children grow and change rapidly. Their educational needs also change rapidly. In many cases, the IEP needs to be revised more often than once a year. Parents and educators can ask for a meeting to revise the IEP more often than once a year-and new IEPs can be developed as often as necessary.
The child's educational plan, i.e. the IEP, should always include information from objective testing and information provided by people-including the parents and teachers-who observe the child frequently.
Criteria For Developing Goals For the IEP
Starting out: Special Education Parent Advocacy Guidelines, Information and Game Plans
IEP Forms and Notices