Let’s start with what is already stated in my 3 prior blog posts:
1. The IEP meeting is the 2nd step in a 2-step process.
2. The parent is an equal member of the IEP team.
3. Your child won’t get IEP services just because you ask for them.
4. IEP services are approved based on, in part, what the (Re) Evaluation Report says are the student’s needs.
5. An IEP is a written contract between you and the district
Before we begin discussing specific sections of the IEP one at a time, let me share some other generic thoughts that you may benefit from knowing:
Haggling – An IEP meeting is in some respects like buying a car. The dealer lists all the reasons why you should happily pay full price for the car. You argue all the reasons why you should pay a significantly reduced price. Hopefully, you eventually agree on a price somewhere in the middle. While your child is more important than a car purchase, please be prepared to justify why the district should offer more services than they initially offer.
LRE – The district needs to offer IEP services in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). There are times when this will work in your advantage (i.e. the district finds it easier to educate your child in a class comprised solely of students with the same disability as your child, and you want them to offer the services necessary to help your child be successful in the general education setting), and there are times where this may work to your disadvantage (you want the district to give your child a one on one aide, and they argue that they want to try and make the less restrictive option of no aide work first). Either way, LRE will come up throughout every step of the IEP process.
Appropriate Vs. Ideal – The district needs to offer “appropriate” services, not “best” or “ideal” services. You may want your child instructed using a specific reading program. However, if the district can show that your child can make progress using their reading program, then their reading program is “appropriate”.
Need Vs. Cost – IEP services should be offered based upon what the student needs, not based upon what the district has available to offer. If a district says “we don’t offer (one on one aides; individual reading instruction; etc.), they are flagrantly violating the word and the spirit of IDEA. This sounds like it should go without saying. Unfortunately, it still needs to be said.
Wording matters – All wording should be measurable. Stated another way, 3 different people can read the same statement and agree what it means and when exactly it should be implemented. Again, this sounds like it should go without saying. Unfortunately, it still needs to be said. Here are some examples.
1. “As needed” – The first question. Who determines as needed? The teacher? The student? The parent? Second question. What data are they using to determine need? Is it the same standard every time, or does the standard change from one activity to another?
2. “Additional Adult Support” – Additional as compared to what? The support you received in the last IEP, or, the support every regular education student in the building receives?
Meaningful Educational Progress – In theory, special education services are offered to help a student “catch up” to their age expected skills. For example, if a 5th grade student only reads at a 3rd grade level, their reading skills are 2 years behind age appropriate expectations. Therefore, we offer them Special Education Services with the hope that they will shrink the 2 year gap in skills. In order to achieve this ambitious goal, students need to make more than one year’s worth of growth in one school year (meaningful educational progress). Truth be told, this does not happen nearly enough across the United States. However, please keep in mind that this is the goal of Special Education services.