Developing Your Child's IEP: The IEP Process
By: Theresa Rebhorn
Appendix A to the IDEA says:
- the child's needs and appropriate goals;
- the extent to which the child will be involved in the general curriculum and participate in the regular education environment and State and district-wide assessments; and
- the services needed to support that involvement and participation, and to achieve agreed-upon goals.
Parents are considered equal partners with school personnel [emphasis added] in making these decisions, and the IEP team must consider the parents' concerns and the information that they provide regarding their child 7
What's involved in developing my child's IEP?
- the IEP meeting(s), where you, your child (at times), and school staff members together decide on an educational program for your son or daughter; and
- the IEP document, which puts the decisions from that meeting in writing. Among other things, this document lists the services and supports your child will receive.
The whole IEP process is a way for you and the school to talk about your child's needs and to create a plan to meet those needs. Let's look at the process, starting with the IEP meeting.
The IEP meeting is somewhat formal. By law, certain people must attend. People sign in to show who is there. Lots of papers are looked at and passed around. People will talk about your child, his or her needs and strengths, and what type of educational program would be appropriate. And, little by little, blank spaces on the IEP form get filled in.
Sometimes it can be a real challenge for a parent to keep up with the discussion. It may be even harder to slow it down. But you should feel free to ask questions and offer suggestions. You will also want to feel comfortable that the team has spent enough time talking and planning before filling out the forms. Many parents say their first experience in an IEP meeting was a lot like Emily's mom's below.
Emily was three when we had our first IEP meeting. I didn't really know what an IEP meeting was. Someone told me what the initials meant and what we were supposed to do, but the whole idea seemed so strange to me. Making an educational plan for a three-year-old? I was worried about potty training and getting Emily to sleep through the night and to stop crying all the time!
Anyway, when we had the meeting I met a lot of people whose names I couldn't keep in my head. A lot of pieces of paper got passed around. The teachers and therapists talked about what Emily needed to work on at school. Some of it sounded okay. Some of it, I just couldn't picture in my head. I spent most of the meeting nodding like I understood and agreeing with everything.
Later, I realized that if I had visited a class, asked questions, and had someone explain what they were doing, I might have talked more and asked more questions at the meeting. And I don't think I would have felt so anxious sending Emily to school for the first time.
I've gotten better with each IEP, though. I don't just nod anymore! I know the school wants to do what's right, but they can't do it alone. I have to be there to speak up, share what I know about Emily, ask questions, and offer suggestions. Emily's IEPs are a lot better now, because we all really work together.
Where and when do IEP meetings take place? 8
- what the purpose of the meeting is,
- the time and place for the meeting,
- who will be there, and
- that you may invite other people who have knowledge or special expertise about your child to the meeting.
- The IEP must be done no more than 30 calendar days from the date your child is found eligible for special education services.
- You must agree to the program, in writing, before the school can carry out your child's first IEP.
- The IEP must be reviewed at least once every 12 months.
It may take more than one meeting to write a complete IEP. If you find more time is needed, ask the team to schedule another meeting.
You may ask for an IEP meeting at any time, if you feel that changes need to be made to your child's educational program. Some teams like to meet near the end of a grading period to talk about the student's progress and to make changes to the IEP, as needed.
Who attends the IEP meeting?
- You, as Parent(s)
- School Administrator—a member of the school district who knows about the general curriculum (the same curriculum taught to nondisabled children) and the resources available to the school. This person must also be qualified to provide special education services or supervise services.
- General Education Teacher—at least one general education teacher, if your child is (or may be) participating in the general education class.
- Special Education Teacher—at least one of your child's special education teachers or, if appropriate, at least one special education provider who works with your child.
- Evaluation Personnel—someone who knows—
- about your child's evaluation,
- what the evaluation results were, and
- what the results mean in terms of instruction.
- Your Child—If the IEP team will be talking about how to prepare your child for life after high school (called planning for transition services 10 or, simply, transition planning), your child must be invited to the meeting. Otherwise, deciding when and how your child will participate in the IEP meeting is a decision you and your child can make. Students are encouraged to take part in developing their own IEPs. Some students in elementary school come to the meeting just to learn a little about the process or to share information about themselves. As students get older, they take a more active role.
Other members of the team 11
- Therapists or other professionals who work with your child.
- Translators or interpreters—If English is not your first language, or if you communicate by using sign language, the law says the school must provide an interpreter, if you ask for one.
- Transition personnel—If the IEP meeting will include planning for your child's life after high school, staff from outside agencies may be invited to attend. This is especially true if an outside agency may be responsible for providing or paying for transition services.
- Others with knowledge or special expertise about your child — Many parents find it helpful to have a support person at the IEP meeting. This may be another parent, a friend, an advocate, or a consultant. Others could include student friends, private specialists, tutors, educational consultants, or other school staff. Both you and the school have the right to invite such individuals to join the team.
What do different team members bring to the IEP process?
As you can see, there can be many people on an IEP team. While everyone shares in the discussion, you will find that each brings his or her own point of view and experience. Let's look at what each person might add to your child's IEP.
The Special Education Teacher
- has been involved in your child's evaluation,
- understands the results, and
- can explain and interpret the results.
The special educator can talk about how lessons may need to be adapted or modified to help your child learn. He or she may also talk about the supports and supplementary aids your child may need to fully participate in learning and other school activities, such as assistive technology, an instructional assistant, or peer buddy. The special educator may take the lead in developing your child's goals and objectives, focusing on those areas where your child has special instructional needs. In many schools, the special educator also makes sure that all the people who help your child learn follow the plan written in the IEP.
The General Education Teacher
The general education teacher knows the curriculum for your child's grade level and what students in general education classes are typically expected to do. If your child is going to be educated in the general education classroom for any part of the school day, then the general education teacher will talk about what your child will be taught and expected to learn. He or she may also talk about any supports, changes, and services your child needs to be successful. These supports and services might include adapting the curriculum, providing lower reading level materials, using graphics in addition to written materials, or providing your child with a student assistant. The general education teacher may also tell the rest of the team what he or she needs to help your child understand the general curriculum and achieve the goals listed in the IEP.
As a parent, you bring very important information to the IEP meeting. You know your child better than anyone. You know his or her strengths and weaknesses and all the little differences that make your child unique. Your knowledge can steer the team toward creating an IEP that will work best for your child. You can tell the team what goals are most important to you and to your child. You should also share your concerns. You can give insights about your child's interests, likes and dislikes, and learning styles. By being an active IEP team member you can ensure that your child's IEP is developed with thought given to long-term needs for a successful adult life.
- learn and understand the process,
- share information,
- ask questions,
- offer suggestions,
- keep the team's focus on "the big picture" and your child's long-term needs, and
- speak up on your child's behalf.
- schedule the IEP meeting so that you can come;
- provide an interpreter for you, if needed;
- inform you about the meeting; and
- inform you of your rights.
However, if you decide not to participate in writing your child's IEP, the school can hold the IEP meeting without you.
When your child participates in the IEP meeting, it can have a powerful effect. Just having your child at the meeting can make the IEP process come more alive. Requests and suggestions that come directly from your child can carry more weight than when you voice them. Many parents are sometimes surprised when they hear their children speak about their disability, their educational desires, and their goals for the future. And sometimes teachers learn things about their students that they didn't know before.
Your child's role as an IEP team member, depending on age and ability, can be as broad as your own or limited to what you and he or she feel most comfortable with. When your child is part of the IEP process, the program can be much more worthwhile to him or her, instead of something to put up with. Taking part in IEP meetings also helps your child learn to speak up for him or herself and develop valuable self-advocacy skills.
The administrator at the IEP must know what resources the school has available. This person must also have the power to commit the resources needed so that services can be provided as outlined in your child's IEP.
What happens at the IEP meeting? 12
At the IEP meeting the team will develop, review, and/or revise the IEP document. You and the other team members will work to create an IEP that is educationally appropriate and that everyone can agree on. Before meeting, school staff usually write down their ideas of what needs to be in your child's IEP. It's a good idea for you to jot down what is most important to you. You can share these ideas with other members of the team before the meeting, if you wish. You can also ask the school to send you their draft ideas, so you can look them over before meeting. Team members can also get copies of your child's recent tests or evaluations.
- Your child's strengths,
- Your concerns,
- The results of the most recent evaluation of your child,
- The results of any general state or district-wide assessments (tests) your child has taken, and
- Asking and answering the following questions that are sometimes referred to as "special factors" 13 or "special considerations."
- Does your child have communication needs?
- Does your child need assistive technology services and devices? 14
- Does your child's behavior interfere with his or her learning or the learning of others?
- Does your child have a visual impairment and need instruction in or use of Braille?
- Is your child deaf or hard of hearing and have language and other communication needs?
- Does your child have language needs related to his or her IEP, because English is not his or her first language? 15
If the answer to any of these questions is "yes," the team will talk about what your child needs and include this information in the IEP.
Usually, your child's primary teacher goes first. If your child is already receiving special education services, this will probably be the special education teacher. If the meeting is to write your child's first IEP, then this person may be the general education teacher. The teacher begins with how your child is doing in school. He or she will describe your child's strengths and needs and how the disability affects your child throughout the school day. Then specialists, like a physical therapist or a speech therapist, will discuss how your child is doing in these areas. They will talk about your child's needs and how they plan to support your child's education. Goals and objectives, related services, and all of the required parts of the IEP will be talked about and decided on.
It's a good idea to share your ideas as the meeting goes along. Remember, as a parent, you are an equal member of the IEP team. You are an expert on your child. If you have questions or concerns, speak up. Ask for more information or an explanation if you need it. If you disagree with something you hear, respectfully say so. Explain why, or offer your point of view. The IEP meeting is a conversation and a dialogue. You and the other IEP team members are putting your heads together to design an effective program for your child. The main purpose of the meeting is to agree on each part of the IEP so that the document can be written and services can start.
Anderson, W., Chitwood, S., & Hayden, D. (1997). Negotiating the special education maze: A guide for parents and teachers. (3rd ed.). Bethesda, MD: Woodbine House.
Bateman, B. D. & Linden, M. A. (1998). Better IEPs: How to develop legally correct and educationally useful programs (3rd ed.). Longmont, CO: Sopris West.
Council for Exceptional Children. (1999). The IEP team guide. Arlington, VA: Author.
Cutler, B. C. (1995). You, your child, and "special" education: A guide to making the system work. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.
DeFur, S. (1999). Transition planning : A team effort. NICHCY Transition Summary, No. 10, 1-24. (Available on-line at: http://www.nichcy.org/.)
DeFur, S. (2000, November). Designing individualized education program (IEP) transition plans (ERIC Digest #E598). Arlington, VA: ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education. (Available on-line at: http://ericec.org/digests/e598.html)
Douvanis, G., & Hulsey, D. (2002). The least restrictive environment mandate: How has it been defined by the courts? (ERIC Digest #E629). Arlington, VA: ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education. (Available on-line at: http://ericec.org/digests/e629.html)
Drasgow, E., Yell, M.L., & Robinson, T.R. (2001, November/December). Developing legally correct and educationally appropriate IEPs. Remedial and Special Education, 22(6), 359-373.
Families and Advocates Partnership for Education (FAPE). (2001). Planning your child's individualized education program (IEP): Some suggestions to consider. Minneapolis, MN: Author. (Available on-line at: http://www.fape.org/.)
Giangreco, M.F. (2001, December). Guidelines for making decisions about IEP services. Montpelier, VT: Vermont Department of Education. (Available on-line at: http://www.uvm.edu)
Giangreco, M.F., Cloninger, C.J., & Iverson, V.S. (1998). Choosing outcomes and accommodations for children (COACH): A guide to educational planning for students with disabilities (2nd ed.). Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.
Gibb, G.S., & Dyches, T.T. (2000). Guide to writing quality individualized education programs: What's best for students with disabilities? Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
Küpper, L. (Ed.). (1999). Individualized education programs (4th ed.). Washington, DC: NICHCY. (Available on-line at: http://www.nichcy.org/.)
Mager, R. F. (1997). Preparing instructional objectives: A critical tool in the development of effective instruction. Atlanta, GA: The Center for Effective Performance. (Available from amazon.com.)
McGahee-Kovac, M. (2002). A student's guide to the IEP (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: NICHCY. (Available on-line at: http://www.nichcy.org/.)
Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS), U.S. Department of Education (2000). A guide to the individualized education program. Washington, DC: Author. (Available on-line at: http://www.ed.gov/parents/needs/speced/iepguide/index.html)
Siegel, L. M. (2001). The complete IEP guide: How to advocate for your special ed child (2nd ed.). Berkeley, CA: Nolo Press.
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Wright, P.W.D., & Wright, P.D. (1999). Your child's IEP: Practical and legal guidance for parents. Deltaville, VA: Authors. (Also consult: http://www.wrightslaw.com/)
Getting a Copy of IDEA's Regulations
- www.ed.gov/offices/OSERS/IDEA/regs.html. There are 6 files total to download.
- http://www.ideapractices.org/. At this site you can get Part 300 plus Parts 301, 303 (Part C–Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities Program), and 304.
- Call EDPUBS at: 877-433-7827 (voice), 877-576-7734 (TTY/TTD). You can also order online via the EDPUBS web site at www.ed.gov/pubs/edpubs.html.
- Call or write the Government Printing Office at (202) 512-1800, Government Printing Office, Superintendent of Documents, PO Box 37195-7954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250.
Allyn & Bacon, Telephone: 1-800-666-9433. Web: http://www.ablongman.com/.
Paul H. Brookes Publishing, P.O. Box 10624, Baltimore, MD 21285-0624. Telephone: 1-800-638-3775. Web: http://www.brookespublishing.com/.
Woodbine House, 6510 Bells Mill Rd., Bethesda, MD 20817. Telephone: 1-800-843-7323. Web: http://www.woodbinehouse.com/.
Click the "Endnotes" link above to hide these endnotes.
(7) 34 CFR Appendix A to Part 300—Notice of Interpretation, II. Involvement of Parents and Students, question 9, 1st paragraph.
(8) 34 CFR §300.342, §300.343, and §300.345(b)(1)—When IEPs must be in effect; IEP meetings; and Parent participation, respectively.
(9) 34 CFR §300.344—IEP team.
(10) 34 CFR §300.29(a)(1)—Transition services. A coordinated set of activities for a student with a disability designed to promote movement from school to postschool activities, including postsecondary education, vocational training, integrated or supported employment, continuing and adult education, adult services, independent living or community participation.
(11) 34 CFR §300.344 (a)(6) and 300.344(b)—IEP team.
(12) 34 CFR §300.346—Development, review, and revision of IEP.
(13) 34 CFR §300.346(a)(2)—Consideration of special factors.
(14) 34 CFR §§300.5 and 300.6—Assistive technology device; and Assistive technology service, respectively.
(15) 34 CFR §300.19—Native language.
A publication of the National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities
Parent Guide 12 (PA12) October, 2002