5 Back-to-School Questions for the First Team Meeting

Here's what to ask at the first school-team meeting.

Posted Aug 13, 2014

Every good parent wants their child in an academically challenging school program that meets their child’s individual needs. This is particularly true for parents of children with disabilities. Whether you are the parent of a child with disabilities or not, begin the school year with five questions that will require the school team to know your child’s present levels of academic achievement and help the team partner with you to create expectations for the school year. Knowing where your child is currently functioning and knowing expectations for this school year will help both you and the school team plan for success. Intervene now. Don’t wait for the end-of-year test!

In their new book, Negotiating the IEP, special educator Howard Margolis Ed.D. and Clinical and School Psychologist Gary Brannigan Ph.D. craft a set of questions for the first team meeting to begin the process of mapping out a disabled child’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP) [1]. This child-specific document lays out the plan for the year. The critical first meeting and sample questions help teachers, parents, school administrators, services personnel and the student work together to achieve positive results.

These sample questions are a good starting point for any parent. Note the specificity and “evidence based” language employed in the questions. Margolis and Brannigan caution not to accept fuzzy objectives or weak anecdotal “she’s a really good worker” responses.

5 Back-to-School Questions for the First Team Meeting

Question 1: What are my child's independent, instructional, and frustration levels (a) for reading stories and (b) for reading "information" materials like textbooks?

This question might lead to a discussion about what kinds of reading the child will be expected to do in this year’s curriculum, the way reading classes work in school, and what kind of outside-of-school reading will be expected.

Question 2: What math operations has he/she mastered with 95% proficiency? What level is this in the school's curriculum?

This question can lead into queries such as will your child be experiencing the new Common Core math? What’s it like? Will you be able to help with the homework? Should you?

Question 3: What are his/her writing scores for writing on grade-level assignments?

This may open a discussion regarding whether the school is moving into a new more rigorous writing curriculum. What writing projects should you expect for the year? Will he/she be doing special writing projects in subject areas such as science and social studies?

Question 4: How well does he/she work cooperatively in groups?

What’s the school culture in this school? Are their special requirements? Use this question as an easy entrée to questions about whatever is on your mind such as school safety or use of cell phones.

Question 5: What kind of homework assignments is he likely to succeed on? Struggle with?

Isn’t homework a big issue for most parents and children? What’s this year’s homework policy? Does it comport with your expectations? What role, if any, do you have?

You, the parent, are likely your child’s best advocate. You should be a member of your child’s “individualized education plan team” whether your child is disabled or not. Prepare now to start early, plan ahead, and have a voice.

A New Resource for Parents, Cognitive Psychologists, School Psychologists, and Anyone Involved with Children with Disabilities

In the United States, Great Britain, and Canada an Individualized Education Plan/Individual Education Plan (IEP) is a right guaranteed by law and a school requirement for children with disabilities. In Negotiating Your Child’s IEP Margolis and Brannigan show you in plain language what you need to do before, during, and after the critical team meeting or meetings. They remind us that parents of children with disabilities should think of themselves as participants and active decision makers on the team, not as passive receivers of information. In fact, parents may need to be the child’s chief advocate and lead the team. Negotiating Your Child’s IEP will show you how.

I highly recommend this book for any parent whose child has an IEP. I’ve worked as an expert/advocate in IEP Team meetings that were a parent’s worst nightmare. One parent had a learning disabled child who made all A’s in reading on the report card but couldn’t pass the state test due to time constraints and was slated to be held back and forced to take a dreadfully boring summer-school reading program. Another set of parents ended up pulling their dyslexic son out of public school and paid $30,000 a year for three years in tuition for a private school for dyslexics. Still another fought to have her brilliant dyslexic third-grader who spoke English as a Second Language from failing third grade the same year she jumped three-grade levels in reading and passed the state test. The school team recommended retention because her reading score brought down the school average even though she passed the test. Finally the principal agreed to pass the child over the teacher’s objections. As it turned out the child went on to fourth grade and is now going to college. I wish I had had Negotiating Your Child’s IEP to help the parents through the regrettable IEP maze in each of these cases. It’s a great little book!

[1] Howard Margolis & Gary G. Brannigan (2014). Negotiating Your Child’s IEP: A Step-by-Step Guide. Amazon: Kindle.

Click on the title above to find out more about Negotiating Your Child’s IEP.

(Dr. Gentry is the author of  Raising Confident Readers, How to Teach Your Child to Read and Write--from Baby to Age 7. Available on Amazon.com. Follow Dr. Gentry on Facebook and on Twitter.)