5 Strategies to Guide You Through Your Next IEP Meeting

Don't just survive your meeting—rock it.

Posted Mar 19, 2019

The birds are chirping, springtime is here, and you know what that means? (No, not allergy season!) It’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP), Annual Review season. For better or for worse, it’s time to review your child’s plan and start thinking about the following school year.

When I worked for the public schools on the Child Study Team as a school psychologist, this was the busiest time of the year for us. But now, as a mom, I’m sitting on the other side of the table, for my child. As my daughter’s meeting is approaching, I’m feeling emotional. I’m concerned about my daughter’s progress, her program, her related services, her accommodations — all of it. There is so much that is out of my control.

As parents, what takes place in the classroom each day is out of our control. I don’t know about you, but I like to know; I like to know the lesson she is working on in math, the book she is reading in English, the skill she is working on in writing. When I sit at my daughter’s IEP meeting, I am no longer an objective school psychologist. I am a worried mom and I know I’m not alone.

For many, like myself, we may think about it, play out the different ways it will carry out, and worry. A lot. I am a horrible anticipatory worrier, so this year, I am going to plan ahead and do a few things to get ready. I will encourage you to join me in my preparation.

Create a Checklist and Let it Guide Your Through Your Annual Review Meeting

Let’s talk about the purpose of your Annual Review meeting. According to the U.S. Department of Education (2000), there are some key areas that you will want to discuss and have answers about before the end of your Annual Review meeting:

  • Have my child’s goals been achieved?
  • If not, in what areas has there not been progress?
  • What is the plan for helping my child to make progress in those areas?
  • Are any additional related services needed? Or does my child need more or less of a related service that he is receiving?
  • Does my child’s program need to be more or less restrictive?
  • Does my child need any additional assessments in order to gain information that is lacking in my child’s profile?
  • Does my child need an independent evaluation? Are the results of the testing completed for my child (anytime within the 3 years between re-evaluation assessments) not providing enough information in order for us to make decisions about my child’s program and progress?
  • How is my child progressing behaviorally? Socially? Emotionally?

Create a Binder and Carry It Into Your Child’s IEP Meeting

If you haven’t already, take all of your child’s IEP documents and begin to organize them into a notebook (or two). Create tabs for IEPs, correspondence, CST Evaluations, private evaluations, and progress reports.

Bring that notebook with you to your child’s Annual Review Meeting. It will be helpful to you if you are able to reference an evaluation or service during your meeting without scrambling to write yourself a note to "look that up" once you get home. Having this notebook also lets your CST know that you are very familiar with your child’s program and needs, and that you are prepared.

Think about the last time that you saw a police car on the highway. What did you do? You automatically stepped (or slammed) on your breaks. How many times have I driven past a police car that had nobody in it? Too many times, but it made me slow down and stay mindful of my driving speed. Your notebook will serve as the same type of reminder to your team. It will also empower you and give you all of your child’s information, right there, right then.

Read Your Child’s IEP Before Your Annual Review Meeting

An IEP is a complex document. As a school psychologist, I understand all of the parts of the document and the purpose that each serves, but I know that it is a complicated and thick stack of pages, which can be daunting. Prior to your child’s IEP meeting, sit down with the one that you created with your Child Study Team last year and review it. Know all of the parts well. Create a sheet cheat if you need to — a one page summary of the keys points of your child’s program, related services, and accommodations.

Become familiar with the teacher’s comments and assessment review in the “Present Levels of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance.” Review your “Parent Concerns” from last year. Take a look at the program and the frequency and duration of your child’s related services.  Review the accommodations and place a checkmark next to the ones that were helpful to your child during this present school year, and cross off the ones that your child doesn’t use anymore. Take a look at your child’s statewide testing accommodations. Were they helpful? Keep them? Lose them?

As the parent, you want to be familiar with all of the parts of your child’s IEP and determine which parts need change and which parts can stay the same.

Bring in a Typed "Parent Concerns" Letter or Statement to Add to Your Child’s IEP

Without a doubt, you are the expert on your child. You are the person who has your child’s history, you know which therapies have been completed, which strategies have worked and which have not. You are the one who bears the brunt of your child's frustrations once he gets home and needs to decompress from his school day. You are also your child’s biggest cheerleader (please take out your figurative pom-poms!) and your child’s best advocate. Repeat after me, “I am the expert on my child.”  

With that said, your voice has a section in your child’s IEP. It’s called the “Parental Concerns” section. Based on the Special Education Code (Title 6a, Chapter 14 in New Jersey), you, as the parent, have the right to prepare a written statement or letter to be included in your child’s IEP.

In this section, I encourage you to state your areas of concern about your child’s progress (or lack thereof), your goals for your child, and any information that is, otherwise, not included in your child’s IEP. In essence, you want whoever picks up your child’s IEP this year or next year, to have a sense of how your child is functioning academically, behaviorally, socially, and emotionally.

Here are a few areas that you can address in your ‘Parent Concerns’ letter:

  • Your child’s passions (e.g., gymnastics, theater, soccer)
  • Areas where your child is making progress 
  • Strategies that are working
  • Strategies that are not working
  • Medical concerns
  • Academic concerns
  • Behavioral concerns
  • Emotional concerns
  • Social concerns
  • Your child’s strengths
  • Your child’s weaknesses

Your letter can be as long as it needs to be. My suggestion would be to walk into your child’s Annual Review with this letter and hand it to your case manager when you discuss that section. When your case manager asks you to discuss your Parental Concerns, use this time to discuss/summarize what you have written. If, after the meeting, you decide there is more information you would like to add, advise your case manager that you will be sending in a revised version of the Parent Concerns letter.

Ask for the data

Outside of a re-evaluation (in which your child is re-tested every three years), you don’t always have as much factual data about how your child is progressing in the different academic domains. Let’s face it, your child’s report card can be subjective. With that said, ask for your child’s baseline assessment scores in math, reading, and writing from September and compare them to the February assessment scores.

Ask about progress made in the following areas:

  • Reading comprehension
  • Reading fluency
  • Writing essays (when age-appropriate)
  • Writing sentence structure
  • Consistent use of punctuation, grammar, capitalization
  • Math fluency
  • Math basic skills
  • Word problems (which combines reading, math, and completing multi-step problems)
  • Ability to follow multi-step directions
  • Attention and concentration
  • Sustained attention
  • Initiation
  • Follow through

What If I Don’t Sign My Child’s IEP?

Towards the end of your IEP meeting, your case manager will ask you to sign your child’s IEP. Please keep in mind that if you choose not to sign the IEP, it will go into effect, with or without your signature, in 15 days.

If you are not in agreement, I encourage parents to write on the IEP that you are not in agreement with xxx and bullet your concerns. Indicate you will be sending a letter indicating areas of disagreement. Send your letter indicating what you are in disagreement about and why, as well as a proposal for how to change the IEP. Hand-deliver your letter of disagreement within 1-2 days after your IEP meeting to the Director of Special Services or your case manager and ask for the letter to be date stamped. Why is the date stamp important? Because your case manager will schedule a meeting with you to review your areas of disagreement within 20 days of that date. 

It’s IEP season. It’s an anxiety-provoking time for you, as the parent of a child with a special education program and related services, and that’s okay. Do your homework and be prepared. I’m sending positive IEP vibes to us all!

References

U.S. Department of Education (2000). Guide to the individualized education program. Washington, DC: Author. ERIC Document Reproduction Services.