When a child with a disability needs specially designed instruction, they qualify for an individual education plan (IEP) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), U.S. federal law.
This 30+ page document contains information about the child, including present levels, diagnosis, goals, specially designed instruction, transition planning, related services, and how much time they spend with non-disabled peers.
Like everything, there are well-developed, wonderfully written IEPs, and then, there are poorly written IEPs. Unfortunately, parents do not know the difference, unless they are made aware of the issues.
This blog series will hopefully help parents, teachers, and administrators look at an IEP through the parents’ eyes.
The “Present Levels” Section of an IEP Explained
In the present levels section, this is a snapshot of what is currently happening with the child. The section should contain any evaluation results, current teachers’ input, current grades, progress monitoring data, attendance, discipline, physical health, behavioral concerns, related services reports, parent input statement, strengths, needs, and a positive behavior plan, if applicable.
Within this section, parents want to hear from the teachers and professionals who work with their child daily. They want to know how they are progressing on their goals. This section should be information from the current teachers. IEPs are valid for one calendar year, and often this will be part of one school year and part of another. There may be information from last year’s teachers, but nothing from the current teachers. Even if the current teachers have been working with the student for one month, those teachers need to provide information. SIDE NOTE: I highly recommend that if the IEP’s annual due date is in September or October, always schedule a meeting in February or March to update this section and prepare for the next school year.
The Importance of Progress Monitoring
Progress monitoring data is very important and should be in the IEP. Parents should receive progress monitoring reports at a minimum with report cards, but the information should always be included in the IEP for several reasons. First, this document is a living document that all teachers, administration, and staff have access to within the school district. Employment changes regularly and not everyone will look for the progress reports. If included in the IEP, it is in one location for everyone. Another reason is to show a history for the teachers as your child progresses from grade to grade. Finally, if it is in the IEP, there is a log that the data is being kept.
Reports from related services are very important to allow the team to determine whether services need to continue or whether other services are needed. Having the data in one location also allows for correlation and comparisons to be made. It’s one place where anyone can look and get a full picture of who this child is, the progress or regress occurring, and provide information for future decisions.
A Parent’s Guide to The Strengths & Needs Section
The section for strengths and needs is sometimes a hard pill for parents to swallow. They are coming to the district for assistance. The district is indicating everything that the child can NOT do. The last thing that the parents want to see in the strengths section is how nice their child is. If that is the only strength that the district can determine, then there is a bigger problem here. Some teachers and administrators find that an IEP should be mostly or solely academic based until they get to the strengths section. Then the child is nice and a pleasure to have in class. Social examples are acceptable, especially if the child struggled with social skills in the past but should not be the only strength listed. Generally, the list of strengths is smaller than the needs based. In a meeting, be mindful that you are talking about a child and not just randomly making a checklist.
Finally, in this section, is the parents’ input statement. The district should provide a questionnaire to the parents to complete. This should NOT be the only input that the parents provide. Parents, you need to sit down and write out a vision statement for your child. This is your chance to tell everyone else who reads this document about your child from your perspective. Where do you see your child in the next 3-5 years? What skills do you want them to have? What skills will they need to accomplish your vision? If we do not know where we are going, we do not know when we’ve arrived.
If You Have Questions, Consult an Education Law Attorney
Parents, on the day you brought your child home, you had hopes and dreams for them. Do NOT allow a diagnosis to change that hope. Your child will do whatever they decide they will do, and you will support them all the way there. Should you have questions, need guidance, or seek representation in Pennsylvania, reach out to Purdy Law Office, LLC – your trusted partner in handling IEPs.