Your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting can spark butterflies right up there with a work presentation in front of your CEO.
The purpose of these meetings is to review your child’s progress toward realistic, measurable annual goals, revising as needed with their education team. Sounds straightforward, right? But this process can cause even the toughest parent to get weak-kneed. The stakes feel so high: This is your child’s education, and you want to get it right.
Remember: You’re in control. While these meetings happen every year, you can request an IEP meeting at any time for any reason, and you’re always entitled to pose questions, ask for documentation, and reconvene the group as necessary.
Make your wishes for your child’s educational path known. It’s super-important. Molly, mom to Levi, 6
Tips for your next IEP meeting
Here are tips for maximizing your time, with input from educational advocate Angela Gowans and educational consultant Allan Blume.
- Get prepared before the meeting. Read your child’s current IEP, most recent progress reports, and notes from all previous meetings that year. Many parents maintain a binder with this information. Remember: Your child’s most recent progress report is the most accurate determinant of the IEP’s effectiveness.
- If there’s testing or progress data, ask for it before the meeting. This is a simple email, directed to your team chairperson. If you don’t know who your team chairperson is, email the special education director for your district. It’s tough to participate in the meeting while reading data points!
- Write down your list of questions and concerns in advance.
- You’re part of your child’s team! Do not feel overwhelmed by the educators on the other side of the table. Your team is obligated to provide a free, appropriate public education (often called FAPE) in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) for your child. The word “appropriate” is key here; you and your child’s educational team must agree on that definition. You know your child best.
- Know who’s in the meeting. Ask for introductions, everyone’s role, and how they work with your child day to day. You can also ask for the meeting attendance sheet.
- Voice your concerns at the beginning of the meeting. Be clear and concise. This helps frame the discussion, along with advocating for your child’s needs. If you don’t state your concerns in an IEP meeting, then the school team cannot respond or try to solve the issues.
- Your child is amazing! But don’t spend valuable IEP meeting time discussing your kid’s awesomeness. Use this time to target areas for growth opportunities and how they will be addressed in the IEP.
- Listen. Let the school team do the talking. You want to get as much information as you can from the group.
- Circle back for understanding. Misunderstanding is the number-one issue during IEP meetings. Use reflective language to better understand or clarify the school’s proposal or perspective. One useful phrase: “What I hear you saying is…” Understood.org maintains a helpful list of key IEP phrases to use if things get tense.
- Know the difference between accommodations and modifications. These terms are sometimes used interchangeably in IEP meetings. Accommodations refer to teaching practices that any educator can provide for any student at any time. Modifications are services, interventions, or supports that are significantly different from what your child’s peers without CVI might receive, adjusted for your child. For instance, this could refer to your child’s curriculum or to their educational setting.
- Make sure you are clear on the agreed-upon accommodations, methodology (how your child is being taught), goal areas (for example: vision, reading, math, writing), services, and what type of personnel will provide them.
- Ask questions until you understand. Remember: You can reconvene another meeting! Sometimes meetings can feel rushed or too short. Parents can always request another meeting if there are loose ends.
- Don’t litigate. Instead, know your priorities and zone in on the most important ones. If there is a disagreement that looks like it’s not resolving, document it, and move on.
- Always be respectful, even if you’re emotional. No teacher or staff-bashing; this only derails the conversation. If you disagree, that’s fine. However, name-calling and blaming need to stay out of the IEP meeting.
- Remember: Your child’s services can’t be changed without documentation that your child has met benchmarks. Make sure you understand the data being presented, and if you don’t, request clarification and call another meeting if you need to. You’re in control.
For more information about navigating the IEP process, visit Understood.
Don’t leave an IEP meeting if you’re not happy with what’s been decided. In the early days, I was nervous to speak up or I just hoped for the best that it would work out. There are a million different things that I talked myself down from objecting. Now, I’ve learned that the parent is a valuable part of the team.Kira, mom to Mason, 6