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Maximize your transition IEP meeting

Education experts Angela Gowans and Allan Blume offer parents insight into promoting productive and solution-oriented IEP meetings for transition-aged students

It is important that an Individualized Education Program (IEP) meet your student’s transition planning goals and needs.

The purpose of an IEP meeting is to review your student’s progress toward realistic, measurable annual goals, and to ensure that there are goals and services that address their transition-related needs. Sounds straightforward, right? But this process can feel overwhelming for even the toughest students and families. The stakes feel so high: This is your kid’s education, and you want to get it right. 

You’re in control. As students near high school graduation, it’s even more imperative that both the student and family are involved in the IEP process. While these meetings happen annually, 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.

Want to get the most out of your next IEP meeting? Educational advocate Angela Gowans and educational consultant Allan Blume offer this advice:

  1. Get prepared before the meeting. Read your student’s current IEP, most recent progress reports, and notes from all previous meetings that year. Many families maintain a binder with this information. Remember: your student’s most recent progress report is an important determinant of the IEP’s effectiveness. Know your priorities and focus on the most important ones.
  2. If there’s testing or progress data, ask for it before the meeting. This can be done through 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 for the first time!
  3. Write down your list of questions and concerns in advance. As you review information and prepare notes for yourself, consider your student’s progress and areas for growth related to independent living skills, vocational skills, and other skill sets that could impact their readiness for post-secondary experiences (e.g., work, college, community engagement, etc.).
  4. You’re part of your student’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 student. The word “appropriate” is key here – you and your student’s educational team must agree on that definition. You know your child best.
  5. Know who’s in the meeting. Ask for introductions that include everyone’s role and how they work with your student day-to-day. You can also ask for the meeting attendance sheet.
  6. Start with the student’s vision. IEP meetings should begin with a review of the student’s vision statement. Their goals and expectations for their future should drive the content of their educational plan. As appropriate, the team’s vision (which includes input from both family and educators) should also be discussed.
  7. Voice your concerns toward the beginning of the meeting. Be clear and concise. This helps frame the discussion, along with advocating for your student’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 you raise. 
  8. Develop actionable plans for continued growth. Team meetings are a valuable opportunity to integrate your student’s strengths, passions, and interests with their instruction. The team should consider outcomes from person-centered planning, or other sources of short- and long-term goals, when drafting an IEP.
  9. Integrate action steps: transition-related needs and action steps must be explicitly addressed in your student’s IEP. They are commonly included in the following areas:
    • Present levels of performance
    • IEP goals and objectives 
    • Anticipated graduation date (transition activities/ action steps should be in relation to a student’s anticipated exit date)
    • Community/agency connections (identification of current agency connections and needed connections)
    • Service delivery grid: transition-related services should be included – e.g., consultation time with a case manager, guidance counselor or transition specialist, direct service from an orientation and mobility (O&M) instructor, etc..
  10. Listen. Provide space for the school team to share their observations and experiences from working with your student. You want to get as much information as you can from the group.
  11. Circle back for understanding. Misunderstanding can be the most common challenge 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.
  12. Make sure you are clear on the agreed-upon accommodations, goal areas (e.g., vision, reading, math, writing), transition services, and what type of personnel will provide them. Continue to ask questions until you understand. 
  13. Always be respectful, even if you’re emotional. No teacher or staff-bashing! This only derails the conversation. If you disagree, you can always reconvene another meeting. Sometimes meetings can feel rushed or too short. Students and families can always request another meeting if there are loose ends.
  14. Remember, your student’s services can’t be changed without documentation that they have met benchmarks. Make sure you understand the data being presented, and if you don’t, request clarification and call another meeting if needed. Again, you’re in control.

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.

A parent who’s been there

Ready for more? Read this.

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Stay in the conversation about post-secondary transition.

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