The Ultimate Checklist for IEP Prep
Whether you have a couple days or a few weeks before your IEP meeting, it’s time to get organized! In our Facebook live event on March 28, 2023, Undivided Education Advocate and Navigator Lisa Carey gave us key information that parents should consider when preparing for IEP meetings. Carey has advocated for hundreds of families during IEPs, including her own kids, and has all the tips and tricks you need!
Where to start your IEP prep
A great place to start IEP prep is by creating a vision statement. Whether you write a few bullet points or a paragraph, finding the “why” will help center your priorities in the IEP meeting. Carey explains her personal vision statement for her youngest boy as “long-term goals that I hope he will accomplish by the time he finishes with the school district.” Other parents will write a vision statement that resembles more of a mission statement, and that works too! Many Undivided parents start presenting their vision statements at the beginning of the IEP meeting, and it can be a meaningful way to remind everybody in the room what you’re working toward.
Another must-do at the beginning of your IEP prep: Save and document EVERYTHING! Whether it be emails, homework, or notes that come home from the school, you want to have access to documents from the previous school year. Let’s face it — you’re probably not going to remember everything that has happened in the span of an entire year. If you have a conversation on the phone or in person with a school staff member that you feel is significant, such as speaking about a new behavior or your child refusing to go to a therapy, follow up with an email to simply say thank you or clarify anything. If anything changes, it’s documented in writing. Remember: if it’s not written down, it didn’t happen!
What to request from the district before the meeting
Notify the team you want to record the IEP meeting! In California, you have the right to audio record your meeting. Inform the team at least 24 hours in advance in order to record!
Ask for a progress report, draft goals, and/or the draft IEP. Please note that a lot of districts don’t provide drafts, and they are not required to do so. Carey explains more in this clip:
Ask for written assessment reports ahead of the meeting. Not every IEP will have assessments, but if there are assessments being done ahead of the meeting, request a copy! As Carey explains, “One of the main points of IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), which is the federal law about special education, is facilitating meaningful parental participation. How can you meaningfully participate when you are just being presented with something?” Any time you sign an assessment plan (and you’ll have to provide written consent), Carey recommends writing directly on the plan that you want copies prior to the meeting.
Write your requests when you receive your IEP meeting notice! For example, “I plan to record. Please provide assessments prior to the IEP meeting.”
Want to tour possible placements before the IEP meeting? Carey says you can definitely ask but, “some districts might push back since placement decisions are made in the IEP meeting, not before. It might be possible to observe the different types of placements that are available to the team to consider.”
What to request from people outside the IEP team
Get reports and/or updates from your child’s providers. If your child is seeing providers outside of school for therapies like speech or OT, ask them for any reports or data. Some providers are required to create reports every so often for insurance. For providers who do not have these reports, ask for their input. What are they working on with your child? How is your child progressing? Do they have any videos of your child that might support what you’re seeing outside of school?
Check with your doctor on health records if your child has a lot of medical needs. Touch base to see if the doctor has any concerns or accommodation recommendations in regard to school. For example, the doctor may recommend low-impact activities during P.E. for children with certain diagnoses or risks
Most importantly, get your child’s input! Whether they tell you they hate math because the teacher doesn’t provide them accommodations or they smile every time you talk about choir, check in with them about what’s working for them and what isn’t.
Tips when reviewing materials before the IEP meeting
Progress Reports: The important part is in the comments section! Whatever the teacher wrote in the progress report or report card, see if those line up with the present levels in your child’s standards-based curriculum. Teachers are often required to use certain language on these reports which can be helpful to use in your IEP meeting, especially if the team is stating something different. Reports are a great way to find out where your kid is at, what they’re doing well in, and where they can work to improve. Need some help tracking your child’s progress? Check out this goal tracker template we created to help you do this!
Assessment reports: The first thing Carey asks a parent when reviewing an assessment report is “Was there anything surprising?” If you are shocked or have questions while going through the report, take note of that! Put your questions in the margins right where it comes up so that you can ask your questions as the team goes through the assessment. If you received an independent assessment, compare both. Make sure there are no discrepancies or disconnects between them. If you need help, ask your private provider or get clarification from the school. From personal experience, Carey explains that reviewing these reports is a difficult portion of the IEP meeting, and a lot of people don’t understand how to read them. She has taken many classes and still has to remind herself to set aside dedicated time for assessments!
PLOPS/Goals: It’s important to understand all terms and data that’s being shared. Go through the present levels of performance (PLOPS) and look up anything you don't know.
There are a couple important questions to ask ourselves about goals. These are:
- When creating a goal, will it be appropriate one year from now?
- When reviewing past goals, if the goal was not met, how can it be changed so the skill is implemented in a different way? Remember: goals should never be repeated exactly the same! If the goal is not met, by definition, something is not going right.
What to know about accommodations and modifications
Knowing the difference between accommodations and modifications is SUPER important! As Carey explains, accommodations are tools that will most likely not be used every single day. Not every accommodation will be used every single day. Coming up with accommodations is often going to be thinking about what you do at home. How do you prepare for transitions at home? How does that help prevent a meltdown when prepping transitions? How can this be implemented at school? There can be many accommodations for school that are going to be different than what works at home, but starting with what you know will be a great point of reference.
Carey emphasizes the importance of understanding the implications of modifications. The most important question is: do you as the parent understand the significance of modifications to child’s academic career? She explains, “A lot of parents don’t realize that modifications mean your child will be doing something that does not meet the standard for meeting diploma requirements. That may be okay for your child and your situation, but it can be awful when a parent doesn’t realize what that means. Make sure you know what those modifications mean, who’s doing them, and what they look like.”
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5 more IEP meeting tips & tricks for the school year
- Get organized! As the year goes on and something pops into your head, add it to a document or in a folder. For example, you can write a note like “September behavior is getting worse. What’s the plan? If it gets bad, call IEP sooner.” Finding a system is so important. Carey states that she personally uses both a digital and paper system, but whatever works best for your brain is key.
Remember to take your time during the IEP meeting and plan a break if you can. It is absolutely okay to ask the team to pause in order to collect your thoughts or find something in your notes during the meeting. Parental participation is one of the most important parts of the IEP meeting! Plan a break after the meeting is over. As Carey says, one of the most overlooked pieces of IEP prep is planning a time later in the day to unwind, whether that’s going out for coffee, calling your best friend, or taking a bath. If you’re able to take a break after the IEP meeting — do it!
If you are looking to get confirmation from the school that they received your email, you can write something like “If anything in this letter is incorrect, please reply within a reasonable amount of time.” Carey’s trick? You don't necessarily need to put something of significance. She explains more here:
If certain skills are being pushed but you know that your child can already do those skills, make a video and show the team! One Undivided parent made a quick two-minute compilation video of her kid doing all the things the IEP team said they “can’t do” in school, and it worked!
Is there anything you shouldn’t tell your IEP team? Carey explains that she is all for collaboration and cooperation, but if you’re considering due process, it may not be in your best interest to tell the rest of the team. Due process is a discussion you want to have with your attorney or advocate. Other than that, Carey likes to tell parents to pretend like they’re speaking to a judge or their grandmother during the meeting. Be calm and professional at all times – not to say you can’t cry because these are your kids! Try not to be disrespectful or yell.