Individualized Education Program Annual Review Meetings
For most students with an Individualized Education Program (IEP), the end of the school year means it’s time for their annual review meeting. If you are a parent of a child with an IEP and your annual review is coming up soon, here are some quick tips to help you navigate the meeting.
- Understand the purpose of the meeting. The IEP team (including you!) are meeting to consider (1) how well/poorly the student progressed toward their IEP goals, (2) whether an extended school year (ESY) is necessary, (3) whether the student continues to qualify for an IEP, and, if so, (4) what goals and services the student will need for the following school year.
- Come to the meeting prepared. Three things here. First, the school must record data on a student’s progress toward their IEP goals. The IEP document itself dictates how this data is recorded and how often it is provided to the parent(s). Make sure you get this data and review it before the meeting. Don’t focus on grades – focus on progress in each individual goal. Second, ask for a “proposed or draft IEP.” You aren’t entitled to one by law, but many schools will provide you with a draft copy ahead of time, so you have time to digest all the information. Third, bring whatever people or documents you believe are relevant to the meeting. For example, if the student sees a therapist or doctor outside of school and they have new/relevant information, bring something in writing from them or have them participate (in person or by telephone).
- Don’t breeze through last year’s IEP goals. When a team sets an IEP goal, they believe the student can achieve it within the year. In the annual review meeting, if the school states the student did not achieve an IEP goal, you should ask “Why?” Now, there are many different answers to this question, and, admittedly, it can be difficult to determine exactly why. However, if the answer from the school is, “The goal was just too high,” you should be respectfully suspicious. The student should be making appropriate progress, given their disability. If you believe the student should be doing better, voice that in the meeting. Ask about what more the school can be doing. If the school resists, you may need to seek the opinion of an independent child psychologist, parent advocate, or attorney. Also, if the school tells you, “IEP goals are aspirational; we just have to do our best to try and reach them,” respectfully correct them (see “attainable” below in #5).
- Understand the purpose of an extended school year (ESY). A student will qualify for ESY only if additional time is needed by the school to complete the student’s IEP goals, or if there is a serious risk that the student will regress – move backward – over the summer break. Schools are typically very resistant to ESY for an obvious reason: cost. If it takes your student a very long time to catch up at the beginning of each school year, they may need ESY services. If you believe your student qualifies for ESY and the school denies the services, you should speak with a parent advocate or attorney.
- Don’t breeze through this year’s IEP goals. The IEP goals are the meat of the IEP. They dictate exactly what the school is going to focus on. IEP goals must be “SMART”: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Results-oriented, and Time-bound. The goal must be specific in that it needs to address a particular deficiency the student has as a result of their disability. “Johnny’s math grade will improve,” is not specific; “Johnny will improve his ability to add and subtract single-digit numbers…” is. The goal must be measurable in that the student’s skill and progress must be objectively scored. Think charts and graphs; not feelings and observations. The goal must be attainable, meaning it accurately reflects the kind of progress the student can and should make. The goal must be results-oriented in that it specifies how the student and school will go about accomplishing the goal. Finally, the goal must be time-bound, meaning the goal should be completed within a certain amount of time (typically 1 year).
Here’s what I tell people all the time: if you can’t understand what the goal is saying, tell the IEP team; odds are, someone else doesn’t understand it either. Ask the team to reword the goal in such a way that a new person can read and understand it without explanation.
Always remember that you are a member of the IEP team. The school has to consider your thoughts, information and opinions. You are an expert on your student in a way that no one else is.
Finally, if you disagree with any part of the IEP, you need to (1) respectfully vocalize your disagreement, (2) ensure your disagreement is in writing (either on a specific form or in the meeting notes), and (3) sign the meeting documents noting “for participation purposes only” next to every signature. Get copies of everything and make arrangements to immediately speak with a parent advocate or attorney.