If your child has an IEP, you are probably familiar with the anxiety that often accompanies IEP assessments. My experience as an Educational Consultant, Autism Coach and Autism Parent gives me a window into the IEP process that helps you see it clearly. Your anxiety will be quelled when you know what I know...
What is an IEP anyway?
The initials stand for Individualized Education Program, both a document and a process for educating students with disabilities. The process is described and governed by our nation’s special education law PL 94-142 (1975), renamed in the 1990’s as IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). The primary purpose of IDEA is to ensure that all students with disabilities have available to them a free and appropriate education designed to meet their unique needs.
Why are children assessed for special education?
The IDEA includes the Child Find Mandate, requiring all school districts to identify, locate, and evaluate all children with disabilities, regardless of the severity. Students with suspected disabilities should be assessed in all areas to determine eligibility for services and to determine their educational needs.
The Initial Assessment
Sometimes, a school identifies that a child may need a special education assessment. However, as a parent, you can also make a request for assessment in writing. Both initiate the Initial Assessment process for special education.
If a parent requests an assessment and the school believes that an assessment is not in order, they can respond with a letter stating such (Prior Written Notice). However, the school typically responds to the written request with an assessment plan. The clock starts ticking because the parent has 15 calendar days to respond to the school’s plan.
Once the parent submits the signed assessment plan and it is received by the school, the school is required to complete this initial assessment within 60 days and hold a meeting to review test results. Based on the meeting and assessment findings that identify the student’s special education needs, parental consent is then required to initiate appropriate special education services.
What happens during the assessment?
A student is assessed by a wide variety of tools that measure several aspects of the student’s learning: Psycho-educational; Academic; Health; Speech-Language; Occupational Therapy; Adapted Physical Education; Functional Behavior Assessment; Supplemental Support Assessment, etc. The assessments are performed by individuals who are competent to execute them: School Psychologist, Speech-Language Pathologist, Special Education Teacher, School Nurse, and other such professionals. The assessments are provided in a student’s primary language. In addition, they are recognized as unbiased assessment tools yielding results that have been found to be reliable and valid over time and across varied school environments.
What makes a child eligible for Special Education?
After the assessment data has been reviewed, the IEP team also reviews the student’s present levels of performance (PLOP) in all areas (reading, writing, math, communication, motor skills, social-emotional, etc.). Next, the team determines appropriate goals to address the particular unique needs of the child. Lastly, the IEP team identifies the specific category where the student meets eligibility.
There are currently thirteen Special Education eligibility categories listed under IDEA, including these: Autism; Specific Learning Disability; Other Health Impaired; Hearing Impairment; Visual Impairment, Intellectual disability, and Speech-Language Impairment. Remember, an eligibility category does not serve as a medical diagnosis. However, it does assist in describing a student’s current unique challenges so that they can receive the appropriate supports at school.
To ensure a continuation of appropriate special education services, a thorough Triennial Evaluation is conducted regularly, as described in IDEA. It requires that students be re-evaluated in all areas of suspected disability at least every three years (i.e., triennial review) to determine eligibility and students’ educational needs.
The process for this Triennial Assessment is similar to the Initial Assessment:
Upon being notified of your upcoming IEP meeting for the Initial or Triennial Assessment, parents can request copies of all assessment reports and the DRAFT IEP one week prior to the IEP meeting. Assessments can be complex to read, so request support from experienced friends and professionals as you review results, making notes and documenting your questions.
What should parents look for in a quality Assessment report?
Key Points to Remember about IEP meetings:
Parents, you are your child’s best advocate! Trust your gut as you participate in your meetings and discussions and take time to review the results. Most importantly, remember that every child can learn in his or her unique way. I hope that this information has helped minimize anxiety as you approach the IEP assessment process for your child. Remember to enlist support along the way from professionals and knowledgeable friends as you advocate for your child.
Thank you to our writing consultant, Betsy Hamblin!
Additional resources: Parents Rights in CA; Wrightslaw book
When you hear the word IEP, what do you think? A bunch of fancy words that you don't understand? Another opportunity to hear about how well your child is not doing at school? Do not fear fellow special needs families. There is HOPE!
When I hear the word IEP (Individual Education Program), I think "Here is a great opportunity to develop and monitor a plan specifically for my child's success!" Now where, you may ask, does my optimism come from? Well, after twenty years of working in special education in the public school system and five years of attending IEP meetings for my own child, I have learned a few things. Let me share a few tips with you...
1. Start with the end in mind.
Remember that the ultimate purpose of your child's IEP is to prepare them for "further education, employment, and independent living”. Even as early as preschool, we need to keep this in mind as we develop goals and plan for the future.
2. Document, document, document.
As quoted by one of the leading authorities on special education law and advocacy, "if it isn't written down, it didn't happen" (Pete Wright, wrightslaw.com). Documenting your conversations and concerns is the best way to keep IEP teams accountable. In addition, this will help you to streamline your efforts in monitoring progress and may save your sanity. For example, when you pick up your child from school and chat briefly with your child's teacher about a problem behavior that arose that day, you may want to follow up with a quick email to recap the conversation. If the behavior becomes a recurring issue, you'll have documentation to review to help you help your team in developing smart solutions.
3. Don't go it alone!
If at all possible, always attend an IEP meeting with someone. The law allows you to invite individuals who have knowledge or special expertise about your child. As the parent, you get to decide who meets this criteria. You may invite one of your child's private therapists, your Regional Center case worker, or your parent as an example. Having another set of eyes and ears present at an IEP meeting relieves you of pressure and allows you the freedom to listen and absorb the information.
So, the next time you hear the term IEP, don't be afraid. Remember that an IEP is an excellent opportunity for you to make a positive impact on your child's academic progress. Document everything as much as possible and enlist your support network for assistance.
References: https://sites.ed.gov/idea, wrightslaw.com, understood.org
Crystal Sanford, M.Ed., M.A. CCC-SLP is an Educational Consultant, Autism IEP Advocate and Speech Pathologist. Her passion is advocating STRONG alongside fellow Autism moms, helping them to persistently pursue what's best for their children at school. In her free time, she enjoys gardening and spending time with her husband and two children in San Diego, CA.