Editor’s Note: This is the first of a three-part series that will review and describe the procedures to be implemented before, during, and after an Individualized Education Program meeting.
It is important for families with a student with a disability to understand their rights and protections under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). With such knowledge, they can confidently advocate for their children when meeting with school staff to discuss the instruction (including reading and writing) their children will receive. The Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting is a key opportunity to so.
An IEP is a written document that describes an educational program for each student with a disability such as a reading disability. In other words, the IEP is the plan that meets the educational needs of a student deemed eligible for special education services. IEPs are required under IDEA. This federal law ensures that all students with disabilities will have access to free and appropriate public education (FAPE) focused on “special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living” (IDEA, 2004).
IEP Meeting Requirements and Preparation
The information in this post only pertains to parents of a child who is deemed eligible for special education services, including those with a reading disability. Following an initial evaluation or reevaluation, the IEP team will convene to develop the student’s IEP. Prior to convening, it is the public agency’s (regional education agency, school district, or school) responsibility to provide the student’s family a meeting notice far enough in advance to ensure that one or more family members can participate (IDEA, 2004). In addition to communicating the time and location of the meeting, the notice also must name the IEP team members who will attend and specify the purpose for convening them. Some examples for why the team might convene include: to plan the initial IEP after a determination of special education eligibility has been made; to review a student’s reading assessment results; to update an IEP after determining whether or not the current reading intervention was helping the child improve; or to address a concern about the student raised by a member of the team. When students are receiving services for transitioning from school to life in the community or other educational opportunities, the meeting notice will indicate post-secondary goals, request student attendance, and identify other outside agencies providing the services for the student (e.g., vocational rehabilitation; IDEA, 2004).
Because all communication between the public agency and families must be understandable, the meeting notice may need to be translated into the family members’ native language (IDEA, 2004). The public agency also may need to provide an interpreter during the IEP meeting for family members who do not feel comfortable communicating in English or who are part of the d/Deaf community (IDEA, 2004).
Complying with the federal law is the minimum a school must do. But educators and families can take additional steps to ensure family members’ thoughts and concerns are heard. One valuable method of preparing for this in advance of the IEP meeting is for family members to complete a questionnaire about the academic, social, and behavioral progress of their student. If the family has not already asked about this or provided a completed questionnaire, educators can request they fill one out. Information from the questionnaire can be documented in the section of the IEP that addresses parent concerns or goals for enhancing the education of the child (IDEA, 2004). The Supplemental Materials for Families include a ”Family Questionnaire for Individualized Education Program” to help families organize and record their ideas prior to attending an IEP meeting.
An Unfamiliar Family Prepares for an IEP Meeting: A Scenario With the Fictional Encinas Family
To provide a fuller sense of how the questionnaire can help families consider the key issues and characteristics of their student with a disability, consider the following scenario representing a typical family with a student with a reading disability.
Matt Encinas is in third grade. Matt and his twin sister, Ana, attend the same public elementary school near their home. Matt’s parents have begun to notice a difference between Matt and Ana’s reading abilities. Matt and Ana have always enjoyed reading for leisure, but recently, Matt has a negative attitude when his parents ask him to read at home. Matt’s latest report card confirmed that he is struggling in reading, which prompted a parent-teacher conference. At the conference, his parents learn that Matt has been receiving a phonics-based intervention with his classroom teacher. The progress monitoring data the teacher collected during that intervention showed Matt was not making an adequate rate of improvement when compared to what is expected for a student receiving the intervention. As a result, Matt’s parents request an initial evaluation for special education services.
Although Matt’s parents are unfamiliar with the special education process, they are determined to find a way to help their son with his reading difficulties. Results of the initial evaluations identify discrepancies between Matt’s reading instructional level as compared to the instructional level of his peers. Matt’s parents receive a meeting notice requesting they participate in developing an IEP. A special education teacher from the school calls Matt’s parents to discuss the purpose of the proposed meeting. The teacher explains the procedures of developing an IEP, identifies other IEP team members, and provides an opportunity to answer any questions. Matt’s parents confess that they are not knowledgeable about special education and express concern about their ability to advocate for their child. The following day, the special education teacher emails Matt’s parents a Family Questionnaire to help them prepare for the IEP meeting. The Family Questionnaire makes Matt’s parents feel confident in presenting their concerns to the IEP team. Below is the questionnaire that Matt’s parents completed regarding his educational experiences.
Family Questionnaire for Individualized Education Program
Please answer questions regarding your child’s educational experiences. The information you provide will be documented in the section of the Individualized Education Program reserved for parent concerns.
1. What are your goals for your child in the next year?
Our goals for Matt are to see him strengthen his reading skills and have a positive attitude about learning in school.
2. What are your child's strengths?
His work ethic, kindness, and math.
3. What are your child's greatest needs?
Matt’s greatest needs are in reading. He has trouble pronouncing words that are unfamiliar to him. Sometimes, Matt has to read the story multiple times before he understands what the story is about. We feel that Matt is discouraged by his lack of progress. Also, Matt notices a difference in his reading skills as compared to his sister.
4. Describe how your child feels about school.
Discouraged, aggravated, and unenthusiastic.
5. Describe academic concerns that you have for your child (e.g., reading, math, spelling, writing, science).
We are concerned that his deficits in reading will appear in other academic areas such as math and writing. We don’t want this to be a domino effect.
6. Describe behavioral concerns that you have for your child, if any (e.g., time management, on-task behavior, working memory, motivation, organization, task completion).
We are concerned about his motivation for school. He has developed a negative attitude toward reading because it is hard for him to succeed. We just want him to feel successful again so that he can regain confidence in his reading ability.
7. Describe academic skills that your child practices at home (e.g., drawing, reading, arts and crafts, math facts, story writing, computer games).
At home, Matt colors, plays games on educational websites, and completes a monthly reading list with his sister. Also, we try to read a storybook before bed.
8. Does your child take medication? If so, please provide the name, dosage, and frequency of the medication.
Matt takes 10 milligrams of a dextroamphetamine and amphetamine combination daily for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.
9. Please provide any additional concerns that were not addressed in the questionnaire.
None at this time.
Anything mentioned by family members must be addressed in the IEP. However, the manner in which these concerns are addressed is an IEP team decision and is based on FAPE requirements. The next post in the series will address the components of the IEP that the team will develop when they meet.
Family members provide answers about the educational experiences of their child with a learning disability. The insights provided can be used during an IEP meeting and documented in the IEP.
Individuals With Disabilities Education Act of 2004, Pub. L. No. 108–446, 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq. (2004).