It’s a new year, and time for fresh starts. Rich Weinfeld offers three ways parents can re-engage with their child’s IEP team and better track educational progress in 2020.
Number One: Remember, your child’s IEP is a fluid document and can be updated at any time.
If your child has had an IEP for some time, you’ve heard this, but it’s a great time of year to be reminded. IEP goals can be revised at any time in the school year. And, as you approach your child’s annual review, you are going to want to know if your child is achieving their goals or not.
If you suspect that your child is not meeting a goal, that’s a good reason to call an IEP meeting. The IEP team is responsible for helping students reach those goals and tracking their progress.
Parents, if your child is doing well, this could be a time to inquire about a new, more challenging goal.
Yes, you can set a new goal in the middle of the new year, and this could be based upon good or bad news. It could be time for a new goal because the student has achieved a goal, which is great news. Or it could be that revisions are in order because maybe a standard was set too high or there’s a new area of challenge. If a parent sees a new area of challenge, they will want to present to the IEP team any data they have that supports that need.
I strongly encourage all parents to collect and present their own data at IEP meetings. Parents can bring forth important evidence through the monitoring of homework or other school-related tasks. Parents can note how much time and effort was made on a certain assignment, and what the level of frustration was as well. Parents can also present up-to-date documentation from outside providers, such as tutors, therapists and related service providers.
Your child is not “stuck” with an IEP that you know needs improvement for the remainder of their school year. This is a good time to make mid-course corrections.
Number Two: Focus on the data being collected about your child.
It is nearly impossible for parents to have a picture about what goes on day in and day out at school, but data can provide a meaningful window. If your child’ IEP is well-constructed, his or her goals will be tracked by measures that parents can and should see. For example, under a goal it may say something like, “Student will be on task 80% of the time.” And the way a parent would know if their child is indeed on task 80% of the time or not, would be the next line down on the IEP which states the evaluation method. The evaluation method may say, “observation record” or “check list,” or it might say “teacher-made rubric.” Parents can ask to see this data and the data should be sent home for your review.
It’s important to know that parents don’t need to wait for another formal IEP meeting to ask for data. Asking for data is a very legitimate request. This is a way that parents can really be involved in the IEP process and see in real-time how their child is progressing. Parents can then ask why a goal is being met or not. And Is it time to think about setting a new goal if the child is not meeting this goal?
It’s difficult and overwhelming for parents to look at the whole IEP and say, “Hmmm. How’s it going?” But, by focusing on the collection of data, parents can feel like they are indeed active partners with the school, and stay on top of things. A note of caution: if a goal’s evaluation criteria simply says something like “informal data” that’s a red flag. When writing a new IEP or revising an existing one, make sure that progress on goals is evaluated by data that you can see and track.
Number Three. Improve the lines of regular communications with your child’s case manager.
One of the most important ways to head off problem situations, as well as to keep positive relationships between home and school is to have regular communication. It’s helpful to have a certain day of the week where a parent initiates contact. Your point of contact will most often be the case manager, but it could be a counselor or teacher. For example, it could be agreed upon that the parent reaches out every Thursday afternoon. I recommend three short questions in that communication:
A middle or high school case manager may respond by sending your email out to all of the teachers whose classes your child is in, gathering those responses, and sending them back to you. In some cases, schools may want you to write to all the teachers individually. At the elementary level, the response time should be faster because you are dealing with fewer teachers.
By the way, this parent-case manager communication strategy can be written into the IEP as a supplementary aid. And that way it can become more of a contract between parents and the school.
Parents can say, “In order to better support our child, we would like to have regularly scheduled communication with you. We know you are a busy professional, so please let us know what works best for your schedule.” With this approach, parents demonstrate a respect for the case manager’s time, while still getting their child’s needs met.
Having communication in writing is best for everyone. It provides a record for all the busy people involved, makes follow up easier and keeps the whole IEP team on top of what is factually happening.
Written communications that summarize a child’s current functioning, can also serve as a support if your child has a resource class. It can help guide your child’s resource time, if one of the purposes of that class is to build executive functioning skills or provide specific academic support.
Frequent communication allows for proactive, timely interventions. No one wants to wait until three-quarters into a grading period to find out a student is falling behind. Regular, scheduled communication is a safety net for your student, by eliminating surprises and reducing stress - for everyone involved.
Here’s wishing you, your child and your child’s IEP team - a successful and positive New Year.
Rich Weinfeld and entire WEG team