By Jimmy Fernandez
Editor’s Note: In his role as a program specialist at Hillsides Education Center, Jimmy Fernandez coordinates and facilitates the majority of the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meetings for the school’s students. Here, as the new school year is starting, he offers advice to de-mystify the IEP process and put parents’ anxieties over the meetings to rest.
Understand the Goals of an IEP
An Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is a legally binding document that ensures a child with disabilities receives a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). Put another way, an IEP is a legal document that you and your child’s school develop to meet your child’s needs in the classroom. The goal of an IEP is to meet the needs of a student as if he/she were in a general education setting.
Know the Difference between Accommodations and Modifications
Most IEP’s include accommodations and/or modifications. Accommodations are changes the teacher makes to help your child learn the same content or material as their classmates. Modifications are changes to the educational content itself. In other words, accommodations change how a student is taught or expected to learn. Modifications change what a student is taught or expected to learn.
Provide as Much Information as Possible
The more information parents provide to paint a fuller picture of student, the better the school will be able to provide appropriate services. Be prepared with relevant testing, letters from providers or therapists who regularly interact with your child, and a list of questions you have for the team. Be prepared to discuss the strengths, interests, and talents of your child.
Create a Team our child’s IEP team consists of you (parent or guardian), who is the educational rights holder, their classroom teacher, the special education teacher, the principal or special education director, a legal advocate, and any other specialists that work with your child. If your child is receiving a service, then the provider should be present at the IEP. You may also invite others to join the team meeting, such as a service provider or a family member who knows your child well. It’s a good idea to let the IEP team know if you’re bringing a family member, friend or advocate to the IEP team meeting ahead of time. Also, if your child is over the age of 18, your child now holds his own educational rights and he/she provides consent for the IEP.
Figure Out the Terminology
There are several important vocabulary key terms relevant to every IEP. Need, data, and progress are synonymous terms used to determine whether your child is receiving educational benefit from the current placement. Remember, the goal of the IEP and its goals and objectives is to demonstrate progress during the year. Growth can be demonstrated by progress in social, emotional, goals, or academics.
In addition, each child with an IEP has a behavior support/ intervention plan (BIP) so the team can consider the targeted behavior that is impeding the child’s progress in the curriculum. In other words, why is your child not able to access the curriculum? Providing data that shows the function (or purpose) of the behavior is crucial to the development of a productive behavior plan. The data will determine the antecedent (what is occurring prior to the behavior), the behavior, and the consequence of such behavior. The four areas evaluated are control, sensory input, avoidance, and communication. Once the team is able to determine the function of the behavior, it must look to replace the child’s behavior by providing different interventions. The idea is to replace certain unwanted behaviors with appropriate behaviors to enable that child to access the classroom curriculum.
Being as informed as possible about your child’s educational plan will start the year out right for your child – and for you. The more you know, the more you can advocate for your child.
Jimmy Fernandez has worked at the Hillsides Education Center for 13 years. He holds an education specialists credential and has taught fifth through 10th grade at the school. He holds a law degree and worked in the legal field for many years before making a career change to education.