The information we provide in the posts below is drawn from our nearly 100 years of experience in reading, psychology, and special education. During this time, scores of parents have asked us how they can help their children with disabilities. Our general response is two fold: (1) learn as much as you can about the nature of your child’s disability and (2) become a knowledgeable and skilled advocate for your child’s needs. To help even more parents, we’ve put our knowledge and recommendations into the posts below and three books: Reading Disabilities: Beating The Odds, Reading And Learning Disabilities: Five Ways To Help Your Child, and Negotiating Your Child’s IEP: A Step-By-Step Guide. All three can be found on http://amazon.com .
Our first post will give you a sample of the many suggestions we provide in our books.
HOW TO PREPARE FOR YOUR CHILD’S IEP MEETING? CRITICAL QUESTIONS
Parents often ask me how to prepare for IEP meetings. I often recommend that they send their child’s case manager a list of questions they need answered to effectively contribute to the development an appropriate IEP — one likely to produce important progress in important areas. To give the case manager adequate time to answer the questions, I strongly recommend that they send the list at least six weeks in advance of an IEP meeting.
If you decide to send your child’s case manager a list of questions, make sure they’re important, specific and answerable. In the next section you’ll see sample questions from the parents of Lucas Enigma, a mythical child with reading and other learning disabilities.
Although Lucas’s parents’ list is incomplete, it should give you an idea of what your questions should look like. In addition to goals, the list refers to objectives that some states require.
Looking at the list may cause you to think, “Writing an IEP that answers these questions will take more than one meeting.” Your list need not be nearly as long. And if it is, that’s okay. If you need more than one meeting, schedule a second and perhaps a third. Two or more meetings may be justified — but only if they’re needed to develop an IEP with an excellent chance of effectively meeting your child’s needs.
You should preface your list with a paragraph like this, which includes all the italicized words: “We, as IEP Team members and Lucas’s parents, developed the questions below. For us to participate in an informed way to help develop an appropriate IEP at Lucas’s upcoming IEP meeting, we request that his IEP Team (i.e., his case manager and other school members of his Team) send us answers to these questions at least two weeks before the meeting. We request that the Team send us the answers so we can work with school personnel to develop an IEP that is reasonably calculated to ensure that Lucas makes meaningful progress in all areas of need. In addition, we hope that these questions will help you to understand our thinking and concerns and the issues we request the Team to fully discuss with us at Lucas’s IEP meeting. As always, thank you.”
Pre-Meeting Questions for the IEP Meeting
1. Progress 2014-15 school year: For each goal and objective in Lucas’s current IEP, what objective data did the school collect to assess his progress? To what extent does the data indicate that he made enough progress to achieve each goal and objective in his IEP? Please send us copies of the objective data, in list, graph, or whatever form you use to record the data. And please include a summary and interpretation of the data so we can study it and fully understand it before the IEP meeting. This will likely save a great deal of IEP meeting time.
2. Social-emotional learning assessment: Lucas’s social-emotional difficulties impede his learning. Psychological Assessment, Dr. Jones, 2/15: “Observations, interviews, and testing suggests a poor self-concept and poor peer relationships.”Social Work Report, 2/15: Lucas needs a “social-emotional support system [to] develop his confidence.” What does the Team think it can do to identify his exact social-emotional difficulties? Knowing this will help us at the IEP meeting.
3. Social-emotional learning intervention: What does the Team think it needs to do to systematically improve Lucas’s social-emotional learning? What scientifically-validated methods does it think should be used? What evidence supports these methods? If you have such evidence, please send us copies or references. How and how frequently does the Team think it should objectively measure and report his social-emotional learning progress to us, his parents? How does the Team think it can teach him to generalize his social-emotional learning to life outside of school?
4. Word identification assessment: Exactly what word recognition difficulties impede Lucas’s progress? In other words, what does he need to learn to quickly and accurately decode and recognize words? How and when will the school assess this? Reading Specialist, 2/15: WXYZ Test of Letter-Word ID = 9th percentile. Reading Specialist, 2/15: Rangers Reading Inventory, words in isolation = frustrated at 3rd-grade level, instructional at 2nd grade.
5. Word identification intervention: What does the Team think will substantially improve Lucas’s word identification so he can quickly and accurately recognize words and comprehend at grade level? What scientifically-validated methods does the Team think it should use? If you have such scientific studies, please send us copies or the references. How and how frequently does the Team think it should objectively and meaningfully measure his word identification progress? How and how frequently does the Team think it should report Lucas’s progress to us, his parents, so we can coordinate our in-home assistance?
6. Reading comprehension assessment: What does the Team think it can do to assess Lucas’s ability to comfortably understand lengthy passages from the 3rd-grade books that will be used in his general education classes? Reading Specialist Report, 2/15: Gray Passage Comprehension (short passages) = 8th percentile…. Lucas’s language arts teacher reports that he “comfortably reads short passages at a mid-second-grade level, though he sometimes struggles at this level because of word recognition difficulties.”
7. Reading comprehension intervention: What does the Team think it needs to systematically do to improve Lucas’s reading comprehension so he can read typical 3rd-grade-level passages without a struggle? What scientifically-validated methods does the Team think it should use? If you have such scientific studies, please send us copies or the references. How and how frequently does the Team think it should objectively and meaningfully measure his progress? How will the school report his progress to us, his parents, so we can coordinate our in-home assistance?
8. Writing assessment: Other than by standardized tests, how does the Team think it should assess Lucas’s ability to write coherent essays typical of 3rd graders with his strong verbal abilities? How does the Team think it should identify instructional barriers that might interfere with his progress? Reading Specialist Report, 2/15: “Lucas did poorly on all standardized tests of writing ability. He writes far below his cognitive abilities and his grade. He says he hates writing.”
9. Writing intervention: What does the Team think it should systematically do to improve Lucas’s writing achievement and ability to write coherent paragraphs and compositions at his grade level? What does the Team think it should do to improve his attitude toward and motivation about writing? What scientifically-validated methods does the Team think it should use? If you have such scientific studies, please send us copies or the references. How and how frequently does the Team think it should objectively and meaningfully measure his progress? How frequently does the Team think it should report his progress to us, his parents, so we can coordinate our in-home assistance?
10. Memory assessment: Lucas’s records show and we, his parents, believe that he has substantial memory problems that block his academic and social progress. How does the Team think it should identify, teach, and assess the potential effectiveness of different memory strategies for Lucas? Speech and Language Evaluation, 2/15: “Lucas’s memory … is weak.” WXYZ Memory Test, Dr. Jones, 2/15: Working Memory Index 5th percentile. Classroom teacher, Estella McCormick, 2/15: “Lucas struggles to remember what he apparently knows.”
11. Homework assessment: Lucas often finds homework frustrating and overwhelming, which causes him to strongly resist it. How does the Team think it should determine the kinds of homework he’s likely to succeed on — with moderate effort — and the kinds likely to frustrate him and thus should be avoided? Please send us representative research or references to the research that discuss the benefits of homework for children with Lucas’s profile of learning disabilities.
12. Homework intervention: How does the Team think it should modify Lucas’s homework so it does not overwhelm or frustrate him, tax his self-regulatory abilities or take him excessive time? How does the Team think it should modify his homework so he’s not stigmatized and he’s likely to succeed if he makes a moderate effort?
13. Scheduling of progress meetings: Does the Team or case manager prefer to meet with us, Lucas’s parents, to discuss his progress, figure out how to remove any roadblocks and update his program once every 6 or 8 school weeks? If you have other suggestions, please let us know what they are.
14. Parent counseling and training: Recently, at a New Jersey Statewide Parent Advocacy Network workshop, we learned that federal special education law (IDEA) offers parent counseling and training as part of the IEP (§ 300.34 Related services). Therefore, to improve Lucas’s memory, academics, and social-emotional well-being, and to improve his attitude toward writing and homework, we’ve attached a list of parent-training topics that will help us help Lucas and support any new IEP designed to meet his needs. What is the process for scheduling the training sessions?
Although many case managers and other Team members will try to answer all or several of these questions, some will not. Likely, some will write that they’ll discuss these questions at the IEP meeting. Asking questions like these is unusual, and for many case managers and other Team members, shocking.
But ask them anyway. You’re a legal member of your child’s Team, and if you’re going to help your child, you need to have answers to questions critical to your child’s progress. Simply put, If you don’t ask, you’re unlikely to get.
If the case manager or other Team members don’t answer your questions, or give vague and incomplete answers, you likely gained a little insight about one or more of these: their willingness to help, ability to help, time to help, resources to help, interest in your child’s progress, and knowledge of their fields and your child. But be cautious. View your insights as hypotheses that may be wrong.
A major benefit of asking questions well in advance of a possible IEP meeting is the alert you’ve given to your child’s case manager and Team about your concerns, concerns that may add considerable relevance to any draft IEP. This may be the most important outcome of your questions.
In the unfortunate circumstance that you consider formal legal action, the nature of the case manager or Team’s response, or lack of response, may strongly support your case as you requested knowledge you need to effectively participate in the development of an appropriate IEP for your child.
But like the questions posed above, make your questions important, specific and answerable. If they’re not important or clearly related to your child’s education, don’t ask them. Asking unnecessary questions will only add to the heavy load of responsibilities that case managers and Team members usually carry.
© Howard Margolis, Ed.D., LLC. Updated version of article published by LD Source in MultiBriefs: Exclusive, March 16, 2015.