Conferences were rough. You had done your mid-quarter check-in, so you kind of knew what was coming. But man it was hard to hear said out loud.
Where do you go from here?
It can all be so overwhelming, and that’s just the acronyms! Learn how to navigate this brand new world with confidence and advocate for your child successfully.
Get ready to navigate the special education journey
It’s important to start where you are, so skip steps as needed for your child and situation.
Requests and Assessments
Having your child tested is often the first step to getting an IEP (individualized education plan). Getting your child tested can seem like an uphill battle. There are hoops to jump through and confusion about who tests for what (school or doctor or someone else entirely).
Schools don’t want you to know this: parents can request that their child be tested for special education. The school must respond within a certain time (determined by each state). The only catch is that schools can turn down these requests due to lack of compelling pre-assessment data. If they turn down your request, they must provide an explanation.
When you make your request, it’s important to be very specific about what you would like assessed and why. In your letter, identify the area(s) that you would like tested. It could be as broad or narrow as needed, but it does need to be specific. Provide data to support your request. This
Provide data to support your request. This could include a formal medical diagnosis, independent education testing results, work samples, report cards, or teacher narrative comments. As you write your letter, explain how the data supports your request.
If the district accepts your request, they will need to complete the testing and analysis by a deadline determined by your state’s department of education. Each district has particular tests at its disposal. While you may prefer one test over another, ultimately the school district will determine the specific tests used to assess your child.
if you disagree with the school’s testing and analysis, you have the right to seek outside testing services. However, the district is not always going to pay or reimburse you for these expenses.
At the first meeting, you will meet with the IEP team at the school. This team should include at least:
- 1 administrator: principal, vice principal, school director of special education, special education liaison
- special education teacher assigned to your child’s grade
- educational assessors: individuals who administered assessments and/or analyzed test results
- general education teacher(s): teachers that your child is already working with in the classroom
- support service providers: speech/language, physical therapist, occupational therapist, guidance counselor, etc.
If needed, your IEP team could include a translator (for families whose native language is not English) and an advocate or lawyer acting on your behalf. Parents always have the right to retain additional representation, like an advocate or lawyer. Often bringing these experienced professionals to your IEP meetings can help to move the process forward.
At your first meeting, you should hear the results and analysis of all educational assessments administered to your child. The assessor will tell you which test was used, what area it assessed, the different data points, and what each score means individually as well as collectively. Your child’s IEP eligibility will be based on whether the
Next comes the eligibility portion. Not every child with a disability meets the requirements for an IEP. Eligibility is determined based on a child having one of thirteen categories of disability AND that disability negatively impacting their ability to progress on grade level. Your child’s IEP eligibility will be based on whether their test scores and overall academic record indicate that there is 1) a disability present and 2) that it is keeping them from making appropriate academic progress.
If your child is found eligible, you could proceed to the IEP planning portion at this meeting or schedule a follow-up. If your child is not found eligible, s/he might still qualify for a 504 Plan.
Make the Plan
Your child’s plan should contain many parts, all of which are important.
Present levels should include a detailed description of your child’s academic performance across all areas. It should also include recent test scores and other relevant details that affect your child’s education.
Every IEP should have at least one annual goal, with several smaller benchmarks as stepping stones to achieving the goal(s). The goals and benchmarks should be worded concretely and with reasonable expected quantitative outcomes. This forms the core of the IEP. There should be goals in each impacted academic area as well as in support services.
Support services, such as paraprofessionals assigned to your child, additional therapies, or transportation services, should also be detailed. This section would also include the hours that should be spent with each therapist or using support services. This can be detailed as daily, weekly, monthly, or as needed hours.
Your child’s placement is important to their plan. This section explains if or when your child will receive services outside of the general education setting. This could mean pull-out instruction or therapy periodically during the school day or week. It could also mean a separate placement in a specialized classroom for a larger portion of the school day.
If your child is unable to participate in the standard state-mandated testing, there should be an explanation of why as well as an indication of the alternate assessment measure to be used instead. If your child can participate in regular academic testing with accommodations or modifications, these supports should also be explained. Remember that your child can receive testing accommodations for classroom tests as well as standardized tests.
Once you and the school reach an agreement for this first IEP, you sign the plan to show your consent. If you do not agree, you may refuse to sign and request that the school schedule another meeting to resolve your differences. By refusing to sign, you could delay the start of services and support for your child.
When an IEP has been put in place, it’s important that you monitor how the plan is being implemented across all settings. Insist on regular communication and progress reports beyond the mandated IEP goals. As work comes home, review it carefully and try to connect it to your child’s IEP.
If you are concerned that all or part of your child’s IEP is not being fully followed, it’s important to act as soon as possible. Often, these non-compliance issues are merely human errors. Schedule changes can interrupt support services and therapies. A teacher might honestly believe that their actions follow the IEP, but could be mistaken. Or a teacher might not receive student education plans until after the state of the school year, leaving little time to adequately prepare or plan.
Other times, IEP non-compliance can seem personal and vindictive. Schools could seem to be constantly evading your questions or providing dishonest answers. Teachers might seem to willfully ignore the IEP modifications and accommodations.
In either case, the best course of action is to immediately address your concerns. When you email the school, it’s important to be calm and logical, even when you are very emotional and upset. Present the facts as you see them, without bias or anger. Request a meeting with the IEP team to discuss non-compliance issues.
Most importantly, it is important to document everything. Having a regular method of communication, as well as fostering a good relationship with your child’s teachers, is so important to creating a complete and accurate picture of your child’s education.
Once you have an IEP in place, you will review the goals annually. Parents can, however, call a meeting to change or discuss the IEP at any time. Every three years, your child will be totally re-evaluated to make sure that they continue to meet the eligibility criteria.
If at any point in this journey, you feel that you could use support, know that there is help available. Email me to learn more about how MilKids Ed can assist you.
What are your questions about special education? Share them in the comments.