Source: Indys Child Parenting Magazine

Gauging an IEPs Effectiveness
Individualized Education Programs — Making the Most of a Living Document

by Carrie Bishop

September 01, 2010

Meet with IEP team in spring. Check. Sign off on agreed-upon IEP. Check. Enjoy summer, go back to school, see that IEP is in effect. Check. Check. Check. Leave IEP on autopilot—not so fast.

A good IEP, or individualized education plan, is a living document, not an annual permission slip to sign and forget. In fact, it is not uncommon for IEPs to be revised throughout the year as dictated by the child’s unique and evolving needs. Parents must also know their involvement and advocacy throughout the special education process is critical to their child’s performance.

Data is King

Whether the stated goals within the IEP are academic, functional, behavioral or social, a child must consistently work toward the written goals and his or her progress is to be reported back to the parent on a regular basis, typically every nine weeks or per the school’s standard report card cycle. Ideally the goals written into the IEP are measurable. If not, make that a priority. Repeat: make measurable goals a priority. Measurable goals based on a child’s present levels of performance and written into an IEP add a level of accountability to the plan and provide insight into the effectiveness of the program. Loose goals, however well intentioned, can lead to substandard support.

Fortunately parents are becoming more sophisticated in their approach to IEPs and now know that data is the best way to gauge their child’s progress.

Lesa Paddack, the statewide parent liaison for INSOURCE to the Indiana Department of Education, agrees data is king for evaluating progress toward IEP goals. Specifically, she recommends parents find out what tools the school is using to assess the child’s performance then see how this data stacks up to state standards for the child’s grade level.

Kyle Mitchell, special education teacher and board certified behavior analyst at the Applied Behavior Center for Autism, is on the same page. “You gauge progress by the the measurement that was written into the IEP goal. If you write a goal that Johnny will label these six shapes with 80 percent accuracy three out of five times, ask where they are [on that task],” he says. His example speaks not only to the specificity of goals, but to their possible ambiguity from a laymen’s perspective.

So, how does a parent know if a measurable goal is worthwhile in the first place? After all, what does it really mean if a goal says the student will label a certain six shapes with 80 percent accuracy three out of five times? That is where good working relationships come in. An IEP team should be able to address the value or thought behind the goal and it should tie back to standards set for all kids at the student’s grade level. In other words, parents need to understand how their child’s goals and subsequently the progress toward the goals stack up to Indiana’s standards for all children.

Taking it further, if there is no connection to what a child who is receiving special education is doing back to core standards, then it could be said the child is being handicapped by being removed from what is expected of all kids. Teachers or the IEP team may modify what is expected or taught of the child, but there still should be a connection back to Indiana standards. In other words if a child is doing more community-based or functional curriculum, schools should connect what that child is doing to statewide standards.

Status Check

So when should a parent check in on the progress his or her child is making toward the IEP goals? There is no one answer. The progress each child makes is as individual as the plan and will vary; yet, some goals simply need to move faster than others.

For instance, an academic goal may be given more time than a behavioral goal. “If a student is exhibiting behavior that is escalating, you are not going to wait for nine weeks [to address it]. And a parent has the right to ask to reconvene that case conference when they feel there is a need to do so. If they are not happy, feel the IEP is not working or that it’s not being followed, they can always reconvene,” says Mary Delaney, regional programs specialist for INSOURCE.

This is a point all experts stress. Parents can call an IEP meeting whenever they see fit. Legally, parents are as much a part of the IEP team as school personnel. After all, an IEP is not a contract until the parent signs off on it and the state wants that signature. Plus who knows the child better than his or her parent?

“Parents can’t assume the schools will take care of their son or daughter,” says Scott Carson, assistant director of INSOURCE. “The insights the parents can bring to that discussion are very important in understanding what that student can or cannot do.”

The main thing is parents should feel empowered to bring everyone on the IEP team together to discuss their child’s progress or lack thereof. It is also in the best interest of the child for details of the discussions, particularly what teaching methods are and are not working, be documented. Then, detail what changes need to be made in order to help the child progress.

“It is really important to bring folks together and get it in writing. Sometimes, where we see problems is when things haven’t been spelled out well in the IEP,” says Delaney. One group might interpret decisions one way, while others at the table interpret them another. A paper trail will help alleviate some of this difference of opinion.

Should school data show a child is making progress yet the parent questions the findings, then the parent has the right to request an independent evaluation be done at the expense of the school to collect more data. The school, of course, does not have to agree to move forward with the request. The parent can then escalate their case and move toward resolving the dispute with the school district through due process; though this can be expensive, emotional and time consuming. Not ideal, but sometimes necessary.

Eyes on the Prize

Throughout the day-to-day and year-to-year trials associated with an IEP, it’s important for parents to remember their ultimate goal for their child.

“Keep in mind the long-term goals. Even in elementary school you should be focusing on high school and beyond. Sometimes if you don’t get the picture early on you may not build the puzzle you think you are building,” she says.

Parents should consider how they want their child to be able to function in society after high school while looking for a job or attending college. “If you are shortsighted and only looking at that year, it doesn’t provide the longevity that you need when the school bus stops coming.”

Carrie Bishop is a freelance writer and mother of two young sons whose daily antics inspire her work and her life. Contact her at freelancewritercarrie@gmail.com