I always start my IEP workshops with this statement: “I can write an IEP in twenty minutes.” As you can imagine, that announcement is met with groans, eye rolls, and gasps of astonishment. This great feat is possible because I don’t wait until the night before it is due. Ok – twenty minutes might be an exaggeration. The truth is that I write a student’s IEP all year long. Through frequent communication with the student, parents, general education teachers, and related service providers, I have a strong sense of how the student is progressing. Weekly data collection of goals and refinement of instructional strategies are all part of the ongoing implementation and development of an IEP. Whether it is your first IEP or 100th, or you’re the LEA representative at the meeting, use the following tips to ensure you rock your next IEP meeting.
1. Set up a timeline
All it takes is one cancelled IEP meeting to start the dominos and the rescheduling nightmare that leads to being out-of-compliance. Start at least one month out to schedule the meeting. Make sure to invite parents/guardians, special education teacher(s) (if not you), ensure at least one general education teacher is available, a Local Education Agency representative (LEA), an individual to interpret evaluation results (can be the special education teacher), and all related service providers (speech, OT, PT, etc.).
Two weeks before the meeting, call parents/guardians to review any items they would like added to the agenda. Explain the IEP process, expectations, roles for the different team members, and norms for the meeting. Ask them to share their perspective of their child’s progress, any concerns, and if they plan to bring anyone to the meeting. If the parents share that they plan on bringing an advocate or lawyer, be sure to notify the director of special education for additional support. Share the agenda with other IEP team members for input and feedback. Remember at this stage you are not making any decisions about the IEP, that would be predetermination.
One week prior to the meeting send a draft IEP to the parents/guardians. Make sure DRAFT is printed on every page to clarify that it is only a draft, not predetermination of the goals and services. The goal is to have the parents be able to fully participate in the meeting. From a parents’ perspective, an IEP meeting can feel intimidating surrounded by educational professionals. Help relieve concerns by being transparent and stopping frequently in the meeting to check for questions, understanding, and any things they want to share about their child’s progress and programming.
Along with sending home a draft IEP, include the agenda as well. No one likes surprises in an IEP meeting. Agendas help to facilitate the meeting and keep everyone on track. Review the agenda at the start of the meeting and ask the team if any additional items need to be added. Be mindful of the purpose of an IEP meeting and stay true to the goal. If there are other items not related to the IEP meeting, table those items for a separate time to discuss. IEP meetings can become contentious when focus is lost, use the agenda to stay on topic.
3. Provide a mini PD to general education colleagues
In my experience of working with new teachers there is a lack of formal coursework on special education for general education teachers. Work with your site leader in offering an overview of the special education process and IEP meetings for your school. Team up with your special education colleagues to create the workshop or check with your special education director to see if a training has already been created. Do not assume your general education colleague understands the process of expectations of an IEP meeting. Coach them to share progress, strengths, and needs of the student in an objective way. There is a tendency in IEP meetings to focus only on the needs of the student, which can be difficult for a parent to hear about their child only from the viewpoint of needs. Starting with strengths and using the student’s strengths to develop instructional programming and accommodations. Use perspective taking activities with the team to ensure information is presented in an objective way. Be proactive in working with your colleagues and do not assume they know what their role is and how to share information in an IEP meeting.
4. Data, data, data, data (sung to the tune of Party, party, party, PARTEE)
IEP weekly data sheet is a great tool that provides weekly progress monitoring on IEP goals while promoting student-agency. Jennifer Davis Poon from Education Reimagined describes the four components of student agency as: “Setting advantageous goals; initiating action toward those goals; reflecting on and regulating progress toward those goals; and belief in self-efficacy” (Davis Poon, 2018). Having students monitor their own progress and report on it weekly creates an opportunity for students to see their progress and builds self-efficacy.
This is the tool I used to help me write IEPs in twenty minutes. The biggest time commitment in writing an IEP is creating the PLAAFP and developing potential new goals. Having the IEP Weekly Data Sheet available cuts down the time collecting and reporting data. Summarizing the latest data sheets supports writing PLAAFP and gives direction on the next goal the team should consider. Best time saver ever!
5. IEP Connection Worksheet
The IEP Connection Worksheet is designed to support the effective facilitation of an IEP meeting. Use the connection worksheet to capture notes during the IEP meeting. Items that are not aligned with the worksheet should be placed in the parking lot for a separate discussion. This allows the IEP meeting to stay on track in creating an IEP for the student. Emotions can run high during an IEP meeting and can easily derail the goal of the meeting. The key word here is connection. IEPs are designed to support a student in accessing and making progress in the general curriculum. This worksheet shows the clear connections in an IEP. Use this tool and the agenda to stay focused. Caution: Not every aspect of the IEP is included on this worksheet nor is it designed to replace any portion of the IEP. With that out of the way, here are the components of the worksheet:
Effect of Disability-This section comes from the Multidisciplinary Evaluation Team report. You can also work with your school psychologist or diagnostician for a statement about the impact of the student’s disability on their education. This statement really gets to the heart of how a student’s disability affects their functioning and access to the curriculum.
PLAAFP– When you write the PLAAFP it needs to have enough detail about a student to pass the stranger test. Meaning…if someone read the PLAAFP they would know the student and be able to provide services. The PLAAFP is the heart of an IEP, everything can be connected back to it. A strong PLAAFP makes all areas of the IEP easier to write. Make sure to include strengths as well as areas of needs. Focusing on strengths is important for creating ambitious goals and developing accommodations later, plus we all do better when operating from an area of strength. The IRIS Center clarifies what should be included in the PLAAFP as, “describes the student’s needs in an academic and/or functional skill area:
- States the impact of the student’s disability on her involvement in the general education curriculum
- Documents the student’s current levels of performance, which will serve as baseline data to measure her subsequent progress
- Informs the annual goals and the appropriate special education services and supports required to meet those goals” (IRIS Center, 2021).
The IRIS Center is a technical assistance center, “improving education outcomes for all children, especially those with disabilities.” The IRIS is a tremendous resource for professional development and includes examples of all aspects of the IEP. This was my go-to source for professional development as a special education director, if you haven’t checked out the website please do so, you will love it.
Goals- The next section in the connection worksheet is goals. IEP goals are designed to be ambitious and for a student to make progress over a year that address the needs that were identified in the PLAAFP. Goals are related to the student’s disability and are not limited to academic areas only. The IEP for a student is written for the whole child including academics, behavior, and social-emotional learning. Goals must include the skill that is targeted, baseline data, expected outcome, how it will be measured, and how often it will be measured. Use the SMART goal acronym to help: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely. Example: When given a third-grade reading passage, (student) will read 115 wcpm by (insert timeline) measured weekly (baseline 75wcpm).
One of the greatest errors I see with goal writing is using 0% for baseline data because the data was not collected. In order for a goal to be ambitious you have to know what a student can do in relation to the proposed goal. If the baseline is 0% because the student does not know the skill/task at all then the goal is not achievable. Another area of challenge is writing a goal that is measurable. I always ask myself how I will measure a goal and if I’m struggling to think of an assessment tool then I know the goal is not measurable. I recommend weekly data collection as well. Daily is not realistic, just think if you or the student is absent all of a sudden you are out-of-compliance for data collection. Monthly is too long to measure and does not give you enough time to adjust instruction if needed. Weekly is the best of both worlds; timely and realistic.
Services- Service section is the next portion of the worksheet. Services are directly related to the time and instruction needed to support the goals. The connection starts with the needs identified in the PLAAFP, goals, and now services. There must be a service for each corresponding goal. Make sure you do not fall into the “starter IEP” trap where every student receives thirty minutes of service time for each area. Start with the goal and work with the team to determine how much specially designed instruction is truly needed to reach the goal. For example, a student most likely does not need thirty minutes a day of reading fluency. If the actual instructional time is fifteen minutes, then write that. Keep in mind the location of services too as you complete this section. Can the services be provided in the general education setting? Services provided away from non-disabled peers will impact the Least Restrictive Environment.
Accommodations/modifications- The last section of the worksheet asks the team to consider what accommodations or modifications are needed for the student to participate in the general education setting. Understood describes the difference between the two as, “An accommodation changes how a student learns the material. A modification changes what a student is taught or expected to learn” (2021). This is another section that teams often over use and give more accommodations than the student actually needs. Use data to determine which accommodations are truly needed.
Davis Poon, J. (2018, September 11). ABOUT OUR CORE PROGRAMS MAGAZINE LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS RESOURCES Part 1: What Do You Mean When You Say “Student Agency”? https://education-reimagined.org/what-do-you-mean-when-you-say-student-agency/
IRIS Center. (n.d.). High-Quality PLAAFP Statements. What’s included in the IEP documents. https://iris.peabody.vanderbilt.edu/module/iep01/cresource/q3/p06/
Understood. (2021, April 14). The difference between accommodations and modifications. Understood. https://www.understood.org/articles/en/the-difference-between-accommodations-and-modifications