All About Acronyms - Spotlight on: IEP
Be the IEP... Involved and Educated Parent
Alphabet spaghetti-o’s, cereal, and soup. There are letters all around us every day. When our kids go to school, we hope their days will also be surrounded by letters, learning, and laughter. This time of year is all about haircuts, new backpacks, and school supply lists, but for some families, back to school also means back to the letters I.E.P. IEP. It stands for an Individualized Education Program (sometimes the P stands for plan). And if your child needs one, has one, or you want one…here’s what you need to know.
IEPs are legally required to be done every year minus a day. Every child on an IEP must first receive an ETR (evaluation team report that includes standardized test results from the school psychologist, speech therapist, etc. stating your child qualifies for specialized education). Your child cannot receive OT or PT in school unless they first have a medical or speech diagnosis. Just because there is a deficit present, doesn’t guarantee your kiddo services. Children only qualify for an IEP when their medical/speech deficit is having a negative impact on how they access the classroom curriculum. You (the parent/guardian/caregiver) have to sign the IEP for the school to stay legally compliant. Anybody is allowed to attend the meeting with you as an advocate. It’s okay to ask questions. If your child has a medical diagnosis, the intervention specialist will ‘head’ the meeting, if it’s a speech diagnosis only, the Speech Therapist will ‘head’ the meeting. One of your child’s general teachers and a “higher up” (think principal or special education coordinator) have to attend the meeting. IEPs can start with kiddos as young as preschool. IEPs follow you no matter what state you’re in. It’s 100% possible to write in pen on an IEP during the meeting and have it be a legal and legitimate change (or some schools will type in the adjustments during the meeting or just after).
Breakdown of IEP parts
Cover Page: Background information, important due dates, information about when you were contacted.
Future Planning: Where the guardians’ input gets added, what do you want to see your kiddo achieve?
Special Instructional Factors: Anything checked yes has to be covered in the IEP later.
Profile: A basic summary of “who your child is” from interests to strengths/weaknesses to referencing the most recent ETR (evaluation team report—the 3-year test that qualified for kiddo FOR the IEP), will include a summary of how the kiddo is doing in their general education classroom. Any provider who sees your child (i.e. teacher, speech, OT, PT, intervention specialist) must include their own summary.
Postsecondary Transition: Only applies to students who will be 14 when the current IEP ends, then information is added about how the kiddo will transition to later education, independent living, and employment in their future.
Measurable Annual Goals: Some repeats from the profile, more in-depth, you’ll see a lot of numbers and test results. This section will have results of recently given standardized tests that qualified your kiddo for services. Any provider who sees your child (i.e. teacher, speech, OT, PT, intervention specialist) must include their own data and statistics here—each one will have their own objective number—look for these because they’re important later. Expect a blurb about how your kiddo’s deficit area is negatively impacting them in the classroom with “comparisons” to same age peers …basically it has to say why your child need the IEP and its services to be successful. Each skill area to be addressed (i.e. communication, social skills, gross motor, fine motor) is called an objective and gets assigned a number, underneath of it there are “objectives”—think of these as the short term goals—this is the information you’ll get data about on progress reports and these are the areas the providers will be targeting during treatment in order to reach that long-term annual goal.
Description of Specially Designed Services: Translation = HOW MUCH TIME YOUR CHILD GETS, really it’s a silly named section when it’s one of the most important parts of the IEP. Thiis is where each objective/goal number (I told you they’d be back) get assigned a provider who will treat it, where they will treat it, and how long they’ll spend on it and in what frequency—i.e. monthly, quarterly (usually 9 weeks), etc.—each school system is different. Pay attention to this part so you know if it’s X number of minutes a month or over the course of 9 weeks, make sure to check the type of service section so you know if it’s individual, small group, or classroom time.
Transportation as a Related Service: If your kiddo gets bused to school, the details go here.
Nonacademic and Extracurricular Activities: This is a legality that basically states that your kiddo gets to participate in everything that “all the other kids” get to do that is a part of or after school such as scouts, clubs, field trips, specials such as gym, art, library, music, etc..
General Factors: Basically recaps the IEP and makes sure legally the school included what they needed to. They will ask you yes/no for each option and you tell them your response. This part includes the ESY, extended school year services, blurb, so if you think your kiddo needs summer services, this is where you speak up. Typically, ESY services are available if kiddos are not making progress towards their objectives (aka short term goals).
Least Restrictive Environment: If your child attends an “out of district” school because of their needs, that goes here, and then it includes a legal ditty about your kiddo being pulled out of the general education classroom in order to receive whatever specialized services they need.
Statewide and District Wide Testing: If your kiddo gets any special modifications or accommodations during government officiated testing, they go here. Usually the IEP will already include what the intervention specialist or speech therapist thinks would be beneficial, but don’t be afraid to speak up and ask questions, offer input, and provide suggestions.
Meeting Participants: You were there and you participated in the meeting. Any provider who didn’t attend needs to include a reason why they weren’t there with special documentation. This is not the part where you agree to anything in the IEP.
Signatures: HERE is the part where you are providing agreement or stating you are not in agreement. So, if you are feeling uncomfortable with a part of the IEP, you do not have to sign it. Therapy/service providers will tell you that they can make changes at any time later (if your kiddo isn’t making progress)—and this is totally true, an IEP can be modified at any time—but it’s not quite as common of an occurrence, especially with minutes of service provided. If you want more minutes, NOW is the time to fight for them. Before you sign, if you have an issue with a goal area, an accommodation, or the wording of something, these changes are usually easier to have adjusted right there with everyone in agreement, but from my experience (as a school-based SLP and a parent-child advocate) minutes of service can be a very touchy subject for providers and parents alike. Make sure you know what your bottom line is, what you’ll compromise, and what you won’t.
We already have an IEP…now what?
Well, now you have more information. If you’re happy with your services, that’s awesome news and next year when the IEP is due again, you’ll have more information to think about so you can advocate for your child. If you’re just now realizing you don’t like something or you have a question (remember IEPs can change at any time), call or email your ‘head’ provider (either the Intervention Specialist or the Speech therapist) and talk to them about your concerns. Most school providers are ecstatic when parents reach out and want to talk to you and work as a team. Chances are your concern or question might be easily addressed or modified, and if not, starting with the head person in charge of your kiddo’s IEP is the right place. They’ll be able to guide and direct you about what to do. Keep the lines of communication open, keep yourself informed, and keep your kiddo the priority.
We don’t have an IEP, but we want one…
You need to get your student an ETR (evaluation team report) first. To get an ETR, which qualifies your child for specialized education, you need to voice your concerns first to the teacher and find out academically what is happening. There are a lot of interventions and assistances that can be given to your child without needing specialized education. A lot of school districts provide RTI (response to intervention), which happens as a “before the ETR/IEP” stage to see if more intensity can help your child bridge any gaps. Also, a lot of schools have programs available for children who might be struggling academically such as extra one-on-one time with an intervention specialist, aide, volunteer, or the classroom teacher. Some schools include after school programs as well such as reading intervention groups. After you voice your concerns to the teacher, they can help guide and direct you—more open lines of communication. Perhaps the teacher is concerned as well, and then the school psychologist or speech therapist is pulled in to the conversation. At this point you’re either well on your way to an IEP or your kiddo is well on his/her way to some extra academic support. Either way, as an educated parent/caregiver you are better able to communicate with the school to decide the best way to educate your child.
I think I’m more confused now than when I started reading…
There were a lot of acronyms thrown around in this blog, but every one ties back to the Individualized Education Program/Plan. This is a legal document, think contract, between the school and the parent/caregiver that states what the school is legally doing to ensure your child’s academic needs are being met. IEPs are specialized to each child individually based on a diagnosis that makes it impossible for your child to access the classroom curriculum without individualized educational help. So, if your kiddo struggles following directions it’s likely to assume they’ll have a hard time following a classroom routine. Or, if your kiddo struggles moving around, it’s likely to assume they’ll have a hard time turning in papers in a crowded classroom. And, if your kiddo has a hard time transitioning, it’s likely to assume they’ll struggle moving to and being seated during calendar time. All children are different. All children are special. All IEPs are made to be tailored this way. IEPs might seem scary, but they shouldn’t be. So if your child needs one, has one, or you want one…stay educated, stay open, stay communicative, and stay focused on the fact that your child is the most important part of the IEP process.
IEP: Individualized Education Program—due every year, includes all the info about your child’s academic success plan.
ETR: Evaluation Team Report—due every 3 years and initially qualifies a student for special education services.
IS: Intervention Specialist—head of an IEP for kiddos with a medical diagnosis, aka angel in disguise.
SLP: Speech Language Pathologist—head of an IEP for kiddos with a speech diagnosis only, aka chatty angel in disguise.
RTI: Response to Intervention—data kept about a student’s progress in a weak area that doesn’t require an IEP yet.
ESY: Extended School Year—services that are provided to your child over the summer.
Resources for Parents/Caregivers