IEP Basics: Considerations, Preparation, and a Few Tips & Tricks

The individualized education program (“IEP”) is the single most important document when it comes to your child’s special education program. In fact, it’s so important that numerous court cases refer to it as the cornerstone of the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act ("IDEA"). The IEP is an opportunity for you and your child’s teachers, school administrators, and service personnel to work together to improve your child’s education. Together, you and the rest of the team can create an IEP that will meet your child's unique needs and ensure that she receives the education she deserves.

The IEP guides the delivery of special education and related services for your child. For this reason, this article provides five important points for you to remember when you prepare for and attend an IEP meeting:

  • The IEP is a process: Develop, evaluate, and revise.

  • An IEP must be specifically designed for your child.

  • You have a right to request an evaluation of your child.

  • You are an equal participant in developing the IEP.

  • The law requires that specific team members attend the IEP meeting.

The IEP is a process.

The IEP process starts with the development of the IEP document, setting out your child’s educational program. As you can imagine, your child’s needs change from year to year. As such, your child’s IEP must be evaluated and revised to meet your child’s growing needs. The process is repeated at least once a year so that a current plan is in place at the beginning of each school year. However, the IEP team may meet more frequently to address specific needs as they arise.

The IEP must be specifically designed for your child.

The IEP must be a truly individualized document, written to address your child’s unique needs, with his specific disability in mind.

You have a right to request an evaluation of your child.

You have the right to request an evaluation of your child. The district should seek an evaluation if they suspect your child has a disability, to supplement your child’s records, or to review your child’s progress. You can request an evaluation for the same reasons.

Additionally, you have the right to seek an evaluation that is independent of school district personnel, called an independent educational evaluation ("IEE"). The IEP team must take the results of the IEE into consideration whether obtained by the school district or by the parent. Remember, the evaluation may be the single most important tool in making sure that your child's IEP is appropriate.

You are an equal participant in developing the IEP.

Moreover, you are an equal participant in the IEP process. You must be notified of IEP meetings and given an opportunity to participate. The information and perspective you provide is essential to developing the IEP. Only by properly evaluating your child’s strengths and abilities can appropriate goals and objectives be created which leads to the development of a comprehensive and appropriate individualized education program.

The law requires certain members attend an IEP meeting.

IEP team members bring unique and important information about your child to the IEP process. In the very least, the required team members include you, the parent; your child’s regular education teacher (if your child is or may be in regular education); a special education teacher; someone qualified to interpret your child’s evaluation results; and someone familiar with the school district’s special education programs and related services.

If the required participants are unavailable, or someone leaves during the meeting, consider postponing the IEP meeting. You can also bring individuals with knowledge of special expertise about your child, such as a family member, friend, advocate or neighbor. In fact, it’s always recommended that you bring someone else to the meeting to provide you with needed support.

Tips for Preparing for the IEP

Come prepared! Familiarity with the IEP process and your rights is only the beginning step to get your child's education on track. Preparation will help avoid “surprises” or feeling blindsided with new information. The more prepared you are, the better you can ensure that the IEP is individualized to meet your child’s unique needs.

In preparing for your child's IEP, consider the following:

  • Get all of your child's records together and take time to review them before the IEP meeting.

  • Talk to your child about his educational experience, progress, and needs.

  • Talk to your child's teachers about your child's educational experience, progress, and needs.

  • Review prior IEPs. Look for progress, or the lack thereof.

  • Prepare a list of your child's strengths and weaknesses.

  • Create goals you would like to see in your child's upcoming IEP.

  • Be prepared to show records that support your plan for your child's educational programming.

  • Provide at least 24 hours written notice of your intent to record the IEP meeting.

Tips for participation at the IEP

At the IEP, it's critical that you participate. Your input counts. The law empowers you to participate, to advocate, and to help make decisions about your child’s education.

Consider the following tips so you can actively participate during your child's IEP:

  • Share information with the IEP team about what is occurring at home relating to your child's learning.

  • Treat the IEP meeting as "collaborative" rather than "you against them."

  • Ask questions if you're having trouble understanding information.

  • Ask "why?" if you're unsure why a recommendation is being made.

  • Offer suggestions and ideas.

  • Bring someone you trust for help and support.

  • Make sure there's a written goal for each of your child's needs.

  • Make sure the goals are specific, measurable, and understandable.

  • Make sure that services are provided to address each goal.

  • You don’t need to sign the IEP at the meeting. You can take the IEP home and think about it.

  • You can consent to all or only part(s) of the IEP.

  • You have the legal right to record the IEP meeting. Use this right!

Finally, stay positive. A few tips can go a long way, but a successful IEP meeting comes down to attitude. A positive perspective places the emphasis on your child. Have faith in the process. It’s common to feel nervous, especially if the experience is new to you. But remember, the law empowers you to participate. Because the process is so personal, it’s also common to feel like you’re the only one advocating for your child’s needs. So bring along a trusted friend, neighbor, advocate or family member. Don’t go at it alone!