How can school administrators support implementation of high-quality IEPs?
Page 3: Planning for the IEP Meeting
Procedural Requirements Guidelines
- Conduct a thorough, individualized evaluation
- Adhere to required timelines
- Involve parents in the IEP process
School administrators with a thorough understanding of the IEP process—including its procedural, substantive, and implementation requirements—will be better equipped to begin the process of planning the IEP meeting itself. As they do so, they should make certain that the actions described below are completed.
Determine Student Eligibility
Before an initial IEP meeting is convened, appropriate school personnel and the student’s parents must first establish that she is eligible for special education services. To do this, they will complete the first three steps of the IEP process—referral, evaluation, and eligibility determination—taking care to adhere to all procedural requirements. The table below outlines IDEA’s required timeframe and describes how parents should be involved for each of these steps.
|Referral||The student is referred for formal testing. Typically, this occurs when school personnel or her parents indicate the need.||Parents must give informed, written consent before their child can be tested. Parents may also initiate a special education referral for their child.|
|Evaluation||The evaluation must be conducted within 60 days of receiving parental consent for the evaluation or within state-established timelines.||The student must be assessed in all areas of concern and in any areas of potential needs expressed by her parents.|
|Eligibility determination||Although IDEA does not specify a timeline for making an eligibility decision, some states do. In the absence of a state timeline, the eligibility decision should be made as soon as possible following the completion of the evaluation.||Parents must be part of the team that makes the eligibility decision, which is based on the evaluation results.|
For Your Information
Some districts use standard forms when referring a student for special education services. For those that do not, however, the National Center on Intensive Intervention (NCII) makes available a number of readymade resources.
Assemble an Appropriate IEP Team
Once initial eligibility has been determined—and for subsequent annual reviews—the school administrator should oversee the formation of a properly constituted IEP team, one comprising the individuals specified by IDEA including the student’s parents. Each member of this multidisciplinary team should possess knowledge and expertise relevant to an individual student’s IEP. For more information about the IEP team’s required members, view the following handout.
IDEA requires that IEP teams contain certain key members, yet too often these individuals lack a full understanding of their roles and responsibilities. For example, IDEA requires that a general education teacher, familiar with the child, be included as member of the IEP team. This person is the expert who understands the general education curriculum and the grade-level content standards. Her expertise and input are needed for discussion and decisions regarding factors such as:
- The student’s current performance in the general education classroom
- The student’s anticipated performance and ability to meet grade-level benchmarks when provided with appropriate supports
- The program modifications and supports needed by general education teachers to better serve the student (e.g., training on assistive technology)
Administrators play an important role in ensuring that each member of the team takes an active part in the development of a student’s IEP. They can do this in any number of ways, such as by providing school-wide professional development (see Perspectives & Resources Page 5).
Review Student Information
To facilitate the active participation of each of its members, administrators should make certain that every individual on the IEP team has a working knowledge of the information gathered through the evaluation and eligibility steps of the IEP process, including:
- Information provided by the teacher or parent as part of the referral for an evaluation
- Evaluation reports and/or documentation from the eligibility meeting
This information offers insight into the student’s needs and challenges and allows team members to consider potentially beneficial supports and services. Because much of this information is technical (e.g., standard scores, percentile ranks) many parents might find it difficult to understand. To assist them, administrators should provide parents with an opportunity to confer with relevant professionals regarding current evaluation results and the student’s educational progress.
Further, to help determine who should attend the IEP meeting and to anticipate staffing requirements or resources to meet the student’s needs, administrators might want to meet with relevant professionals (e.g., teachers, school psychologist, Vocational Rehabilitation representative) to discuss:
- Successful and unsuccessful techniques and interventions
- Academic or behavioral recommendations for the student’s educational program
- Needed clarification pertaining to reports
- Anticipated need for additional expenditures (e.g., assistive technology)
- Anticipated need for staffing and space (e.g., an additional speech-language pathologist)
For Your Information
It is not at all unusual for a member of the IEP team—for example, the special educator—to attempt to save time by developing a draft version of the IEP prior to the meeting. The danger of this practice is that participants might interpret the draft as a done deal or a final document. As such, they might feel that they cannot suggest revisions or changes to its contents. In fact, the U.S. Department of Education discourages this practice “if doing so would inhibit a full discussion of the child’s needs.” However, if a draft is developed prior to the meeting, the school should:
- Provide a copy of the draft to the parent/guardian for review prior to the meeting
- Explain to the parents that the draft represents only an initial recommendation and therefore is open for review, discussion, and revision
Federal Register 71:156 (August 14, 2006) p. 46678
Schedule the Meeting
Legislation and Litigation
There might be times when a parent is unable or unwilling to attend an IEP meeting. In these cases, the IEP meeting can still be held so long as certain documentation is produced.
By law, when a school conducts an IEP team meeting without a parent in attendance, the school “must keep a record of its attempts to arrange a mutually agreed on time and place, such as—
- Detailed records of telephone calls made or attempted and the results of those calls;
- Copies of correspondence sent to the parents and any responses received; and
- Detailed records of visits made to the parent’s home or place of employment and the results of those visits.”
IDEA Regulations, 34 C.F. R. §300.322(d)
Because school administrators cannot anticipate when these situations might arise, they should have these practices in place as part of standard record-keeping.
Recall that the meeting to develop the initial IEP must be conducted within 30 days of the eligibility determination. Whether for the initial IEP meeting or the annual review, the school administrator should make sure that a concerted effort is made to schedule this meeting at a time when the parents are able to attend. Work schedules, transportation issues, and lack of childcare are just a few of the real-world issues that affect parents’ ability to participate.
By providing advance notice of the meeting to all IEP team members, the school administrator can support parental attendance as well as give school-based personnel time to prepare (e.g., write lesson plans for substitute teachers, plan for combined classes).
When scheduling the meeting, the school administrator should take steps to ensure that participants have enough time to fully discuss and develop all of the IEP components. The time required for an individual meeting may depend on numerous factors (e.g., initial IEP meeting vs. annual review, extent of the student’s needs) and should not be constrained primarily by school logistics (e.g., the school’s schedule, staffing requirements).
Once a date and time for the IEP meeting has been determined, the law requires that a written notice (invitation) be sent to the parents. This notice must inform the parents about their right to invite individuals with special knowledge or expertise about their child (e.g., advocate, family friend, clergy) to be a member of the IEP team. This notice must also include the following information about the meeting:
- Date and time
- Who will attend
To facilitate a productive meeting, the school administrator should:
- Consider the scheduling needs of the child’s parents
- Establish that there will be adequate class coverage for any teacher who will be attending the IEP meeting (e.g., hire substitutes, arrange for combined classes)
- Secure a distraction-free meeting space
- Ensure that a sign-language interpreter or translator who speaks the parent’s native language will be available, if needed
- Consider the team’s physical needs (e.g., sufficient seating, coffee, water)
- Make sure parents know where to go (e.g., reserve parking space, send instructions on how to find the main office)
Although school personnel must be prepared to schedule IEP meetings on short notice as needs arise, there are other times during the school year when large numbers of IEP meetings need to be scheduled (e.g., annual meetings near the end of the year). In the interview below, Breanne Venios explains how her school addresses the latter circumstance by designating multiple days as “IEP days,” something that offers advanced notice and flexibility to parents and teachers alike. Next, David Bateman emphasizes the importance of listening to parents during the IEP meeting and provides tips on how to prepare staff to do so.
Principal, Spring Cove Middle School
Roaring Spring, PA
David Bateman, PhD
Professor, Department of Educational Leadership
and Special Education
For Your Information
There are a number of serious procedural errors that IEP teams should avoid when planning for an IEP meeting. A few of the more common include:
- Failure to involve parents in the IEP process
- Predetermining a student’s placement or services
- Failure to assemble an appropriate IEP team