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Be sure the IEP goals are meaningful to the student.  When Sean was a Senior in high school the Occupational Therapist gave us the final report and discharged him from OT. He still could not button buttons.  He had ruined a couple of Hawaiian shirts pulling them apart and popping off all the buttons if we didn’t help him take them off.  The following fall we went to purchase jeans for him, and for some reason the entire industry of jeans stopped using snaps! We shopped in six different stores, and finally decided we would have to teach Sean to button his pants.  One week of buttoning them a few times a day and he was able to button shirts too.  17 years of OT, and simply being forced to wear button-fly jeans did the trick—meaningful.

Goals should be measurable.  When given a set of 8 coins and 5 bills (not to exceed \$9.99) with the aide of a calculator Sean will calculate the answer.—This goal can be measured by a worksheet showing the calculations and the answer.

This goal however has no way to be measured: Sean will answer questions using possessives and comparatives.  The problem is somebody will have to pay attention, but there’s no documentation supporting that it was achieved.

According to Pepperdine University School of Law’s Special Education Advocacy Clinic there are six steps to connect the dots and assure success in setting IEP Goals.

{C}1.      What unique need is being addressed: What is the present level of performance or baseline?

Example:

{C}·         Domain: Language Arts

{C}·         Present level of performance: Johnny is currently reading at a 2nd grade level

{C}·         Baseline: Given an unfamiliar 2nd grade text Johnny presently reads aloud with a fluency of 30 correct words per minute at 65% accuracy

{C}2.      State the measurable goal that will address this unique need.  Include Learner performance, conditions and criteria.

Example: Given a 1st grade unfamiliar (never seen before) text student will read aloud, with fluency at a rate of 55 correct words per minute in 75% of trials .

{C}3.      When will this annual goal be addressed in the student’s educational setting? During the school day or while related services are being provided? (refer to a specific time during the child’s daily schedule)

{C}4.      What methodology will be used to enable the student to achieve the annual goal?  (Identify the specially designed instruction, related services, and supplementary aids and services to be provided to the child; identify program modifications or supports for school personnel).

{C}5.      Who will provide the specially education or related services to enable to the student to achieve the annual goal?  Remember: Specially designed instruction includes both curriculum and delivery of instruction

{C}6.      How will the student’s progress in achieving the annual goal be evaluated and documented? (always collect data)  How and when will progress be reported to the parents?  Provide progress in clear and measurable format; avoid number scale systems or use of terms such as “making progress.”

To prepare for Sean’s IEP meetings we always requested any evaluations one week in advance and any proposed IEP goals one week in advance. That way we had time to review and respond with our own proposed goals, or see if we wanted anything added or reworded. It saved a lot of time in the IEP meetings to make these requests in advance.

We always had an agenda for the IEP meeting that WE created, and distributed in advance to the IEP Team.  While many parents may not feel comfortable taking charge of the IEP meeting, he’s our child, so why not?  We had our notes for each agenda item so we didn’t forget anything we wanted to discuss. We didn’t have 4 hour IEP meetings. They were friendly, concise and we discussed how the goals would be implemented. We didn’t waste time on items that could be done in advance of the meeting.

Rick always attended the IEPs.  I spent the most time researching and being involved with the school stuff, he was more on the coaching and sports side. I’m the part of our couple who is more comfortable talking.  Rick is a man of few words, but his presence sent the message that we were a team.  We were always on the same page, even if he didn’t talk much during the IEPs.  Never go to an IEP by yourself.  If you don’t have a spouse, or they are unable to attend because of work, take a friend, take your mother, take someone.

We always insisted that a district special education administrator be present.  The school personnel may not have the authority to grant some services, or they may not know what the law calls for.  Always have the key decision makers who have authority attending your IEP if you want to have fewer IEP meetings and shorter ones.

It is critical that the classroom assistants attend the IEPs also.  They spend the most time with the students, and their input is valuable. It’s important that they hear details about the student they are supporting. If behavior interventions are discussed in the meetings it may be helpful to them in working with the student every day. It’s a good idea to write into the IEP that the aides can send notes home and communicate with the parents.  I have heard of situations where they were told not to communicate with the parents, so if that’s a possibility head that off early.

Write goals that include the typical peers to ensure inclusion.  To remain in the inclusive setting the student needs to make progress towards the IEP goals, so while you want the goals to be challenging, they also need to be attainable.

We always brought cookies if it was an afternoon meeting, or bagels and cream cheese if it was a morning meeting.  Don’t’ forget napkins and if it’s bagels, knives to spread the cream cheese and cut the bagels in half.   This sets a friendly tone and the educators truly appreciated the snack.

Get in the habit of tape recording EVERY IEP.  Just tell them you were advised to do it.  Don’t’ make it confrontational, but do record. You will be amazed at the things you will catch on tape, and hopefully you will never need to use the tapes, but save them all (and write the dates on the tapes) because you never know what will happen a few years down the road. Legally you do have to inform the school in writing at least 24 hours in advance that you will be recording the meeting, and they will be tape recording the meeting too.

It is also alright to not sign the IEP at the meeting.  I recommend taking it home and reviewing it when you can focus and decide if everything you wanted was included; then sign and return it to the school.  I did experience some things written in the notes section of the IEP that were different than the actual events that had occurred. You will be asked to sign an attendance sheet that you were present at the IEP.

Starting in 7th Grade Sean attended the IEPs and by high school would present his own PowerPoint Presentation of what he wanted to learn and do each year.

There are many aspects to an IEP, and I encourage you to check the Bibliography for references to learn more in advance.  Get connected with organizations in your area and attend any IEP Trainings or Workshops.  The IEP IS a legal document.  Sadly because people don’t do the right thing laws protecting our children were enacted.  Please don’t take this process lightly.