Tag Archives: IEP Goals

Three-Year Reevaluation Strategies

fall-14 textTeam meetings are a major part of the special education experience, none more important than the three-year reevaluation. The evaluation reports and subsequent Team meeting to discuss them set the course of your child’s next three years in special education. During the meeting, the Team can modify your child’s services to make them more appropriate, or the Team may conclude that your child is no longer eligible for special education. With so much at stake, you need to be prepared for a meeting of this importance.

What Is the Purpose of the Three-Year Reevaluation?

The purpose of the three-year reevaluation is to determine if your child has made progress achieving his or her goals and what changes, if any, are needed to continue that progress. First, both you and the school personnel decide ahead of time which evaluations your child should have. They should be in all areas of suspected disability, such as academic, social-emotional, occupational therapy, or physical therapy. These evaluations should carefully assess what progress your child has actually made over the previous three years. The Team then meets to discuss whether your child continues to have a disability and what services, accommodations, or modifications are needed based on objective data provided by the evaluations.

What We Experienced in Reevaluation Meetings

We experienced several three-year reevaluations during our 15 years in special education and some of our experiences are worth mentioning. During each reevaluation meeting there were many separate reports that needed discussion. Fortunately, we had requested the written reports in advance so we could review them before the meeting. In addition, we usually brought outside professionals to the meetings to give reports of their evaluations. The meetings also included a discussion of IEP goals for the coming year.

We would attend these meetings without an advocate, confident we could manage the meeting and all the information presented in it. We were wrong about that. As each meeting progressed, we would begin to feel overwhelmed. It was difficult to listen, take accurate notes, and fully understand what was being said. Some reports were very detailed and confusing. Each report had recommendations that were briefly discussed but not fully explained. All of this would happen in approximately one hour, after which the teachers and specialists would have to attend to other duties. We would leave these meetings exhausted and wondering what, if anything, had been accomplished.

What You Can Do

Looking back on our experience now, we have the following suggestions to help keep your meetings more manageable:

1. Request, in writing, copies of all evaluation reports in advance of the Team meeting that will discuss them. Federal law requires schools to do this, though each state differs as to how many days in advance the school must let you review them.

2. Make sure that each report contains recommendations for services, accommodations, or modifications to be written into the IEP. The recommendations should be in plain English, not technical jargon, and based on objective data, not anecdotes. If not, ask the evaluator to clarify what he or she is recommending. If the recommendation is too brief, such as “more time on tests” or “provide counseling,” ask for more details. If counseling is recommended, for example, how many times a week? With whom? What kind of professional? Do not accept any report that says “Recommendations will be discussed at the Team meeting.” If necessary, postpone the meeting until clear and specific recommendations are added to any report that lacks them.

3. If many evaluators are scheduled to discuss their reports and time is limited, request a brief summary of each report, saving detailed discussion for the written recommendations. That way the evaluators will be on the record for saying what they think the school needs to do to help your child.

4. Never attend any Team meeting alone. Bring a spouse, partner, or friend. Ideally, bring a special education advocate who understands the dynamics in the room and who can help keep the meeting on track.

5. Bring someone to the meeting just to take notes. A person who is not as emotionally involved in your situation as you are can provide important factual information to you later. Don’t rely only on your memory.

6. Prepare a list of your concerns several days ahead of time and give them to your special education liaison. Work with your liaison to create an agenda with both school and parent items to discuss. Bring copies of the agenda to hand out to each person in the room. Follow the agenda during the meeting to help keep the discussion on track.

7. Have a Team discussion to determine if your child is achieving his or her IEP goals based on the results of the evaluations. The discussion should focus on specific goals based on the objective data in the reports.

Realize that the three-year reevaluation meeting is an important milestone for both you and your child. A productive meeting will give the Team the best possible chance to determine if your child has actually made progress over the previous three years and how to plan for the future. The data from the evaluations and the specific recommendations based on this data will be critical for your child’s success during the next three years.

Judith Canty Graves and Carson Graves

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The Three Essential Parts of an IEP Goal

mountains-27 textThe Individualized Education Program (IEP) is the cornerstone of special education. The individual goals created for a student on an IEP are the way that the student makes progress toward the Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) guaranteed by special education law. An effective goal is both specific to the student and measurable by objective standards.

Our experience is that it is up to parents to help their child’s IEP Team understand and create effective goals for their children. This requires knowing the three essential parts of an IEP goal: the current level of performance, specific and measurable milestones, and services to support attaining the goal. The following sections describe the three questions you and your Team should be asking to create goals that are realistic and effective for your child.

What’s your starting point?

Every goal begins with an assessment of the student’s current ability in the specific skill area covered by that goal. This is called the student’s “current level of performance.” The importance of this is to establish the starting point for the goal. Knowing how far a student is below grade level, for example, helps answer the question about what kind of specialized instruction is needed and how intensively it should be given. A student who is three years below grade level in math, for example, will need more intensive math instruction than one who is only a year below grade level.

The most effective way to determine the current level of performance is through testing. In reading, the Woodcock-Johnson Test or Wechsler Individual Achievement Test (WIAT) is considered a good indicator of current performance. In non-academic areas, a psychological evaluation is an effective indicator of social-emotional or behavioral performance while a test of fine or gross motor skills can indicate occupational or physical therapy performance. More general assessment methods, such as the completion of a reading skills class or participation in a sports activity, can be helpful.

We have found that there is a definite relationship between the quality of the assessment and the quality of the goal. The less objective the assessment of the current level of performance the more vague and ineffective the goal. In IEPs where the current level of performance is simply an anecdotal description of behavior, our experience is that the resulting goal is often so vague that there is little, if any, chance of the student achieving it.

Where are you going?

The goal is the IEP’s road map for achievement. You need a specific, time-limited goal that can take your child from his or her current level of performance to a realistic higher level during the time period covered by the goal, which is usually a school year.

In their book, Writing Measurable IEP Goals and Objectives, Barbara Batemen and Cynthia Herr describe the four characteristics of a measurable goal:

1. It contains a method for measuring whether or not the goal has been achieved.

2. The criteria for measuring progress are clearly defined in the goal and do not require any information other than what is contained in the description of the goal.

3. The measurement can be validated by multiple observers. For example, if two different observers measure the progress of a goal using the criteria described in the goal, they would independently come to the same conclusion.

4. It is possible to determine how much progress a student has made toward attaining the goal at any time, such as in a quarterly report.

We have seen too many IEP goals that provide little of this information. Most are impossibly vague, contain no standards by which anyone could determine if the goal was ever achieved, and perversely, often place the responsibility for achieving the goal completely on the student without any teacher or specialist assistance.

How Are You Going to Get There?

A goal won’t work if there aren’t services to help your child achieve it. This makes adequate services essential. The service delivery grid is the part of the IEP that specifies what services are needed to help the student achieve a goal, where and how often the services are given, and who is providing the services. Unless the grid specifies adequate time and a properly qualified person, it is unrealistic to expect a student to make satisfactory progress toward even the most well-written goal.

When examining a service delivery grid pay special attention to the the following:

  • The type of service.
  • The dates that service begins and ends.
  • Where and how often the service is provided.
  • The kind of professional responsible for providing the service. Vague references to “sped staff” are not helpful, and not even permitted in some states.

In addition to making sure that service delivery is clearly spelled out in the grid, we recommend that you have this information written into the description of the goal itself. The reason for this is that the service delivery grid often appears pages after the goal and can be overlooked by both you and your child’s service providers. The duplication also helps remind everyone that the most important part of an IEP goal is achieving it.

Putting It All Together

The three parts of an IEP goal: current level of performance, specific and measurable goal, and service delivery all need to support each other. When you know your starting point, where you are going, and how you are going to get there, then your child’s journey toward an appropriate education can be a rewarding one.

Judith Canty Graves and Carson Graves

What has been your experience creating IEP goals with your Team? Do you feel that the goals were effective? Please send us a comment on our Contact Page.

This article is excerpted and adapted from Chapter 7, “Writing Effective IEP Goals” in Parents Have the Power to Make Special Education Work.

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Eight Evaluation Essentials

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Evaluations are a major part of the special education experience.
The purpose of evaluations, aside from determining eligibility for special education, is to inform parents, teachers, and other specialists how a student’s disabilities may be affecting his or her ability to learn and interact socially with peers. This information is important in providing a road map for the student’s Team to develop an effective Individualized Education Program (IEP). The evaluation process should be an ongoing and interactive experience with parents and professionals seeking the answers to questions that will benefit the student and provide guidance to the school personnel and specialists who work with the student.

Evaluation reports are not always easy to understand, however. When parents are exhausted and grasping for answers, they can read reports with complicated charts, vague statements, and confusing statistics, and still not fully understand their child’s needs. Unless the report clearly describes the meaning of the testing data and includes recommendations that are practical and comprehensive, an evaluation can be unhelpful and possibly even damaging if it misleads parents and teachers as to the true nature of the problems a student faces.

Eight Essential Things to Look For

We have read many evaluation reports and seen our share of both good and bad ones. From our experience, we have compiled eight essential elements you should look for in all the reports you receive:

1. Personal Data:
Evaluations should begin with personal information about the student and why that student was referred for evaluation. Make sure this section describes your son or daughter accurately. Also be sure you agree with the reason for the referral.

2. Test Goals:
The purpose of the evaluation should be stated at the beginning of the report. This may seem obvious, but we have seen many reports that don’t describe the goals of the test being given. How can you know if a test has achieved its purpose if you don’t know why it was given?

3. Review of Existing Data:
IDEA requires that school examiners review any previous relevant evaluations, including those performed by independent evaluators and supplied by the parents. The report should acknowledge these evaluations and indicate whether the current testing confirms or contradicts the previous data and conclusions.

4. Behavioral Observations:
An important category of information is the examiner’s observations of the student both before and during the test. Is the student confident and willing to take risks in answering questions, or uninvolved, anxious, and hesitant? If the student is making a sincere effort, that increases the likelihood that the test results are a valid measure of the abilities being assessed.

5. Explain All Test Scores:
The evaluator should explain the importance of all the test data clearly and in terms that you can understand. One school report we read had this to say: “A statistically significant discrepancy is observed between student’s Verbal and Performance Indices, with the Performance Index falling thirty-five points below the Verbal Index.” The report made no further mention of this discrepancy or what it might mean. In another report describing a similar discrepancy, a different examiner wrote: “There remains a statistically significant difference (36 points) between verbal cognitive ability and visual-spatial ability, consistent with the student’s diagnosis of Non-Verbal Learning Disability.” In addition to acknowledging and confirming previous testing data, the second evaluation clearly states the significance of the discrepancy while the first one essentially ignores it.

6. Recommendations:
Make sure that the report contains specific recommendations on how the school can help the student. We have read many reports that end with a summary but no recommendations. If you receive a report with no recommendations, ask the evaluator to add them. We have also seen reports that say “Specific recommendations will be discussed at the next Team meeting.” Do not accept this either. Team meeting discussions are not always written down, and it is almost guaranteed that any verbal recommendations will be forgotten and not acted upon.

7. Examiner’s Signature and Credentials:
If an examiner believes that the testing and conclusions in the report are valid, then you should expect that person to certify the validity by signing the report. We have seen many evaluations where the examiner’s signature was missing. We have also seen reports that only list the examiner’s credentials as “teacher” with no further information. IDEA expects all evaluators to be qualified, so the credentials should be listed next to the name. You have the right to this information.

8. Clear and Understandable Language:
Make sure you understand the contents of the report. Sometimes evaluators use specialized terminology that lay people find hard to understand. If you receive a report like that, ask the evaluator to rewrite the parts that are not clear to you. We have seen reports that use phrases like “imbalance in functioning” or “processing impairment” without any further explanation of what these phrases meant.

What You Can Do

As a parent, you must make the effort to understand the evaluations you receive and question any parts that aren’t clear to you. Do not be afraid to ask for more clarification and rewriting if necessary. You should not accept a report that is lacking important information. You may not have the advanced degrees of the examiner, but you are the one who knows your child best and you are the one who needs the information in the report to help your child get an appropriate education.

Judith Canty Graves and Carson Graves

This article is adapted from Chapter 4 of Parents Have the Power to Make Special Education Work.

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IDEA and Expectations Part II – The Importance and Promise of High Expectations

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Almost 30 years of research and experience has demonstrated that the education of children with disabilities can be made more effective by having high expectations for such children and ensuring their access to the general education curriculum in the regular classroom, to the maximum extent possible… 20 U.S.C. §1400 (c)(5)(A)

In our book, we describe how important it is for both parents and schools to have high expectations for children in special education. Without high expectations from all involved, the education process fails the child. The following is Part II of our article on IDEA and Expectations, “The Importance and Promise of High Expectations.” Click here to read Part I: The Problem of Low Expectations

Can You Solve Everyone’s Problems?

Writing Parents Have the Power to Make Special Education Work was a way for us to translate our experience in special education into a guide for other parents going through the same process. We were firmly convinced that by conveying the lessons we learned, together with a survey of special education from the perspective of a fellow parent, we could help other parents attain the appropriate education for their children that is mandated by state and federal law.

In theory, our goal made sense. We had information that other parents could use and that we had needed when we started our journey through special education. We could point out the pitfalls in the process, such as the “business plan” of many school districts that places budget priorities ahead of a child’s needs and dares parents to endure due process just to attain the education that is their child’s right. We offered many tips and techniques, most costing little or no money, that would help parents keep schools from shortchanging their children’s education, recognize conflicts of interest with school employees, and learn to create effective IEP goals.

Despite our intentions, there was always the nagging feeling that no matter how much information we provided and no matter how clearly we organized and presented that information, it wasn’t enough. The reality is that we couldn’t do more than provide a general outline of the issues that parents face and the solutions that they might need. The problems with special education are too diverse, and too many families face issues with their school districts that are specifically unique to them. So, how could a book like ours really help the very people for whom we wrote our book?

Then Why Try?

The answer came from a source with many more years of experience and with a history of a much greater involvement in special education than we had. As our manuscript reached completion, we followed up on a dream we had of approaching a person whose work we had admired for many years to write the foreword. This was Bob Crabtree, coauthor of the first comprehensive special education law in the country, Massachusetts’ Chapter 766, which served as the model for the federal special education law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). He graciously agreed to review a manuscript from two strangers and unknown authors asking for a favor. Happily, he liked what he read and agreed to write a foreword that detailed the history of Chapter 766, related it to the civil rights movement, and warned readers of the political forces that were constantly seeking to undermine IDEA’s mandate. We were delighted to have such an important contribution to our book.

In subsequent conversations about the still unfulfilled promise of special education, Crabtree expressed what he saw as the true value of our book. Even though we could not provide explicit solutions to meet every parent’s needs, we could educate families about how special education should work and warn them about how it too often failed to work. These parents, Crabtree explained, would begin to expect more from their schools and the political process that ultimately influenced school policy. The goal was to create a critical mass of informed parents.

So, What Is The Promise?

Individuals, or even small groups, do not possess enough power to change a large bureaucracy like special education that is mostly concerned with a limited budget and self-preservation. But collectively, a rising tide of expectations among parents, reinforced by positive examples of success and a better understanding of the rights of children with disabilities, will create irresistible pressure on local school districts and politicians to pay more than lip service to the law’s mandate. In short, the more parents who have high expectations, the more schools and politicians will act toward actually fulfilling the promise of special education.

The opposite of this, of course, is ignorance and passive acceptance of what the school system offers, even when the school is in clear violation of the letter and intent of the law. An even worse situation is created when poorly informed parents with unfocused anger confront their special education liaisons and service providers about issues over which these school employees have little or no control. We have seen this many times, and it almost always creates a feeling of hopelessness for the parents, active resistance from the schools, and possibly even retaliation for the child.

So no, we don’t have the answers to every situation or the solution to every problem faced by parents in the special education system. We do know, however, that every effort to improve parents’ understanding of the special education process, alert parents to the hidden agenda of the schools and the political forces behind public education, and explain the purpose of the laws providing an appropriate education for children with disabilities, will improve the outcome for all of society.

I’m asking all of us to redouble our efforts and redouble our supports. High expectations must be the norm, not the exception.
— Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, 2010

Judith Canty Graves and Carson Graves

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IDEA and Expectations Part I – The Problem of Low Expectations

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The implementation [of IDEA] has been impeded by low expectations… Low expectations lead to poor outcomes in special education. Schools need to prepare children with disabilities for further education, employment, and independent living.
20 U.S. C. §1400 (c)(4) and (d)

In our book, we describe how important it is for both parents and schools to have high expectations for children in special education. Without high expectations from all involved, the education process fails the child. In Part I of “IDEA and Expectations,” we discuss the problems created by having low expectations for children in special education.

Do Students On IEPs Need a Reduced Curriculum?

In Chapter 9, we relate the story of a conversation we had with our district’s director of special education concerning our son’s lack of progress with writing assignments in Middle School. She tried to reassure us by proposing the following solution: when he got to high school the next year, she would simply have our son’s IEP state that he didn’t need to write more than one paragraph for any of his writing assignments. Then, when he went to college, she continued, he could choose a major that didn’t require any writing. Finally, once he graduated from college, he could work at a job that didn’t require writing. In other words, her solution was for us to lower our expectations and for the school to make the curriculum less demanding rather than help him learn to write effectively.

Another time, during a 6th grade Team meeting, we discussed our son’s interest in taking Latin in 7th grade. One of the senior teachers on the Team actively discouraged this, essentially telling us that she didn’t think our son could keep up with the other students in the class who were not on IEPs.

Although we didn’t know it at the time, IDEA gave us the right to require the school to make the Latin class work for him through accommodations to suit his learning style, so we reluctantly agreed not to include Latin in his 7th grade curriculum.

Later, after we placed our son in a private special education school, we discovered that the problem was not his ability to keep up with the curriculum, but the learning environment. In his new school he learned to write involved and analytical papers for his English classes. He was encouraged to study Latin and excelled in it. In college he majored in a combination of English literature and classical languages, disciplines that require a great amount of writing as well as critical thinking.

Of course we are proud of these accomplishments, but the important point is how the low expectations of the public school could have prevented him from ever having these opportunities. We had to take the initiative and change his placement to a school that had expectations that matched our own and was prepared to teach to these higher expectations.

Do Schools Expect Enough of Students?

Our experience with low expectations is unfortunately not an isolated one. It appears in schools nationwide. In one particularly egregious example, a school in California taught “life skills” to students in special education by having them dig through the school’s trash dumpsters to recover recyclables that other students had thrown away.1 When confronted by angry parents, the district’s superintendent claimed that this was the “standard curriculum” for students in special education.2 As one parent replied to this assertion “the message you’re sending is you’re training them to be homeless.”3

Unfortunately, lowered expectations are typically less blatant and harder to spot than this. In 2010, the MetLife Survey of the American Teacher4 found that most teachers (86%) believe high expectations for all students has a major impact on achievement, but only 36% of these same teachers say that all of their students have the ability to succeed. These low expectations are not lost on the students, as only about half of the students in the same survey felt that their teachers wanted them to succeed and almost as many felt that students in their school were promoted to the next grade level without being ready. It’s not surprising that the report concludes that “while educators express a strong belief in the importance of high expectations and high standards for all students, those standards and expectations fall short in practice for many students.”

The MetLife survey hints at how damaging low expectations can be for any child, much less one who is already struggling with learning disabilities. We have seen how lowered expectations on the part of the school become part of a student’s self image, which in turn affects their willingness to learn and succeed in later life.

Do Schools Hide the Truth About Their Low Expectations?

A recent blog in the Huffington Post: “Closing the Low-Expectations Loophole for Students with Disabilities,”5 describes how since 2007, the U.S. Department of Education has permitted school districts to measure students with disabilities using “substantially less challenging assessments.” The article points out that this practice “encourages inappropriate referrals to special education, paints an inaccurate picture of school performance, and, worst of all, reinforces stereotypes that students with disabilities cannot succeed in school.”

As an example of this practice, the authors examined the Houston Independent School District and found that over half the students who were measured using these assessments were students who were “diagnosed with `learning disabilities’ such as dyslexia rather than students who had the sorts of significant cognitive impairments that might impede them from completing a standard assessment.” Even worse, the authors found that “African-American students with learning disabilities were up to six times more likely to be assessed on these low-rigor tests than were similar Caucasian or Latino students.”

In another example, the authors describe a 2012 study of students in California in which nearly 50% of students with disabilities statewide (in some districts the figure reached 76%) took the California Modified Assessment, a significantly modified and less challenging test. The authors point out that “the use of these assessments far exceed the intended use, provide inaccurate pictures of school performance as well as inappropriately low expectations for poor and minority students.”

The article concludes that lowering expectations and using assessment methods that hide actual student performance does nothing to improve academic achievement. It does, however, make the schools look better on standardized tests than they would have otherwise.

An Appropriate Education Begins With Your Expectations

One of the most important messages we give parents is that if they don’t advocate for their child, no one else will. Expectations for your child’s future are where your advocacy begins. In Part II of “IDEA and Expectations” we discuss the promise of high expectations.

Judith Canty Graves and Carson Graves

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1. http://www.pe.com/articles/school-748490-students-program.html (accessed 11/18/2014)
2. http://www.pe.com/articles/school-698782-education-recycling.html (accessed 11/18/2014)
3.http://losangeles.cbslocal.com/2014/08/18/special-needs-students-speak-out-after-being-made-to-dig-through-trash-for-recyclables/ (accessed 11/18/2014)
4.https://www.metlife.com/about/press-room/us-press-releases/2010/index.html?compID=20652 (accessed 11/18/2014)
5. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/todd-grindal/closing-the-lowexpectatio_b_3883527.html (accessed 11/18/2014)

Surviving Team Meetings

mountains-38 textThe Team meeting experience can be stressful and confusing for parents who have children in special education. We know, because we went through fifteen years of them. Over the years we gained some insights into why these meetings can be so emotionally draining and we’d like to share some thoughts on the underlying dynamics of a Team meeting and how to prepare and make them productive.

Types of Meetings

The first thing to understand is the different types of Team meetings, because each can have different goals. There are meetings to determine eligibility for special education, meetings to  determine annual goals and develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP), and, every three years, a meeting to reevaluate the student to see how much progress he or she is making. There can also be additional meetings to discuss specific concerns that may occur during the school year.

The first Team meeting parents might attend is the initial eligibility meeting to see if their child has a qualifying disability as defined by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This meeting is held after evaluations have been performed by the school to determine the existence of a disability. Once the Team agrees that the child needs special education services, parents and school personnel work together to create an IEP.

After the initial meeting, the Team meets annually to update the IEP, define new goals, and discuss any concerns. Then, every three years the school must perform a reevaluation of the child and discuss the results at a Team meeting. Finally, parents or other Team members can convene a meeting at any time to discuss a wide range of issues that do not fit into the time frame of the annual meeting.

Conflicting Agendas at Meetings

Regardless of the type of Team meeting, and with special education in general, parents need to realize that they are regarded as outsiders by school personnel. School employees who work together on a daily basis know each other and their positions in the school hierarchy intimately. They understand the culture and the unwritten rules of the school. Parents are rarely aware of this subtext.

This inherent tension surfaces in Team meetings because there are usually two agendas happening simultaneously: parents wanting an appropriate education for their child and the school district wanting to contain costs. The stronger agenda is that of the school district. It has more people and more resources, and they present themselves as the education experts. Parents can easily believe that it is the school professionals who know best, leading parents not to question what they are told.

The school’s primary concern, though, is often not the student’s welfare, but the fact that special education services can be expensive and the school district must pay for them. Although IDEA is clear about a student’s right to an appropriate education, school officials watching their budgets will often come up with creative ways to deny expensive services, yet never admit that this is their agenda. The parents’ agenda, on the other hand, is usually open and transparent as they talk about what they think their child needs. This can make Team meetings confusing and uncomfortable for parents, who rarely understand or even suspect the existence of these conflicting agendas. Accepting this reality and understanding the school personnel’s position, however, can help you better prepare for your next Team meeting.

Preparing for Team Meetings

Begin your preparation by writing down your thoughts about how your child’s disability affects his or her education, how your child is currently doing in school and at home, and what your concerns are for the future. You might also want to list your child’s strengths, weaknesses, and interests. This becomes your parent report to help the Team better know your child from your perspective.

Next, create a preliminary agenda and share it with your special education liaison. Collaborate with that person and if possible, create the final meeting agenda with the liaison. Try to be realistic about the number of items that the Team can cover in a single meeting.

When you arrive at the meeting, hand out copies of your parent report and the agreed-upon agenda to make sure that everyone has this information. This is a good way for you to document your concerns and goals for the Team. Documentation is critical in special education.

One essential aspect to advance planning is to request in writing copies of any reports or evaluations that will be discussed at the meeting. Ask to receive these documents at least two days before the meeting so you will have time to study them and prepare any questions you might have about them. Having these documents in advance is a right guaranteed by federal law (34 CFR §300.623(a)).

Your Disadvantages

Many parents feel uncomfortable at Team meetings. One reason is that there are often more school personnel than parents, which can leave you feeling outnumbered. Another reason for discomfort is that the main topic, your child, can be an emotional one. If there are significant problems to discuss, it can be hard to focus and think clearly. It can be even harder to listen to the conversation and take notes. In some states and school districts, recording a Team meeting is allowed, but there is no universal right to do this. See our blog topic Recording Team Meetings, Not That Simple for more information.

What You Can Do

With these thoughts in mind, we offer the following tips:

  • Don’t go to a Team meeting alone. If possible, bring bring a spouse, relative, or friend who can be supportive and take notes. Immediately after the meeting, write down your thoughts and impressions of what was said and agreed to. If someone took notes, get a copy of the notes.
  • Send a written summary of your understanding of what was agreed upon at the meeting to your special education liaison as soon as possible. Include a list of any agreed-upon action items along with a timeline of when they will be accomplished. The letter lets the school personnel know what you expect them to do and serves as documentation for your records.
  • Since Team meetings can be intimidating for many parents, consider hiring a professional advocate who can help with navigating the meeting and negotiating with school personnel. An advocate who understands the laws can speak up on behalf of your child’s rights. Parents who do not know the laws and their rights may miss important opportunities for their child.
  • If you have an outside professional evaluate your child, consider bringing that person to a Team meeting to explain the results of his or her evaluation and what it means for your child’s education.
  • Find a forum other than a Team meeting to express anger or frustration. Use a spouse or trusted friend for animated discussions about what may be troubling you. A trained advocate can be a good sounding board for your concerns as well as a source of advice for how to proceed when you encounter roadblocks. You might also want to talk to other parents who have been through Team meetings for their input.
  • Keep an open mind at Team meetings and consider all suggestions thoughtfully. If you find it necessary to seek a due process remedy, the mediator or hearing officer will want to know that you first have made every effort to cooperate and try reasonable suggestions that school personnel offer.

Ultimately, there is no magic formula for surviving a Team meeting, but an awareness of the different agendas in the room, advance preparation, and written follow-up give you the best possible chance to obtain the appropriate education that is your child’s right.

Judith Canty Graves and Carson Graves

The above article was adapted from Chapter 8, “Team Meetings” in Parents Have the Power to Make Special Education Work.

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