A Brief Guide to Analyzing your Child’s IEP

By Shifra Tarica, Esq.

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), public schools are required to create Individualized Education Plans, or “IEPs” for students receiving special education services. The IEP is a legally binding document, and should be treated with the same consideration as any other contract. For many parents, though, understanding each component of a child’s IEP can be daunting, and too often parents fail to identify areas of concern within its pages.

Knowing what an appropriate IEP should look like can go a long way towards ensuring that your child is receiving an appropriate education designed to meet his or her individualized needs. To begin with, think of the IEP as a roadmap for the entire IEP team to get your child from Point A to Point B over the course of an academic year.

The starting point is your child’s Present Levels of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance (“PLAAFP”). What is his/her disability? What are his/her challenges? His/Her strengths? At what academic and functional levels is s/he performing now? The end point of the IEP are his/her goals, which describe what your child is expected to accomplish within a one year time period. And in the middle should be services and supports necessary to enable your child needs to reach those results.

  • The detail accorded to each of those sections is what differentiates a poor IEP from an appropriate IEP, and familiarizing yourself with the following will prove both necessary and empowering:
  • Present Levels of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance ("PLAAFP")
    A strong PLAAFP provides a very clear and detailed description of what your child is able to do and still needs to work on. This should address social, emotional, behavioral, life skills and academic skills. When necessary, baseline data should be taken to ensure that an accurate measure of your child’s progress is possible.
  • Annual Goals
    Your child’s goals should correlate with his/her abilities and challenges identified in the present levels section. Goals must be measurable and detail the process by which they will be measured. Additionally, goals should contain mastery criteria that ensure that your child has actually mastered the goal, and not moved on by chance. A criterion of only 60% or 70% may not provide for actual mastery of a goal and may allow teachers to move on to new tasks or goals before your child is actually prepared and ready to do so.
  • Statement of Special Education and Related Services
    The IEP must identify your child’s placement, or where services will be provided. Placement should always be in the Least Restrict Environment (“LRE”) to the maximum extent appropriate. What constitutes LRE will vary from child to child, though, and placement determinations must be made on an individual basis. Related services, including but not limited to transportation, speech/language therapy, personal or shared paraprofessionals; social skills groups; occupational therapy; and counseling are required to be identified and also be individualized to meet your child’s needs.
  • Accommodations and Modifications
    Accommodations and modifications, such as extended time on tests or modified homework should be individualized and detailed. Statements such as “assistance with” or “help with” should be spelled out, so that a stranger reading the IEP can determine exactly what is expected of both the staff and your child in and out of the classroom.
  • Behavior Plan
    If a Behavior Intervention Plan (“BIP”) is warranted, it should be based on a Functional Behavioral Analysis (“FBA”). BIPs should be revised from year to year to reflect changes in behavior, responses and reinforcement preferences.
  • Transition Plan
    An IEP must provide your child with the skills necessary to succeed in the post-secondary environment where your child will likelly be. For example, if your child will be attending a 2 or 4 year college, your child needs to learn skills to enable him or her succeed in that environment (e.g. social skills; life skills; advocacy skills; counting change; showering; etc). If your child wants to work in electronics, the transition plan should be focused on the skills that will enable him or her succeed in that industry. The district may not select job sampling or career opportunities simply because they are convenient. Rather, your child’s transition plan must be individualized to match her specific skill set and interests.
  • Graduation Requirement
    Based on your child’s needs and abilities, the district may be obligated to provide services until June following your child's 21st birthday. Pay close attention to the graduation requirement listed in the IEP and, if necessary, make sure the IEP states that your child will not graduate until the end of his/her 21st year if he or she has not mastered all of the goals in the IEP or still needs to learn skills necessary to succeed in the postsecondary environment (through a transition plan).
  • Extended School Day/Extended School Year Eligibility
    There are many different criteria for determining whether your child is eligible for ESD/ESY. Though districts most often cite “recoupment” and “regression,” there are other reasons your child may warrant an extended school year. The IEP team should not only base its decision on the regression/recoupment analysis.

If you believe your child’s IEP is not appropriate, you should contact your case manager immediately to convene an IEP meeting and address your concerns. If you are unable to reach a resolution, then you have the option of unilaterally placing your child in a private program while seeking reimbursement from the district for the services they should have been providing and/or filing a Petition for Mediation and/or Due Process.

Stay tuned for our next post: “Unilateral Placements and the Importance of the 10 Day Letter.”

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